So with the festive season soon upon us, a time of caring and sharing with family and loved ones and often a time of material excess, I am turning my mind to how we can use this opportunity to do something of lasting benefit in the world and truly give a gift worth giving by helping struggling people get a lift up in life.
A few Christmases ago I asked that my only presents be donations through Oxfam and you cannot believe the joy I got from receiving cards and emails saying that auntie Mildred had gifted a family in Sierra Leone a goat (much better than the dodgy tie she would have bought me for $20) and that cousin Gladys had gifted a box of seeds to a struggling farmer in Bogota on my behalf. You could not wipe the smile off my face and I received a genuine warm feeling in my heart to boot, much better than pretending to like the obscure gift I had been given.
Let's face it - the vast majority of us in Australia have more books than we are ever going to read, perfectly good clothes that will never festoon our bodies and all manner of utensils and gadgets that will never see the light of day. So why clutter up our homes and the houses of friends and family with any more? Ignore the best cajoling of the season's commercials and billboards and put your hard earned dollars into a steadfast investment; a smile on the face and a hope in the heart of somebody who really needs it. Someone not concerned with being fashionable nor cool but just clothed and safe and fed.
While you are settling down in front of the TV this Christmas thinking about whether you should pay thousands to redecorate the hall in the New Year because of the stain on the carpet or the wallpaper looking out of date, consider these possibilities for people who would be happy for a roof or cardboard box over their head. Most of them have affordable gift packs specifically designed to offer alternatives for Christmas presents:www.unrefugees.org.auwww.unicef.org.auwww.oxfam.org.auwww.compassion.com.auand for a little closer to home:
If you can get a tax deduction that's great, it means you can give more. But if a deduction is not available don't use it as an excuse for not giving. If you were starving would you prefer no pie or a pie that the taxman had taken a wee slice from?
And now I am really going to challenge you. It's lovely to send off some presents in your lunch break, a few strokes of the keypad and the swipe of your credit card. However the best thing you can ever give anyone is your attention, to connect your spirit, your heart to another in the act of selfless giving. That truly is priceless.
Each of us can remember someone who created a change point in our life, not through incredible wisdom, or some big display of affection, not even with what they tangibly did for us (although all these are nice and do help) but simply by being there to be present for us. They probably did not say much at all but, if your experience is like mine, they were there with you and from that awareness something inside of you grew and swelled and from that, a new possibility in you was born.
So I challenge you to give the gift of your presence, of course as much as you can to your family members and loved ones, but to a stranger too. I bet we have all planned in our mind about sitting down with a homeless person in the local park rather than scuttling by, and having a chat making them feel human and part of society and cared for. Or talking to the old lady at the end of the street who never has any visitors, bringing her a cake and chatting to her over the garden fence. We'll do it! And not just bringing someone sleeping rough at Flinders St a cheese sandwich but being present for them - not forcing anything but giving of your presence and of your heart, being there for them, sitting next to them a moment, looking into their eyes.
Now you may not get the response you dreamed of, you may not get the hero's response and the parting of the clouds and God taking you up into heaven there and then, because it's not about you. It's about them and their need, which quite frankly is, in most cases, greater than yours and mine.
And if that confronts you too much or you want to take things a step further, how about this for the most awesome and dignifying of ideas www.thestreetstore.org Please watch the touching and heartwarming video on the website and consider setting one up in your backyard. The street store was founded by a few friends in Cape Town, South Africa where, I can vouch, there are a lot of homeless people struggling desperately. Many are people who have grown up on the streets and have no hope of ever living under a roof.
Days of living out in the open busy city can bring your spirit down and turn many people to crime, alcohol and worse. In response to this, the founders of the Street Store simply hung up signs on railings in a town square, a popular hangout for people living on the street. The signs had coat hangers and read "hang up, help out, donate clothes for the homeless" and so people did. We are not talking about clothes that are about to fall to pieces or expensive items - just practical everyday items like jeans, jumpers and last year's trainers; clothes that would make a homeless person's life a little easier, restore some dignity, make them feel cared for and possibly set them in a direction to a better life.
The fad caught on and interactions began to happen between the donors and the "untouchables" and a trench in society began to be bridged, the emotional gap between the haves and the have nots. It brought joy to the homeless who felt cared for. And life and purpose was restored to those working within the system. The whole place was humanised.
And now there are Street Stores all over the world. Why not open one near you, go online and find out how to set one up or devise your own method and let's have Street Stores from Darwin to Dandenong and Geraldton to the Gold Coast and make this land the Lucky Country once more.
Check it here www.thestreetstore.org
At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.
When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. firstname.lastname@example.org