For Christians, we celebrate this week as Holy Week. And, as I told my younger son recently, there’s only an Easter because there was first a Christmas. So with that in mind, I wanted to share about some thoughts from this most recent Christmas…
Last December, I read a news story that seemed apposite for the Christmas season: kindness to a stranger, a giving spirit, all the right ingredients for a feel-good tale. But this article lodged itself deep within me, more than just a toss-away news item. I wrote about it in my journal later that night, and I realized that this brief narrative reflected a bigger, grander story.
The general gist is this…An older lady–poor and hungry–attempted to steal a dozen eggs from a store in order to feed her grandchildren. The shop owner catches her and calls the police. The officer who arrives recognizes her from a previous call to her home; he remembered her and the poverty that haunted her life. Instead of arresting her, he paid the store owner for the eggs and gave them to the woman and sent her home.
Stunned and grateful, the woman tried to give the police officer the money that she did have–$1.25, not enough to pay for the dozen eggs herself. But he wouldn’t accept it; he did not wish to be paid back. He gave her a gift–not a loan. In the end, he told this woman that the best way that she could repay him was never to steal again.
When I read these words, I caught my breath. He changed her life, I thought. If this woman truly lets this moment from the Dollar General store penetrate her heart, she will be changed forever. What this woman could not do for herself, the police officer did for her: he secured her freedom (even though she’d tried to commit a crime) by paying her debt and–AND–meeting her needs. The needs she could not meet because she did not have the resources to do so. As founder of the Catholic Worker Movement Dorothy Day would say, “food for the body and food for the soul.”
Sometimes I see myself going out into a hard world not prepared to give grace, clutching it instead in my clenched fists as if I might lose it–which shows I had little experience of it in that moment, anyway. But–just like the lady hoping to leave the store with nothing more than a dozen eggs–I have been changed forever. I have been set free, had my needs met, with resources wildly exceeding my own. So I want to give in that spirit: with grace and mercy, with an open heart and open palms. Remembering that I have been changed forever.