A big, thick walled, glass jar with a narrow neck was a constant commodity in Dad’s room during my formative years. I had to be about 10 or so when the first one of these showed up and I absent mindedly tracked the steady flow of copper pennies and silver coins as they began taking up the jar’s internal space. I actually remember very little of how long it took to do so, maybe a year, but I do remember clearly the first time Dad told me to lug the thing to church.
Dad rarely went to church. Mother’s attendance followed the tenor of her marriage and during the jar filling era she was busy cooking enticing Sunday lunch so she didn’t go either. My brother and I faithfully walked the 6 blocks or so almost every Sunday to Victory Missionary Baptist Church. Brother Neil, 6 years my junior, followed my lead to attend Sunday school but not worship. Worship scared me too much. He probably could have handled it.
“Take the jar to church when you go on Sunday. Leave it somewhere so they can find it,” Dad told me, when he couldn’t get anymore into the neck of the jar. “You are not to let them know you brought it. You are going to give the money anonymously.”
Dad believed in object lessons and spankings. I got a lot of both. I wasn’t particularly dumb or bad, mostly stubborn and emotional, both attributes that make object lessons and spankings somewhat effective. This task floored me though. I had some idea what the word anonymous meant. I had much less idea of Dad’s reasoning. I certainly hadn’t expected this as I watched the jar fill these last months.
“You want me to just take it in the chuch and put it somewhere so someone can find it, but so know one sees me? So there will be no one who knows you gave the money?” I didn’t say this with any note of revolt or disobedience. More just making sure I didn’t mess up. It looked like a lot of money to me.
“You are giving the money, Janet.”
This wasn’t true. I wasn’t giving the money. I had no money to give. Dad was giving the money. He was the one who day after day had worked and emptied his pockets into the jar. I said this to him.
“I am giving the money to you. You will give the money to the church and you will make sure no one knows it you.”
I do not remember how I accomplished this. It must have taken some effort to carry it as Brother Neil and I walked. I am sure he helped me. I have no idea where I put it but I did so stealthily and I knew the joys of secret self importance when the next week it was announced in Sunday School that someone had left over 300 dollars in coins in a jar. The Victory Missionary Baptist leadership leapt on the opportunity for a short lesson on giving in humility and without chance of praise and the true spirit of Christ living in those who gave in anonymity. I recall distinctly wanting my secret knowledge known, having made some leaps of my own, now fully accepting of my generosity in the scheme as only a 10 year old could.
Despite me, the act, in ways unpredicted, also fed my own soul with lasting and evolving repercussions.
As I lay in bed early this morning, the longest night of this year already behind me, a winter solstice done once more, I think my soul is hungry. I thought about what it means to give. There are no object lessons for growing children I have on my mind or jars of money I have filled and waiting. It was the gentle pricks of conscious bringing to mind things I should have done for others and didn’t or haven’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t and I wonder what chances today I will be given. For a few moments, I close my eyes and think on my smallness. I considered this in terms both of the grand scheme and in my own heart. Increasingly, its a preparatory exercise for prayer for me. I do this to recognize and accept that no matter what has gone on, reality is much bigger than me. As always and slowly my mind begins to rest a bit easier. There is always a truth of some kind waiting for me in this frame of mind and today it’s the very fact of the very smallness of my heart that comfort comes to me. Because I am assured of this: for as many opportunities that I have let pass, there are others who didn’t. I am richer in spirit for the knowing. The truly good things in life do not fall solely in my purvue, thank God. I am but part of a larger whole of those who have been taught the power to rise above their own selfishness, each failing in our goals but collectively making a difference. For a few minutes I wished I could know all the beautiful, generous, loving, anonymous things that are done in the breast of woman and man who seek the power that allows them vision beyond themselves. It’s a balm in a world of gun control and mental illness, fiscal cliffs and 200 dollar tennis shoes.
But the world is as it should be and I can only glimpse the heart of others, remembering the value of a father and mother who knew what to teach. It’s left to me strive once more, renewed not to fail, to choose to teach the importance of feeding the soul through gifts of love and kindness and to traffic in such, accompanied by prayer.
The merriest of Christmas’s to all of you.