An elementary schoolteacher asked her students to describe in a sentence, “What is love?” The teacher received many humorous and touching answers, yet the one that moved her the most was: “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
This holiday season, if you want to create a miracle more magnificent than the one on 34th Street, keep inner peace at the top of your shopping list. During this time when many people have a tendency to get hurried, stressed, upset, and depressed, spiritual quietude will be the best gift you can give to yourself and everyone you touch. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The mainest thing I know is kindness, which brings God to earth and fulfills our angelic nature.
When Fiorello LaGuardia was mayor of New York City, he created a unique reputation for his unorthodox playfulness and generosity and he was affectionately known as the “Little Flower.” LaGuardia walked beats with cops on the street, participated in speakeasy raids, rode on fire trucks, and sponsored orphanages to attend professional baseball games.
One cold night in 1935, LaGuardia made a surprise appearance in night court in a poor area of the city. He told the judge to go home and took over the bench himself. The first defendant brought before him was a shabbily dressed old woman accused of stealing a loaf of bread. When asked whether she was guilty or innocent, she explained that she took the bread to feed her grandchildren, who were starving. The store owner insisted on pressing charges and demanded that she be punished “to teach others a lesson.”
“I’ve no option but to punish you,” the mayor responded. “Ten dollars or ten days in jail.”
As LaGuardia pronounced the sentence, he reached for his hat and threw $10 into it. Then he passed the hat around the courtroom and fined every person there, including petty criminals, traffic violators, and police, 50 cents, for “living in a city where a grandmother has to steal food so her grandchildren can eat.”
When the hat returned to the bench, it was filled with $47.50. LaGuardia emptied the contents into the astonished woman’s hands, and everyone in the court gave the mayor a standing ovation.
A Course in Miracles asks us to remember, “By grace I live. By grace I am released. By grace I give. By grace I will release.” Receiving mercy when you expect punishment, and giving it where it seems not indicated, brings healing far beyond words.
Once, on our way home after a long trip, my partner and I had to delay our return home. We arrived at the airport a day after our scheduled flight and presented the agent with our tickets for the previous day. He studied them for a minute and told us, “This computer here says your tickets are not transferable. I’m required to charge you for a new ticket.”
“How much will that be?” I asked.
“An extra nine hundred dollars,” he answered.
Not attractive, I thought. He could see it on my face.
“But I’m not a very good reader,” he came back with an impish grin. “I don’t see why you should be penalized.” With that, he issued us new tickets and told us, “Have a nice flight.” Sitting on the airplane, tears welled up in my eyes. That man didn’t have to be so kind. He could have quoted chapter and verse and enforced the extra payment penalty. But he didn’t. Then I began to consider the situations in which I might give someone a similar gift by reducing my reading skills, or overlooking what the rules said in favor of mercy and forgiveness. Then I understood the Course in Miracles teaching, “I am under no laws but God’s,” indicating that the principle of grace runs far deeper and stronger than human rules of punishment.
As we consider what we will buy our friends for Christmas and Hanukkah, what greater gift could we bestow upon them – and ourselves – than release? What’s the use of bringing physical presents if we withhold spiritual presence? Who cares how much you paid for a gift, or they paid for yours, if your heart is aching? Consider another child’s response to the teacher who asked for essays on love: “If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.” Lord Chesterfield noted, “The truly adventurous would just jump over their neighbor’s fence.”
In a world hell-bent on getting even, we might create more good by getting odd. It is odd to let go, and strange to not demand punishment. It is unusual to see beauty where others find ugliness, innocence where others record sin. It is rare to laugh while others scorn, and dance when others hide. Yet sometimes it is the odd little flower in a city window box that reminds us that there is moroncr
ALAN COHEN is the author of the best-selling The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and the acclaimed Why Your Life Sucks and What You Can Do About It. For information and a free catalog of Alan’s books, tapes, and seminars, phone 1-800-568-3079, visit www.alancohen.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or write P.O. Box 835, Haiku, HI 96