Added: Charmain Lamotte - Date: 29.10.2021 13:04 - Views: 23967 - Clicks: 8042
One Christmas day some 20 years ago, I was the prime suspect at what was almost a murder scene — at least in my head. We had invited a lonely old lady for dinner. At that time, I reckoned I was pretty conscientious in my charitable attendance on those less fortunate than myself.
I gave, but with discrimination. So, while I had concluded that there were occasions when it was OK to walk by on the other side, there were also times when it was not. Hence the Christmas hospitality. My first encounter with Mrs C had been at a bus stop earlier in the year. She was a birdlike creature in her 70s, chirpy, stiffly moving on staccato legs, like an arthritic pigeon.
On the ride home and on the walk to her house, as I carried her shopping, she chirruped incessantly. She was high on the eccentricity spectrum, but in brief doses she was good company and I would drop by once every few weeks for coffee and a chat. As a result both of her own bad choices and of happenstance, she suffered from chronic loneliness, which had produced an obsessive need to talk, alongside a self-destructive inability to listen. She was a victim, which was how she came to be invited to our family — myself, wife and seven-year-old son — for Christmas.
She arrived empty-handed, and in that nanosecond an infection took hold. She held court. She simply never stopped talking, even when gabble-gobbling the food on which, to add insult to injury, she passed a couple of critical comments — and she had clearly fasted for a couple of days beforehand. We had four hours of an unbroken monologue about her life, its accidents, the state of her organs, her discontent with the world.
And not a word to our son.
I think it was the latter that inflamed conventional irritation into thoughts of homicide. To keep these at bay, my wife and I — and, once he got the hang of it, our son — indulged a displacement strategy whereby we made faces, interjected irony, essentially subjected Mrs C to covert ridicule. When I finally took her home, I felt the first drops of remorse. She invited me in and handed me three beautifully wrapped presents. Three days later, the remorse exploded into a tsunami when a handwritten note came through the door to say thank you.
That incident taught me something about charity, fairly apposite in this season of goodwill. It was her failure to conform to the role of grateful recipient that set my teeth on edge; it was her refusal to play the victim, her insistence on setting the agenda, on ignoring the basic social rules, that generated the homicidal reaction. Yet here was I, a community worker, exhibiting all the traits of social hubris. I knew how suffering often intensifies the very behaviours that made someone a victim in the first place.
I may not have known the detail of what life had done to Mrs C, what had made her so socially eccentric, but I should have known what to expect. And when I got it, when she asserted herself, I resented it. I now recognise that the whole project of sharing our Christmas was flawed, and it taught me a salutary lesson. It taught me something about what could be termed benefaction.
Caring can lead us to expect the objects of our care to be gracious in their receipt of our largesse, to accept unreservedly our support; essentially, to know their place. What I learned, that shameful Christmas, is that charity, care, whatever you call it, is essentially a two-way process, in which the recipients may be victims to us, but they are desperately seeking to restore the selfhood that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have eroded.
That is their right and, while we are distributing the Ferrero Rocher, it behoves us to pay attention.
A Christmas that changed me Christmas. This article is more than 4 years old.
Stewart Dakers. Instead of conforming to the role of grateful recipient, Mrs C plumped herself down in the wrong chair and talked incessantly. Our patience was being sorely tried …. Sat 24 Dec When having the freedom to go Christmas shopping is so sweet Penny Pepper. Without the older generation, there would be no society.
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A lonely old lady came for Christmas – and gave us a lesson in charity