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The Christmas Lesson

Updated on August 17, 2023
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I am a wine-loving, adventure seeker with a unique obsession for anything that's denim, lace, or drizzled in chocolate.

I was just a little girl the very first time I laid eyes on him. He stood in front of the store, ringing a tiny silver bell. Dirty and ragged, his torn clothes were covered in at least an inch of dirt. Being young and somewhat naive, I couldn't help but notice the unpleasant smell that seemed to surround him. Without thinking, I made a face and blurted out that he stunk up to high Heaven. My father swiftly swatted my bottom and scolded me for my rudeness. He made me apologize and handed the man a dollar.

That night, my father sat me down for a long talk, explaining that sometimes even the kindest people face hardships. He warned me never to speak that way to anyone again, or else I'd face consequences. Though angry at the time, I reluctantly promised that I would change my behavior. A couple of years passed, and every Christmas season, I would see that same old man in front of various stores, always ringing his bell. While my parents would give him a few dollars, I would continue with my disdainful glances. It's hard to believe that I held a grudge against him for something I had done, but my stubbornness as a child blinded me. What's even more amusing is that despite my rudeness, he would always greet me with a toothless grin, which only aggravated me further. A simple act of kindness like his smile inexplicably fueled my anger, leading me to stick my tongue out at him when my parents weren't looking. Looking back now, I can't believe the childish actions I took.

It wasn't until I was around thirteen or fourteen that I started to let go of my pointless anger towards him. I realized that he hadn't done anything wrong to deserve my attitude. However, I still couldn't understand why my parents would give money to him instead of me, fueling my teenage jealousy. Whenever I questioned them, they would simply dismiss me and remind me that I was just a child who shouldn't question their decisions. Over the years, I grew accustomed to seeing his toothless grin, and even started saying hello to him.

However, I never gave him money like my parents did. In my mind, I believed he would only spend it on alcohol. I held onto my money, thinking he should earn his just like I did – flipping burgers or doing any job available. As the years passed, I became so used to seeing his familiar face and hearing the jingle of his bell that I noticed his absence one year. He was nowhere to be found, not walking around with his bell as usual. Curiosity got the better of me, and I overheard employees discussing an unimaginable injustice that had happened to him. He had been brutally murdered, stabbed to death by a senseless thug who robbed him of his meager earnings.

My heart sank as I listened, discreetly pretending to browse an aisle. The realization hit me hard – this man, whom I had once judged and held resentment towards, had met such a tragic end. I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of regret and sorrow, knowing that I had missed the opportunity to show him kindness and compassion when he needed it the most.


She then proceeded to explain what had happened, providing some vivid details. I couldn't help but overhear her mentioning that it had been reported in the local newspaper. Hearing this, I swiftly walked away, eager to obtain a copy of the paper for myself. Once safely in the car, I carefully unfolded the pages, my hands trembling with anticipation. As I read the article, disbelief washed over me like an unwelcome wave.

The words on the page painted a heartbreaking picture, not only of the horrific fate that befell him but also of the remarkable person he truly was. The article stated, "Mr. Jacob Finley of Coconut, T.N., a war hero who valiantly served in two different wars, dedicated every Christmas to collect donations for toys to bring joy to disabled children across T.N." My eyes welled up with tears as the realization hit me with full force.

I had spent all those years foolishly dismissing him as a dirty old bum, unaware of the depths of his character. He was not just a hero but a literal saint, selflessly giving everything he had despite having so little himself. Overwhelmed with regret, I felt incredibly small and ashamed for my harsh judgments. In that moment, I began to truly understand the wisdom my father had tried to impart to me all those years ago.

Circumstances can befall anyone, even the most compassionate souls, leading them onto difficult paths. As time passed, I vowed to never judge another person as severely as I had judged that man. I made it my mission to instill in my children the importance of empathy and compassion towards others. It saddened me greatly that it took such a tragic event to teach me the invaluable lesson my father had so patiently tried to convey all those years ago.


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