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We've forgotten what matters at Christmas
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule

We've forgotten what matters at Christmas

Technofile for December 20, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

What are you getting for Christmas?

In a different kind of era, questions like that would be preposterous. We used to have a different idea of what these joyful holidays were all about. They are, after all, holy days, not just holidays.

This time of year should be a time of giving. We've changed it into a time of getting.

It's as if we've turned the Golden Rule upside down. We're forgotten what matters.

Caught up with thoughts of the new PC I've ordered for my own Christmas present, I would have forgotten, too. But I didn't sleep well after I was asked that question the other night.

What are you getting for Christmas?

A couple of pieces of hardware. Silicon and iron.

A toy. A big toy, yes. But a toy.

Grownups deserve toys. I won't argue with that. Children shouldn't be the only ones who have fun.

But gifts are not things you receive. They're acts. They're thoughts. They're smiles.

They're what you give.

What are you giving for Christmas?

That's harder to answer, isn't it? Or perhaps harder to evade. Real gifts don't need explanations and deep thoughts. You give because it's the right thing to do. You give because the world always needs a few more random acts of kindness.

I lot of people don't understand this. A lot of good people don't understand this.

Like my friend Bill. I worked with him for years, knew the way his mind worked, matched his thoughts with mine on a thousand nights on the copy desk of the newspaper we both worked for. He was fast with a good headline, quick with a sharp retort.

But something was missing.

Two days before Christmas, 25 years ago, a clerk we had just hired came to work crying. We knew little about her except that she had two kids, no husband and a bright spirit.

Except on that night. She couldn't stop crying.

I asked what was wrong, and she sat down and told all of us her story.

She had taken the kids to McDonald's. She'd left her wallet on the table when she picked up her order. When she got back to the table, the wallet was missing.

"A man took it, Mommy," her oldest kid said. A car was speeding out of the lot. It was too dark to make out the model or the license plate.

It was her Christmas money, her rent money. Her grocery money. She'd lost $180.

I slipped away and found an envelope. Most of us had just been paid. I went around the office and asked everyone to help. In 10 minutes we came up with $300.

We found a ribbon and wrapped up her gift as best we could.

When she saw the money she cried again. She laughed and cried and smiled, all at the same time.

We were smiling, too. Except for Bill.

"Know what?" he told me. "Says she lost $180. Gets $300. Bet she does this every year."

What are you getting for Christmas?

"Get a life," I told him.


"Merry Christmas," I mumbled. I never brought up the subject with him again.

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