One year for Christmas, my brother Chris and his wife Julie gave each of us siblings a very thoughtful gift. Inspired by the book “The Christmas Jar” By Jason F. Wright, they gave each sibling's family an empty quart size Mason Jar. A slot was cut in the plastic lid, and inside were a number of stickers and ribbons to decorate the jar with.
In the book “The Christmas Jar” Hope Jensen, in a moment of great grief and monetary loss, is anonymously gifted a small jar of money. Moved, humbled, and transformed by this gift, her own faith in humanity is resurrected as she searches for and ultimately finds the donors.
When we opened the package from my brother, inside, along with the jar and a copy of the book, was a note which read: " In honor of the spirit of giving we were taught by Mama Rose and Papa Gene (The names our children call our parents), please decorate this jar, and over the course of this upcoming year, collect your spare change and donate it to the cause of your choice, in their name."
My parents have indeed always been generous people. The list of charities they support has grown as our families have grown, but what I remember more were the times when, moved by the suffering and loss in our own back yard, they gave without hesitation. I have a vivid memory of a time, when my parents went to visit one of our former Parish priests in his new Parish in the inner city. During the mass a man entered the back of the church, mumbling and disoriented, unclean and clearly intoxicated. He wore no shirt, but a suit jacket worn backwards, the sleeves serving as pant legs. Apparently, it wasn't an uncommon occurrence, but to my folks it was. They left the Church, bought him some clothing, and got him a meal. I will never forget that. On another occasion, I remember my mother gathering blankets and coats as we watched the apartment house at the top of our street burn. I don't remember them telling us to be generous, necessarily, but I do remember them being it themselves. Actions always speak louder than words.
Clearly, the act of giving, in and of itself, has a cathartic quality. It just does. I know that with every handful of change I dropped into that jar over the first year of this project, I felt good. I made it a point; in fact I made it my intention, to place any change that came my way into the jar. Change from the coffee I bought, change found in coat pockets and pants pockets, change left on the dresser or in my car's cup holder, change I found in the washer or the dryer. It all went into the jar. Two sticky quarters I spied on the floor between our seats at the Bruce Springsteen Concert: into the jar.
At the time, I was reading “The Power of Intention” by Wayne Dyer, the premise of which is that you create your own reality, based on making it your intention to do so. It couldn't hurt to set an intention. I set my Intention: I intend to find lots of change, mostly quarters.
The Jar was strategically placed on the counter juxtaposed between the back door and the laundry room. I began to notice a direct correlation between the money I found, and the thoughts I was thinking. Often, there were only pennies. At times there were quarters and dimes. At the end of the first year, I was eager to see how much money I had saved, and took my kids to the local bank with the change counting machine to await the news. We had saved $75.70. We were quite pleased, although there were coins of all denominations in the jar there was also a small amount of space still left. We decided that rather than waiting until the jar was filled, we would cash the money in before Christmas, to donate as our family Holiday Gift. Earlier in the week, I had seen an advertisement for our Local Food Bank, Philabundance. It read: “Twenty-five cents can provide one meal for a person in need."
That was all it took. I felt that 75$ could go a long way. So we got a cashier's check in exchange for our collected change and we sent it off to Philabundance. We immediately began refilling the jar, and during the next year our change began to multiply like yeast expands bread dough. This time the jar was so full it could scarcely hold even a few more coins. And this time the jar held $175.00. I am eager to see what this third year will bring. Although we are only four months in, it is growing nicely—as are the hopeful feelings I am gifted with whether I place a handful of coins or a few rogue pennies into the mix.
Our parents’ tendency toward generosity begets our own. Once you've been the recipient of another's giving, or even just the bystander who observed it happen, you've been affected.
"Imagine this! Kindness extended, received, or observed beneficially impacts the physical health and feelings of everyone involved!” — Wayne Dyer in “The Power of Intention: Learning to Co-Create Your World Your Way”
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