Never judge a book by it’s cover.
We all know the expression. The meaning is clear. A book which is beautifully bound, with a richly decorated exterior may be the one that grabs our attention. It may be the one we pick up and bring over to the cash register to buy.
Only to come home and find that the pages inside are hollow. The story and the characters are shallow and one dimensional. And you realize how much better off you might have been picking the other book that you had held in your hands for that short moment, but dismissed because it lacked the shinier, less sparkly cover.
I try not to judge my books that way. Most of my favorite books have nothing compelling on the cover. I have learned over the years how to follow my instincts in picking out what to read. Sometimes the barest of covers are the perfect hiding places for stories of substance.
It’s not so much about whether someone is pretty or not pretty. Glamorous or not.
I tend to look at how someone presents themselves and without realizing it, assign them to some non-formalized class system in my mind. Rich vs. poor. Privileged vs. unprivileged. Educated vs. uneducated. Easy life vs. tough life.
Over the years, I have learned that my first impressions are terribly… off. And that our covers don’t allow people to see a fraction of the many chapters that comprise our lives. I have mistaken shyness or reserve on a young woman as snobbery and elitism, only to now to now be able to count that woman is one of my best friends. I have mistaken over-friendliness as genuine warmth and friendship only to find a bitter coldness when it retreats.
I worked at a large technology company for many years. There was a young executive there who was a bit of a rock star. He was highly respected within the company and people knew his name. When I met him, he gave off an air of affluence to me and it was easy for me to compartmentalize him into those simplistic categories I mentioned above. It was clear to me that he must have grown up as a child of privilege. If not privilege, well… at least the middle class.
These are assumptions that are easy to make in the workplace and often times, we don’t know our colleagues well enough to go back more than the last few chapters. Rarely do we ask them to go back to earlier chapters and tell us how their story first started.
And so it just shows how much I know. And how faulty my impressions of people can be. Chris, the executive I mentioned, posted this story on Facebook the other day and I wanted to share it with the readers of Masala Chica.
In 1978, there was a family of 3 (single mom and two boys – 9 & 8) living in a small town in northern Arizona. Because of the grip that alcoholism had on the life of this family – the mother did not work and relied on family and the welfare system to care for her family. Often the money received from the government was used to feed her addiction – when you take money from an already tight budget to purchase alcohol – it makes a horrible situation simply unfathomable.
So here the family was on Christmas Eve – with the exception of a couple boxes of generic macaroni and cheese – there wasn’t anything else in the cupboard. There was no tree, no Christmas lights, not stockings hanging, no reading “Twas the Night Before Christmas”, no Christmas ham, no opening of a present before bed – just another night. The boys had learned throughout their life not to say anything or ask for anything because it would make their mother feel bad and that would only mean that the drinking would escalate and depression would often lead to much worse things. So the boys went to bed – with empty stomachs, empty dreams and an empty reality. That night the younger brother asked the older brother why Santa Claus wouldn’t visit them – the older brother did his best to comfort the younger brother and they finally went to sleep.
In normal homes, on Christmas morning the children are awake first thing in the morning often before the sun even rises to see what magic is ready for them underneath their Christmas tree. In this small trailer – these young boys slept on the floor because they had no beds and with the trailer being drafty and cold – they often slept in – huddled around an electric space heater. This Christmas morning, when they finally did get up – they walked out of their bedroom and something simply magical had taken place. In their small living room – there was a complete Christmas Tree – lights, decorations, tinsel, tree skirt, candy canes – the works. There were boxes wrapped with their names on it. There were stockings filled with treats and tooth brushes and combs and socks. They had clothes, shoes, coats. There were toy machine guns – you know the kind where you keep pulling the trigger to get the machine gun sound. The fridge and cupboards were full of food. There was two bicycles for the boys. Santa had indeed found this small family and had brought hope to a desperate reality. There was just a simple note that read – “Merry Christmas – Love Santa”. The reason that I know this story so well is that I was that older brother. To this day – I do not know who was responsible for this amazing gift of hope. But it did in fact change my life and has touched me every year as I think back.
I would encourage all of us to take time this holiday season to help provide some hope to those that are less fortunate than ourselves. It is hard to give to adults who you know are going to most likely use the money to feed an addiction – but we all need to remember that the children that are in these families did not choose this lifestyle and they have no options; they are where they are because of the poor decisions of the adults who are responsible for them. Please take some time and find opportunities to provide for these children and families this holiday season. Whether you take a few cans of food from your cupboard for a food drive, take a name from an Angel tree to buy needed gifts (shoes, bedding, clothing, etc), whether you become a secret Santa for a child who is in foster care (where you provide these children with necessities, sleeping bags, a sleeping cot, clothing, etc) (remember that the families that take children in for foster care are not given money to provide gifts – so they are very limited in what they can do for these children as well), whether you take some time to actually adopt an entire family this holiday season – please do something. It will bring the spirit of the holidays into your home and hearts like no Christmas Story, Christmas Carol, Sleigh Ride or Holiday Party can.
I want to thank Chris for sharing this story.
I did not know Chris’s journey. I did not know the beginnings of his story. I see a successful man today and I am sad to say that I made some assumptions about what his life must have been like. Privileged. Easy.
That can’t be farther from the truth.
The roads we all took to get to here, wherever HERE is in our lives, are all vastly different. We can look at each other and assume we know enough of each others’ stories, because we have read the synopsis and the reviews on the covers of the books. But there are stories that often remain untold, chapters that have been overlooked.
I feel like there is a growing lack of empathy towards people who are enduring true financial challenges – challenges like how will I feed my kids tomorrow? It extends not just to the poor, but to the homeless, with the most apathy directed towards the individuals on welfare in America. In the minds of many, most of these people have made their own beds and they are generally somebody else. But sometimes, somebody else looks a lot like you. Somebody else looks like me. Your neighbor.
We all have the power to help co-author the chapters of the lives of others. Not just on Christmas, though if this is one time where you heart is open to giving in a year, consider opening it fully now.
Based on the letter Chris shared, I believe that the kindness he received that day helped give him hope. Helped a nine year old boy get through some really hard times. It was by far not the only thing, but it did help inspire him as he became the American success story that he is today.
Help change someone’s tomorrow.
And make tomorrow amazing.
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank