Leaving the gym the other day, I plucked an ornament from the Giving Tree standing in the lobby. Each ornament lists the types of gifts a needy person would like to receive with some information like age or size. One in particular stood out and I tucked it into my bag.
Girl, age 14. Size XL. Workout clothes, hair bands.
I’m not a super-generous giver of my time nor my treasure. Sure, I kick a couple of bucks here or there to charities. Because I dial up Wikipedia pretty frequently, I just sent them some money for the first time.
The Giving Tree is something that I buy for every year, though. So at least I have one thing I do a year. And it’s nowhere near enough.
I went to Target yesterday to pick up the gifts for this fourteen year-old girl and I have to admit, my heart broke a little bit every time I thought about her. I stressed about whether she would like what I bought her. Having been a size XL (and various other sizes above and below that), I have experienced the disappointment of receiving a gift of clothing that did not fit my thighs or had an unflattering pattern. I was less concerned about the hair bands, but then I thought, maybe if I knew what kind of hair this girl had, I could buy her something even more special.
I cannot know what the home life of this young woman is. I don’t know if she has a loving mom or dad or if she has enough to eat. I don’t know if this will be the only gift she will be receiving. Although I don’t know this girl, I do know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of charity. Life got rough for me as an adolescent, after my parents split up. And though my parents both worked, complications existed whereby there was often something lacking.
If you’ve never had to do so, accepting meals through the Free Lunch program as a student of a Catholic high school is no picnic. The little golden tickets you received from your homeroom teacher every week were hard to accept when some of your classmates went on frequent ski trips or their parents drove them a hundred miles each way to Philadelphia for weekly piano lessons. No one had ever said anything to me directly about them, but adolescent awkwardness planted that seed in my head that everything I did felt like it was under a huge spotlight that seemed to magnify my every move.
I was no charity case necessarily, but without the generosity of teachers who knew my difficulties, I would not have been able to see Les Miserables with other students in the drama club. Nor would I have been able to cover the expenses involved in attending various choral competitions. Until now, I had forgotten that the school even generously covered the fees involved in sending out my college applications.
And if you think skipping off to college led me to a life of financial security, guess again. Because that is a whole other story in itself.
I bet Girl, Age 14 lives in a world different from the one I grew up in, but she is more like me than she could realize right now. And may never realize. Maybe in her mind, she assumes the person who picked out the black and neon hair bands and the purple workout shirt is some rich lady driving a Benz. I mean, this tree is located in the Summit YMCA after all.
I think, for me, it’s time to get on the stick. I’ve made excuses for not volunteering or contributing more. But I have more to give back than I think. We all do. And there’s a whole world out there that has needs that cannot be met without help… from someone like me who has been helped so much along the way.