Saturday, December 1, 2007

Cops for Christmas

To be honest, I’m quite a Scrooge. I don’t like shopping; I don’t like the long lines, crowds or traffic that comes during this time of year. I don’t like spending so much money in December. Most of the time, we’re more eager to get than to give; and many of us spend more (or charge more) than we should. The pressure of buying presents and hoping to please others who already have plenty of ‘stuff’ is stressful. That’s why for many years I’ve said I don’t want anything for Christmas. Unfortunately, that hasn’t helped my wife; it’s just made the pressure worse for her. But I’d really be happy and content with a hand written note and a hug and kiss. In fact, I’d love to get that! Of course, except for the note (I hope) I won’t get a hug or a mistletoe kiss—not this year.

The good thing about being in Iraq is that I’m missing all of the commercialization, unfortunately at the sacrifice of being with my family. Being here reminds me of celebrating Christmas in Jerusalem; that was fantastic, except that once again, I was bereft of family. The Hanukkah circus-like street parade and festivities were incredible though. And, who could pass up the food? Umm.

As a small boy I had the innocence of Tiny Tim. Back then, I remember staying up late on Christmas Eve with my older sister and my single mom. The other four kids were tucked into bed. Although I didn’t know it, we were poor and destitute. Our single mother faced the burden of trying to work and raise six young children all on her own. She faced difficult divorce and a bout with cancer that nearly took her life. Suffice it to say, there were plenty of Santa’s helpers looking out for our welfare.

On this particular Christmas Eve, an anonymous phone call came. “Go look outside,” was all the voice said. My mom, my sister and I walked out to find dozens of wrapped presents for the whole family. I can still see my mother’s tears of gratitude from that night.

I had largely forgotten that incident until much later when a group of us in high school went to Lori Hall’s house a few days before Christmas. Her parents had a wonderful tradition. Each year they found a poor family and delivered them presents. We wrapped the presents then helped deliver them. We dropped off a dresser and several gifts then sang Christmas carols—the best ones. That family was truly impoverished compared to us. The reward of giving returned and the spirit of Christmas brought peace to my heart.

Before I left Dallas Police Department I helped with the Christmas program there. Two of us stopped by the home of a citizen that had collected gifts, received donations and purchased things like school supplies and book bags throughout the year. The older couple’s basement was the proverbial warehouse. In October we loaded up a giant moving truck of gifts and prepared to transfer them to beat cops who would come in off-duty and distribute the gifts to those who were truly in need.

Totally apart from the police Christmas program, I learned of one unsung hero at the Dallas Police Department. He tried not to let anyone know, but word spread quickly. The previous year, this particular cop responded to a burglary call just days before Christmas in the roughest, most indigent part of the city. Echoing cruelty of the fictional Mr. Grinch, a real thief had stolen all the kids’ Christmas presents. The distraught mother could hardly contain her emotion.

“What are the names and the ages of the kids?” asked the police officer as he jotted them down in his notebook. He had gotten all the data on what exactly was stolen and the estimated cost, but he didn’t need the names and ages of the children for the report! No, he had made up his mind to do something else with that information.

The next day, this anonymous police officer with no great salary, had enough goodness in his heart to buy back what another had stolen. Imagine the overwhelming feeling of gratitude the burglary victims felt when the now off-duty police officer returned to the scene of the crime to replace what he hadn’t taken. Lives were blessed and hearts rejoiced.

Yes, there is an element of Christmas that I absolutely love. In that way, I’m like Charles Dickens’s character after he sees the last ghost. After that visit, Scrooge couldn’t wait to spread Christmas cheer. Yes, I really do love Christmas. When I think about all the good that happens I can’t help but wish Christmas was celebrated bi-annually. It’s a wonderful time of year.

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