Around the holidays, I finally followed through on a longtime intention to make care packages for the homeless with my children. A wise woman I once traveled with planted this seed almost a decade ago. She would buy bottles of water and attach affirmations to each one, and then hand them out to anyone who asked for change along the road. The affirmation piece was what stuck with me. It added a personal touch, a way to reach across the gap of unfamiliarity and communicate, “I see you.”

As the weather turned cold and my children began talking about what they wanted for Christmas, I hoped to shift their experience of the holidays from a “getting” fest to a “giving” fest. Together we went shopping and bought whatever we felt might nurture someone in need of a random act of kindness. We gathered gloves, hand-warmers, water, nuts, granola bars, and fruit.

At the store and while creating our care packages at home it was harder than I anticipated to hold our focus on giving. The kids were more concerned about what goodies they might enjoy. In my mounting frustration, I almost threw in the towel. Perhaps they were to young to consider others whose lives they had not yet touched and were therefore beyond comprehension. But I persevered; how else could they learn?

Finally the bags were ready but they were missing the personal touch that had stayed with me all these years. Haven, Afton, and I talked about it, and they decided to create artwork to include. This was the key that unlocked their compassion. They painted and drew the most beautiful images they could imagine in hopes of spreading joy and love. And so they did.

The first bag, we gave to a couple at the park. Haven said, “Mom, they must have been hungry because that woman tore open the bags of pretzels before she could say thank you.” Yes, son, there are many who hunger. Other bags were handed out and gratefully received, but it was on the solstice that my heart broke open. Tears come to my eyes even now as I remember.

We went out in search of people with whom we could share a momentary connection and our well wishes. The first man was slowly shuffling along the ice behind his walker; he had no socks or gloves, and it was cold. I wasn’t sure if he was just out for a lonely walk or if he had no home in which to warm himself. Afton was drawn to him, so we parked and walked over to ask if we could give him our humble gift. He took one look at Afton and his aged face came to life with long-set wrinkles and weathered wisdom. He graciously received our offering and our help, and in return he shared his presence.

The next woman wore her hard life like armor; I was intimidated and so I approached her alone. It took nothing more than a brief greeting and an open hand for her to raise her head and let me into her world. We held each other’s gaze, saying things to one another that words could not express. Her brilliant blue eyes penetrated my soul, melting the calcification of my own heart when it was her hardness I had feared. Back in the car, I sobbed.

Our last bag went quickly to a man at a stoplight. He pulled out the children’s pictures. He smiled, chuckled, and waved as we drove away.  And, so did we. I believe a new holiday tradition has been born.