Scott Farrell comments:
Happy Chivalrous Holidays!
The holidays should be a time for joy and sharing, but too often we get overwhelmed by stress and commitments during these hectic days. Yet it’s in moments of stress that the Knightly Virtues are most important; as this account reminds us, we should never allow the chivalrous spirit of generosity to be crushed by the distasteful actions of others. This true story (told to me several years ago by a returning holiday traveler) is a reminder that even the seemingly simple desire to bring happiness to others is sometimes hard-won.
Maria Gonzales had flown home to spend time with her family. The week before Christmas was a busy one, but apart from shopping and cookie baking, Maria’s family had committed to a very special project. Her sister-in-law was the manager of a local second-hand shop, and they had promised to help with a gift-giving program which the store put on for needy local children.
To participate in the program, qualified parents had submitted wish lists of gifts their children hoped to receive on Christmas day. Then donors selected a child at random and “played Santa” by purchasing one or more gifts on the wish list, and delivering the items anonymously to the second-hand store. Parents were expected to return to the store on December 23 to pick up their gifts in time for Christmas, and lots of volunteer workers were needed to distribute wish-list gifts on that day. Ready to help those in need, Maria’s family looked forward to lots of bright holiday smiles and Christmas cheer — but those expectations couldn’t have been further from the truth.
On the morning of the 23rd the store was filled with eager volunteers. About half an hour before opening everybody was taking their places when one of the assistant managers cautioned the staff about the coming day. He said several fist-fights had broken out the year before. He also explained that the sheriff’s department had been alerted to the situation, and were standing by to be called out in case of a riot in the store.
Maria thought he was exaggerating until they unlocked the doors. In less than five minutes, the store was crammed with parents who had little holiday cheer and even less courtesy or patience. Several complained that their children’s wish lists — with expensive things like bicycles, computers and radio-controlled cars — had not been fulfilled. Many demanded to be given toys that they could see in the waiting area reserved for other children.
One belligerent mother cursed out a clerk who couldn’t find her son’s wish list; after some investigation, the clerk discovered that the woman had taken possession of her child’s gifts hours earlier and was simply trying to play upon the clerk’s confusion in order to collect a second batch of toys. Towards evening, a woman asked for her daughter’s toys, and when the clerk explained that they had been already picked up by the woman’s husband, the customer began to cry, explaining that her husband had taken the gifts (a CD player and a pair of skates) and sold them for money to buy drugs with.
Finally, just after 10 p.m., all the toys were gone and the doors were locked at last. The store was a mess, and the whole staff, many of whom had been working more than 12 hours, was exhausted and lacking in any type of holiday spirit.
Then, as Maria was sitting there wondering why she had wasted her day trying to spread joy and merriment to a conniving, ungrateful world, there was a soft knocking. Roused from her unpleasant thoughts, Maria looked up to see a woman standing outside the glass door.
Maria’s sister-in-law went to the door and said loudly, “I’m sorry. We’re closed. We have no more toys.”
The woman said something in reply, but Maria couldn’t hear. To her surprise, Maria’s sister-in-law unlocked the door and let the woman in. She was dressed in a light coat, and she stood rubbing her hands together for just a moment. Then the woman said, “I was here earlier to pick up the toys you provided for my two children. I saw what you were going through, and I thought you all might need to know that my family will have Christmas because of you. Two boys will remember that their parents love them on Christmas morning because of what you did today. Thank you, you should be very proud.” Then she turned and left and Maria’s sister-in-law closed the door behind her.
Maria realized she had been very selfish to expect cheer and gratitude in response to her work that day. Maria could not imagine one of the Knights of the Round Table pouting because there was no shower of rose petals at the end of the quest. Generosity must be freely given. An act of chivalry may have an effect on someone far away, or someone you never even noticed, and that is the best gift of all.
Maria and her family (and all the volunteers in the second-hand store) received a great lesson in chivalry that pre-Christmas day, and it came wrapped in curses and thanklessness.