At my old Buddhist community in Portland, tonight would have been Bodhisattva Night, a social gathering (mostly for the kids, but definitely for the young at heart as well) in which the sangha comes together and talks about what it means, this time of year in the West especially, to give of oneself, wholly and without question, in the spirit of pure compassion.
Last year was my last Bodhisattva Night among my Portland Buddhist community, and I told a story there about my recently-deceased grandfather taking in a local homeless addict. But right now I’m remembering my first Bodhisattva night with my Portland community, when I told the story of a certain Christmas Eve back when I was in high school. My family was struggling then, so much so that — unbeknownst to my younger brother and sister — we were at risk of losing our house. I was just old enough then that my parents had confided in me the truth of our situation, but it still hadn’t really sunk in yet. That Christmas Eve, we attended our Presbyterian church as usual and the preacher gave a sermon about the needy, about the Christian importance of providing shelter and comfort, especially during the holidays. He explained that someone in the congregation was suffering greatly but quietly, that someone was at risk of losing their home, and I remember thinking at the time, “Wow, those poor people. I don’t know how long I’ll have my home, my small bedroom, but these people — wow. At least for now, I’m able to help them out,” and I tossed into the collection plate five dollars from my job bagging other people’s groceries.
Later that night — almost Christmas Day, by the clock — my family got a knock at the door. It was our Presbyterian minister. He didn’t stay long; he knew he was intruding on family time, especially so late at night. But he wanted to bring us a check from the church, representative of the funds the congregation had raised that night.
We were that family he’d spoken of.
Yesterday, a friend of my sister’s — the younger sister of my own high school friend, whom I’d worked alongside at that grocery store — lost her husband in a tragic car accident. And that family — suddenly — finds themselves under tremendous financial burden. These are young people, far too young to be thinking about life insurance or funeral costs. And it’s Christmas, and today is a birthday for one of that man’s children; another child’s birthday is next week. All of that — the birthdays, the Christmas, and everything that follows — is now at risk, because that family’s sole earner was taken from them in a terrible accident.
Right now, my sister and her friends are rallying around their former classmate to provide Christmas dinner and Christmas gifts for those kids. It is a tremendous and beautiful effort, a perfect example of the treasure one can find amid the ruin. But the family needs more than just one dinner and a few gifts. And there, you can help:
Go visit the GoFundMe site, set up by a friend of a friend, and donate if you’re able. Help that family in the way that, so many Christmases ago, a community helped my family.