Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Story

While there is plenty I don't like about Christmas, I do enjoy the gift-giving part; selecting the right gift for each person is fun, though rather than walking around with a stack of brightly wrapped presents, I let Amazon send them.

Living in a doorman building with a staff of ten means I also give out many tips in small white envelopes, and according to published guidelines, I'm generous; add the people who tend to my hair, teach me Pilates and take care of my dog, plus charitable donations, and I'm well into four figures.

So it wasn't a big deal to me to put a bill in an envelope and hand it to the nice man who gives out copies of AM New York at the subway station closest to Cassie's doggie daycare. Older than most of the other free-paper guys, he always has a big smile and a warm "Good morning!" for everyone, even those who don't take his proferred paper, like me (I'm responsible for enough dead trees). I imagine him to be a veteran who's had a hard life and occasionally been homeless, but who's determined to do his best with his minimum-wage job.

It was cold and blustery yesterday morning, and as I approached the subway entrance he was bent over, straightening up his papers, and didn't greet me for a few seconds. When he did, I handed him the envelope and thanked him for making the world a better place. He seemed stunned, threw his arms around me, and gave me a big hug. "Thank you so much," he said. "Merry Christmas!"

And even though I'm not a Christmas person, it felt right. Heading down the stairs to the train, I got choked up, as I often do when I feel like I've done the right thing for someone else.

That isn't because I rarely do; on the contrary. But I wonder if that emotional response to giving is part of what drove the now widely reviled Bernie Madoff to take so many investments from charities. Even though he wasn't actually helping them, and in fact has now damaged several so much that they will have to shut down, the appreciation he got must have made him feel somehow that he was a good person after all.

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