Remembering January 8, 2011

All over Tucson there was bell ringing at 10:10 a.m. to honor the victims of the tragic shooting that took place on Jan. 8, 2011–the shooting that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and left for dead.

The Safeway Grocery Store where the shooting happened is less than a mile from my home.  I shop there.  I was moved to drive over to the store and gently ring my bells.  I rang my Santa sleigh bells, which in 30+ years, have never rung after Christmas for any reason.  Today, though, they rung in remembrance of the six people who died and the 19 who were wounded.

My heart was broken, when I thought of Christina Taylor Green’s family.  Christina was only 9 years old when she was murdered (she was born on Sept. 11, 2001).  She was an engaged, bouncy passionate little girl…just like another little girl i know well.

My heart was broken when I imagined the unimaginable…what would it be like to wake up one morning, give Molly a kiss and hug and wave her goodbye for an hour or two, and then, by noon, to realize that I would never hear her voice again, never laugh or bicycle with her again…at least not in this world?  HORRIFIC!!!!  PAINFUL!!!!  SOUL-CRUSHING!!!!  UNSPEAKABLE!!!!
UNIMAGINABLE!!!!

My eyes were full of tears.  My heart was full of love.  My soul overflowed with empathy & compassion.

My heart was broken,
Open.

And my resolve to do good, to speak compassionately and my commitment to kindness grew deeper.

Indeed, THAT is the real work of Santa!

Not the photos in the red suit.  Not the glamor and glitz of Christmas Day. Or even the excitement of Christmas Eve.

Santa’s real work is doing justice…of being a voice for the voiceless and serving the “have nots” and the “never hads,” with love, compassion, mercy & kindness.  Santa’s real work involves anonymous giving, comforting the afflicted and realizing that ALL are afflicted.

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Beyond Bread is the place where I pick up between 600-1000 loaves of bread every week for the hungry.  I put the bread in my pickup truck and deliver it to the Food Bank every Saturday night.

I do it nearly anonymously.  Late at night, alone, I lift the heavy bags of bread and put them inside the food bank where other volunteers will sort and deliver them to the needy the following week.

There are no reporters, no cameras.  There is no one to praise me for “what a great guy I am” or to “thank” me. Very few people even know my name.  It doesn’t matter.

I don’t want my name on a plaque.

I do it for Christina…
and Molly…
and all those children and people who need someone to love them and care about them.

My heart is broken,
Open.

Indeed.

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Beyond Bread is a stone’s throw from that infamous Safeway–just across the parking lot.  So I parked there this morning. And before I went over to ring my Santa sleigh bells, I stopped in Beyond Bread so I could speak to Jeff Truitt, the General Manager, and say “thanks” on behalf of the thousands of people who have been fed because of Jeff’s generosity.  One bit of conversation led to another and, at the end, Jeff looked me right in the eyes and said, “You’re Undercover Santa.”

I like that.  Undercover Santa.

Away from the fanfare.  Away from the hoopla.

Quietly, unassumingly, anonymously…
Doing good.

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After Beyond Bread, after the bell ringing, I went across the street to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks.  I was carrying my sleigh bells.

A young barista greeted me, took my order and noticed my bells.  She was curious about them.  I had never seen or spoken to this young lady before.

I told her that I had been across the street at Safeway ringing the bells in remembrance of those who had died and been wounded….

And you know what she said to me?

I couldn’t believe it.

But, so help me God, it’s true.

Without any additional commentary or explanation,
She looked into my face and into my teary eyes and she said,

“Undercover Santa.”

I got my coffee and walked out into the sunshine of a new day.

by: Patrick Sheridan Cunningham