The Gift of Love

This past week families gathered to honor each other in company and meal, sharing Thanksgiving dinner over prayers of gratitude for life and living. Many families tried to celebrate grieving over missing members lost to the WTC tragedy. My heart goes out to them and America for what we are enduring. In the shadow of terror and what America has been through this year, near Christmas, traditionally we celebrate this time with peace and goodwill. How do we embrace the spirit of Christmas with temperatures being so warm and a war being fought. Usually this is a time for us to show to each other kindness and unconditional charity like the heroes of Sept 11 who through their willingness to help others reminded us all of what it was to give without expectation of return.

A celebration of the birth of Christ, Christmas more than any other time of the year is random acts of kindness, unwarranted deeds of good measure, and gifts of expression to those we love and those we don't know. Service to humanity as exampled by Jesus has profoundly taken on new definition, here in the fallout of war on terrorism here in our own communities. Most of us do not really understand the reasons why certain people and groups raise money to assist their collective causes. Largely now people in America can relate to wanting to help and make a difference.

I think each of us in some way contributed time or money to the various funds that sprang up after September 11th. We did because we wanted to help, pure and simple. No expectation of return or need of a gift of equal value, we gave because it felt good and we wanted to do it. That's real Christmas. The heroes and everyday citizens of America, you, me; we are the mechanism that decides peace, prosperity, and goodwill in this world. My friend Kristine Alexander, a level L3 paraplegic, from the Shepherd Blades Fencing Team epitomizes this with her life.

I met Kris in the gymnasium at Shepherd Center the first day I joined the fencing team early this year. Because we were the newest members, we were paired often to learn the basic regime of moves together. This gave us time to chat and get to know each other.
Just a few years younger than my father, recently injured, and so ready to go after and try new things, Kris has no time filling her space with fencing, swimming, working-out, sewing, and being a wife. She won 3rd and 4th place medals in her first fencing tournament in Louisville, Kentucky just months ago.

Injured during hunting season when her climber broke and she tumbled 25 feet to the ground in hard crash. "Life now is not so different than before I was hurt. Always a busy person, now some chores take a little longer and have to be done a little different. For example when I sew I can no longer use my foot peddle with my foot so I put it between my knees and squeeze." Initially, she lay on the ground for 7 hours awaiting rescue, praying to God that she'd stay awake and get help soon. Her finger severed she was crushed racked in pain wondering what she would do without the use of her legs.

Now she is a vanguard volunteer at the Shepherd Spinal Center where she is well known by staff and patients alike. "I wanted to thank all those who helped me learn to take care of myself. Shepherd Center gave me the skills I needed to be as independent as possible with my disability. I just could not say thanks and goodbye so I became a volunteer." Averaging 15-20 hours per week, she spends her time feeding, consoling, and relating to new patients and families by sharing whatever it may take to inspire them to a moment of hope or encouragement. Her smile and very honest compassion make her, a favorite visitation among patients newly injured who may need to speak to someone who understands through their own experience, what they are going through.

She responds to them with words trying to alleviate their fears and questions of uncertainty. Newly injured patients usually go through that funk of not knowing where things go from here. Sometimes parents, doctors, nurses, spouses, can't understand or help with some aspects of disability and the healing process. It is in this space that newly injured individuals need a sympathetic ear to relate too. Someone like Kris can lessen their fears of being where they are. "I want to be their friend and encourage them every time I visit. It is so rewarding to have a patient show me some new accomplishment like moving a finger or wiggling a toe. I have seen little miracles and big miracles at Shepherd. It is so exciting to see a patient walk out and say thanks for cheering them on and encouraging them to keep reaching for their goals." She believes that if you put all your effort into something, you can achieve your goals to the best of your ability.

Her ability to adapt to her own new way of being while helping others in service to humanity is the heart and spirit of Christmas. In this world where so many are suffering how can we not want to help something or someone. Christmas is more, wanting to help others than gift exchanging. I hope we remember the charity we felt after September 11th and use that in our everyday lives with whoever it is we may encounter. That is the spirit of these holidays. So help somebody, something, whatever, without expectation. "The gift of love is the best gift of all. Love yourself and others and respect each other to live life to the fullest. If you feel a void in your life, fill it up. Give a little more and you will be rewarded. What a world it would be if everyone celebrated the Christmas season year round."