Yesterday's newspaper was little more than several pounds of ads for "the perfect gift" and 'black Friday' doorbusters. Yawn.
I am so done with the Christmas hype and stress. My newly married daughter and son-in-law have asked for money for Christmas to help pay for new furniture as they move into a townhouse and out of the husband's bachelor pad. So money is what I will give them. And I'll probably get a couple of gift cards so they can enjoy a meal out or a coffee treat once in a while.
After visiting Africa four times in the past three years, my perspective on what is important has changed considerably. Never one to engage in the mad dash to buy 'the perfect gift,' I am now even more aware of the crushing poverty that envelopes so much of the world. And having that knowledge makes me even more dedicated to doing something to help.
Earlier this year I visited the Soweto region of Johannesburg, South Africa, and saw the one-room tin shack in which a mother and her children live. The community was excited to have recently obtained access to running water -- not in each shack, but through a community pump. A couple of years ago a friend and I visited a school in rural Kenya that has no electricity or running water, only a few books, no computers or high-tech equipment. Each classroom has dirt floors, and the children, all neatly dressed in uniforms, walk miles to school every morning and home again in the afternoon. Another group I follow on Facebook posted recently about the shoes the children wear, made of old rubber tires. American children would be appalled to be seen wearing rubber shoes, but these kids are excited to have any kind of footwear.
So pardon me if I don't get excited about America's annual shopping -- and spending -- frenzy. I plan to donate to a scholarship fund for pasturalist Kenyan girls so they can attend high school. Perhaps I will support an after-school program for Soweto students. I will donate to the hospice that cared for my father at the end of his life, and to a couple of animal rescue groups. I also will donate food to local food drives as I do every year.
The older I get, the less I need things. I value the feeling that comes from knowing I have helped those in need, especially given the overwhelming suffering and sadness in our world. I value experiences gained from travel and the friendships I have made during those travels. I don't need more clothes or more knicknacks to collect dust. Experiences, memories and digital images from my travels don't clutter the house or require dusting.
Feeling more connected in some small way to people on the other side of the planet, people with whom I have little in common, is really my 'perfect gift' this holiday season and throughout the year.