The Christmas Lesson
I was just a little girl the very, first time I laid eyes on him.He was dirty and ratty looking, standing in front of the store ringing a little, silver, bell.There had to be at least an inch of dirt covering his old torn clothes. My first impression of him was that he was dirty, I mean he smelt so bad, being a little girl I was somewhat naïve and maybe even a little rude at times. So as me and my father walked by him I quickly made a face and told him he stunk up to high Heaven. Which my daddy in returned responded with an even quicker swat to my bottom and told me not to be so rude. My daddy even made me apologize and handed the man a dollar.
Later that night my father set me down for a very long talk. He explained to me sometimes bad things happen to even the most kindest people. He also told me if he ever heard me say something like that to anybody again I wouldn't be able to sit down for a week. I was so angry that he said that to me, as a kid I was stubborn as an ox. To me it just seemed like my daddy was taking a dirty ole bums side over mine. Even though at the time I was mad at him,I also didn't want to get spanked so I told him I would never do it again.
A couple of years went by and every year I would see that same old bum in front of different stores around Christmas time, ringing that stupid bell. My parents would always give him a couple of dollars, I would just give dirty looks. Hard to believe I held a grudge against this man for something I did for so long. The funny thing is as rude as I was to him, he always smiled that toothless grin at me, which just agitated me more. Something as kind as a smile from this man made me so angry that when my parents were not looking I would stick my tongue out at him, Lord I would have smacked my own mouth thinking about it now.
I guess I was around thirteen or fourteen when I finally started to let go of some of the pointless anger I had toward this man. I mean after all he never did anything to me. Even though I wasn't mad at him. I still didn't understand why my parents were giving money to him instead of me, being a typical selfish teen. I would ask my parents but they always said they are not gonna explain why they do anything and that I was just a child, how dare I question them, that quickly ended my whiny discussion. But still made me harbor some jealousy for that little bit of change they spared to that dirty old bum.
Years went by and I swear this man was always there. As I became a woman I grew out of the whole acting rude to him after a while I would even say hello to him. But for some strange reason I never gave him money like my parents. I just assumed if I gave him money he would just drink it away. So I held on to my money in my mind all I could think is I earn my money he should earn his too. I mean honestly how hard is it to get a job he could flip burgers or something after all I did it all through college.
Over the years I grew so accustomed to seeing his toothless grin that the one year he wasn't around I quickly noticed it. He wasn't walking around with that bell anywhere. One day while walking through one of the isle's at the very first store I saw him at, I heard one of the employees asking another employee if they had seen the man. I then heard the employee tell her the horrible injustice that had happened to the man. He was brutally murdered, stabbed to death by some senseless thug, who then stole his money. I didn't like spying on people but I couldn't help but listen to their conversation. I quickly walked by them and grabbed something in the isle to make it appear I was just browsing.
She then started explaining what had happened somewhat in detail then I heard her say it was in the local newspaper. Once I heard that I quickly walked away and grabbed a copy of the local newspaper, I waited till I got in the car to read it. I couldn't believe what I was reading not only about the horrible things that had happened to him but about the man himself it said, "Mr Jacob Finley of Coconut,T.N a War hero of two different Wars who spent every single Christmas getting donations for toys for different disabled children all around T.N was found brutally murdered and robbed."
My eyes quickly filled with tears, here I was thinking he was some dirty old bum and this man was so much more a hero, a literal saint to be doing what he did. I mean this man had nothing but he gave everything. I felt the size of a pea, I was so critical of him, I felt so ashamed. Right then and there I began to understand what my father had said to me so many years ago. Sometimes things do happen to people to put them in bad circumstances in their lives.
As the years went by I never judged anyone as harshly as I did that man and I made it a point to teach my children the importance of having compassion for others. It is just sad that it took something so tragic to teach me what my father tried to teach me so many years ago.