... A single, selfless act can inspire a greater, selfless future in 2017.
By: Zach Peterson
Times Free Press, Chattanooga, TN
I pulled three shirts, one sweatshirt, one overcoat, two gloves, one beanie and a pair of thick socks over my body Christmas morning. 10 pieces of clothing, and it still didn’t feel like enough. Chicago hovered around 30 degrees, sending gusts of wind down its long city blocks that day. Normal stuff, apparently. But not for a native Floridian who lives in Tennessee.
For years, my parents had floated the idea of doing Christmas in a big city. We could appreciate the metropolitan cheer, see the snow, donate to the roadside Santas jangling bells for Salvation Army. We could also volunteer, which was our destination that morning. I didn’t know much about Operation Jesus before meeting Linda. I just knew we’d be handing out blankets and food to anyone who had nothing else that icy morning.
After meeting in Chicago’s Union Station, Linda greeted us with a morning prayer and split us into groups. We landed in Linda’s squad with two other families and a couple from Indiana. The instructions were simple: Approach anyone in need, offer them blankets and toiletries, hand them a bag of tacos and tamales, say a prayer if you so desired. Then we departed, a caravan of carolers. Though I can’t remember the city blocks, I do recall the faces.
The first man was bundled outside the station, holding a cardboard sign and shivering on a bridge.
Another man was sleeping in an alley, his body too weak to stand, his eyes tearing up in the wind. It felt wrong knowing we could only provide a fraction of his needs. But I guess that some salvation is better than none at all.
As we walked, our group warmed up to one another. I paled around with a mom named Robin, since we both kept trying to outwalk the cold. Linda convinced a few people to sing Christmas carols. I spared the city of Chicago my wobbly baritone and lugged around the food cart. Outside a convenience store, one man didn’t have gloves. By this point, though, we’d run out. So against my better judgment, I handed mine over. He wanted to know if any of us were watching the Notre Dame versus Southern California game that afternoon. Not being a college football buff, I told him my dad would check it out.
We moved on. I didn’t end up missing my gloves that much. One woman had buried herself under a mountain of blankets at a bus station. Her name was Kimberly, and we stuffed some hand warmers inside her fortress. Another trio of men welcomed the tamales and started cracking jokes about Santa Claus.
What amazed me the most was a man who declined a care package altogether. He’d already been helped that morning, he said, so we needed to save the supplies for someone in greater need.
How many of us can say we’ve behaved so selflessly? And how many of us are reading living now in a warm house with warm food as a given?
As 2017 unfolds, my goal is to hold onto his example, his hope that a single, selfless act can inspire a greater, selfless future.
Above, Zach and his family enjoy seeing the sights in Chicago after serving with Operation Jesus on Christmas Day.
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