You see that kid? The one in white, putting the beat down-on the piñata? That kid changed my life.
Some of you have heard this story before. I would apologize for the repetition but this is not just any story. I’ll keep telling it as long as people will listen or read.
You can’t see this kid’s tooth-challenged grin or the way his face exploded with joy the moment that piñata cracked open and spilled its sugary guts on the concrete. You can’t see me watching from the sidelines—a guest at the Los Amigos de Los Niños Christmas party—snort-laughing at the feeding frenzy the split piñata unleashed.
What else can’t you see in this photo?
This kid’s home, for starters. It may have been a small rancho way up in the back country of Baja, Mexico, near Mulegé. His family might have some cattle, a few goats for cheese, chickens, perhaps a burro or a horse. It’s quiet up there, beautiful in the way only deserts can be beautiful. Naked beauty. But it’s so far from town that the only way this kid can get his schooling is to stay at the boarding school the government provides in Mulegé. You won’t see polo ponies or diamond studded cell phones in this photo; it’s not that kind of boarding school.
You will have to imagine Mr. and Mrs. Claus also watching the fun and the other kids who are out of the photo, sitting on the sidelines and treasuring their one and only Christmas gifts. Meager toys by our standards—a ball, a stuffed animal, a doll—but given with love by the American and Canadian snowbirds who help support the school.
Notably absent in this photo is my life prior to December 1998. A childhood of presents under Christmas trees and my association with the holidays as a time of malls and overindulgence. A holiday I came to dread in adulthood.
But you can see the smiles on the faces of those kids waiting for the candy to drop, can’t you? Such a simple thing. A bit of candy. So much joy from so little.
I wish I could have captured the moment that snowman burst and rained happiness because you can’t see how hard that kid fought to get his share of the loot. Small he may be but there’s no way he was letting the big kids push him aside. He earned his handful of candy, his missing-toothed grin spread impossibly wider before my eyes, and then…
He walked right over to me and dropped a goodly share of his hard-earned candy into my filthy rich gringo hands.
You can’t see me tearing up right now but I always do when I get to this part. I don’t need a photo to remember that kid’s face.
He had nothing and I had everything and no one asked him to share with me but he did.
Every day since that photo was taken I’ve tried to honour that kid. I’ve tried to remember that it really isn’t about what you get but about what you give. More than that, it’s about how you give. Without prompting, without expectation, without resentment, without judgement, without fear…that’s how you give. Never doubt the power of one small selfless act.
Because of that kid, I stopped giving out presents at Christmas and made it clear I wanted and expected none in return. By the standards of most people in this world, I am wealthy. I don’t need presents. Instead, I fastened an idea of giving onto my heart and I’ve tried to give the things that matter—my love, my friendship, my time, my loyalty, my empathy, my encouragement—when and where it matters, all year round. I’m not always successful but I always try.
When I look around and see the love and friendship that surrounds me now, I know it’s because of the lesson I learned seventeen Christmases ago. He gave then. He keeps giving.
That kid changed my life.
Wherever that man is today, I wish him joy.
And candy. Lots of candy.