Thursday, April 25, 2024

MACKAY: Helping for the holidays

| December 20, 2020 1:00 AM

There is an old Chinese story about a woman who lost her only son. She went to the holy man in her village and asked, "What mystic powers do you have that will lift the pain from my heart?"

"There is a wonderful thing you can do," he said. "I want you to go get me a mustard seed from a home that has no problems. Such a mustard seed can ward off your own problems."

So she traveled to a beautiful mansion. Nothing could possibly be wrong there, she thought. She knocked on the door and said, "I am looking for a mustard seed from a home where there are no problems. It is very important to me."

"Oh," they said, "you have come to the wrong house." They began listing all of their family problems, and the list went on and on.

The woman thought to herself, "Well, I certainly know something about problems, for I have my own. Maybe I can be of help to them." And she was. She listened to and comforted them, and they all felt better.

Instead of giving gifts to others this holiday season, maybe this is a good year to give yourself. There are many charities that are hurting, especially during this pandemic and the hardships it has inflicted on so many.

Fortunately, the options are many, even when we're locked down or limited in opportunities to connect in person.

Financial donations are always appreciated. And if you are good at raising money, offer your services. There's always a huge need for help, and even if you can't afford to donate cash, giving your time will be greatly appreciated.

You don't have to look far to find a good place to start. Participating in — or organizing — a food drive serves an immediate local need. I've heard about several local companies, whose employees are currently working from home, that have opted to collect food and cash from employees as a holiday project. The employees from one have even decided to continue the practice monthly, due to the enthusiastic response from their co-workers. What a gift to folks who lack the basics.

Clothing drives, toy collections, giving trees: There are so many activities around the holidays that can use all the help they can get. It doesn't require a big commitment, but sharing with someone you don't even know is the kind of gift that means so much to the recipient.

The pandemic has kept us apart, but it has also helped us find new ways to be together. A phone call to brighten a friend's day, an errand for someone who can't leave their home, a little surprise package left on a doorstep or at a homeless shelter — all these are simple ways to share your gifts with others. Write a letter to a service member, a thank-you to emergency workers or to a school whose teachers have worked hard to keep in touch with their students.

In other words, it's an opportunity to focus on someone else's needs besides your own. Like the woman in the story above, we can all find ways to connect with people who could use a little encouragement or assistance. And as she learned, this is a gift you also give yourself.

Don't limit these gifts to the holiday season. The need never goes away. As you will discover, there is always someone who needs something you have to offer.

It all boils down to one truth: We're all in this together. Whatever we do to help a neighbor or stranger can change a life. The rewards are often so much greater than the gift itself.

A man was speaking with God about heaven and hell. "I will show you hell," said God. They went into a room that had a delicious beef stew on the table, around which people sat chained to their benches, looking desperately famished. They held spoons with long handles that reached into the pot, but were too long to put the stew back into their mouths. Their suffering was terrible.

"Now I will show you heaven," said God. They then went into an identical room with the savory stew on the table, where people sat with identical spoons with long handles, but they were well nourished and joyous.

The man was baffled until God said, "Quite simply, you see, these people have learned to feed each other."

Mackay's Moral: Make every season a season for giving.

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Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.