It was a chilly winter night in December of 1991 and time for our annual trip to Christmas in the Park. This year we had our first, new baby girl, to share the sights and sounds with and were looking forward to sharing it with her. I had worked retail for many years, so to me the holidays did not mean much except extra
work… put the decorations up for this holiday, take them down and redecorate for the next. In addition, anyone who has worked retail can tell you about not only the hustle and bustle with customers and stocking shelves (in my case setting up our floral department and keeping it fresh), but about the extra long hours that come with the job or late hours. For this reason, I dreaded them and they seemed like any other day.
This particular year though, somehow things would be changing about my view of Christmas and little did I know that our traditional visit to Christmas in the Park would turn out to be a reminder of what the season truly means.
After bundling everyone up and packing the diaper bag and stroller in the car, I made sure the camera was full to take lots of pictures to remember our daughter's first Christmas. The Bay Area is notorious for traffic in the evenings, but this night it was fairly light and before we knew it we were in the streets of downtown San Jose. We had opted to park in the Local 428 lot, which was next to the Union office and one of the fancy hotels downtown.
It was a wonderful night with my daughter getting her picture taken on Santa's lap, eating warm Churros and strolling through the walkways filled with animated scenes. I was very much there, but as the evening winded down, my mind was beginning to wander about work the next day. We listened to the music, the children laughing and watched our own daughter's eyes light up every time she saw the lights on a tree or watched one of the musical moving scenes.
We came to the Nativity scene, which I always take a few extra minutes to enjoy and say a little prayer in my head giving thanks for the miracle of the season and we all just stood there for a while. No sooner did we leave; it was the end of our tour and time to get back in the car and head home. To avoid the normal traffic of getting on the freeway, I drove through the streets between 7th and 11th. There are really beautiful old homes out there in some of the area, so we might have even got to see some house lights.
As I turned onto a street near a college bookstore, I saw a homeless man walking on the street. I do not know what happened in those moments, because all I remember was thinking I had an extra blanket I always carried in the car and it was extremely cold outside. Suddenly I pulled my 89 Ford Escort over to the side of the street and my husband at the time (now my ex) had asked, "What are you doing". It had to be evident I was pulling the car over so I replied, "pulling the car over. I have a blanket in the back."
He looked at me as if I was crazy and was really getting out of the car to take the homeless man a blanket? Yes, I was and I got out, opened the hatchback and I pulled out my "extra", not being used, clean blanket and slowly walked toward the homeless man. As I cautiously approached him, he just kept pushing his shopping cart filled with what few belongings he had.
"Excuse me... hello", I called out to him.
He kept walking and I followed and tried to call him again.
"Excuse me, Mr.", I called out and he finally turned around.
For some reason I was no longer nervous and I remember looking into to his eyes when he said, "you talking to me?" He was unkempt and his skin looked leathered, as if he had been in the sun all of his life. As I took a few steps closer, I saw his basket filled with a piece of cardboard, some clothes with holes and few dirty blankets. Nonetheless, I just had a gut feeling he was suppose to get this blanket tonight and I was the one who was going to give it to him.
I put the blanket across both my arms and reached it out to him. "Here this is for you," I said.
"But I already have some blankets", he said.
"This is a clean blanket, it is for you, and I want you to have it."
"For me?" he asked.
"For you, for Christmas", it blurted out of my mouth and I warmly smiled.
"You're giving this to me for Christmas", he asked?
"Yes, this is for you", I replied and reached it out even further.
When he took the blanket from my hands, I felt the touch of his hands on mine and he looked up and said kindly, "thank you". Again I looked at him with a smile and I said Merry Christmas. He replied, "Merry Christmas and God bless you."
As I got ready to turn away, I answered back "God bless you too."
Then, I began walking back to my car and I climbed in. Just before we were ready to go I had looked back at him through my rear view mirror. In the reflection, I saw the homeless man, standing there alone, in the cold, on the street and he was holding the blanket I had just given him across his arms, just as I had presented it to him, up to the sky. He was praying, and I looked out the window, back at him, seeing a sky filled with stars, and watched him give thanks to the Lord. I got a tear in my eye and suddenly, the true spirit of Christmas filled my heart and soul. "This is what Christmas is truly about" I said silently to myself as I gently cried.
That very evening, that very moment, I had yearned for all my life, when I would feel the true spirit of Christmas had just touched me and overflowed into my soul. In giving that night, I received the greatest gift and those memories still live on in my heart today. The homeless man had nothing but what he carried in his cart, but he had God and was truly richer than anyone on the outside looking in could see. That night, the homeless man touched my heart and my life in a special way. Every Christmas season, I think of him and that beautiful experience that was a turning point in my life. I still get a tear in my eye every time I remember that night and what I learned from the homeless I gave that blanket to that night.
Copyright © 2002 Katrina Stull