A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Monday, December 20, 2010

No Room At The Inn

Remember those ads for Levy's Rye Bread that read, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's?"
Well, you don't have to be Christian to love Christmas, either.
I'm evidence of that. I'm not a Christian, but I love everything about the holiday - the carols, the food, the decorations, the excitement of little children, strangers wishing each other "Merry Christmas" on the street.
Most of all, I love the Christmas story. And I've felt that way since I was a kid.
How can you not? It has everything a kid could want.
Adventure: An innocent young couple on the run, desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the evil king's soldiers.
Suspense: Will the soldiers catch them and kill the baby before they can escape to Egypt?
Intrigue: Who is this baby's father, anyhow?
Irony: If only those innkeepers knew whom they were turning away!
Best of all, the hero of the story is a child.
And not just any child, either. He's a true hero - wise, strong, loving and self-sacrificing.
Over the years, we've done our best to ruin Christmas. We've commercialized it, politicized it and smothered it with kitsch, including a talking snowman, a mutant reindeer and an overweight elf.
But try as we might, the true message of the still manages to shine through, despite everything.
You can see it in the families who spend part of their Christmas day working in a soup kitchen.
And the volunteers who build homes for the homeless.
And the kind souls who take time out of their Christmas celebrations to feed feral cats who otherwise would go hungry.
And the Meals on Wheels volunteers who bring food - and some human contact - to people who are imprisoned in their own homes by illness or infirmity.
And the cops, firefighters, PG&E linemen, doctors, nurses and paramedics who give up their Christmases to work that day to protect the rest of us.
Christians would call this generosity proof of the power of the Holy Spirit, and who am I to say differently?
This hasn't been the easiest of Christmas seasons. The recession keeps dragging on, and people are still hurting.
At the same time, donations to local charities and food banks are down. Many organizations that help the most vulnerable among us are in serious danger of going under.
It's not that people are ungenerous. It's just that we're all so hard-pressed, we feel obligated to look after our own families before we can think about helping anyone else.
And yet we must help them, because there's no one else. There's something worse than not having the latest flat-screen TV; namely, knowing that your neighbor is suffering when you could have prevented it.
And make no mistake: The poor ARE our neighbors. There's a mean spirit abroad in the land, with some people blaming the poor for their own plight.
But I'd rather listen to the man whose birthday we're celebrating this weekend. He said, "Whatever you did for one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did for me."
So even though we're all feeling the pinch, let's remember that there's always someone out there who is hurting even worse. We truly are our brothers' and sisters' keepers.