During the holiday season more than any other it seems we’re besieged with pleas to help. Any amount will do. I don’t know about you, but my mailbox overflows with requests. So many in fact, I don’t know where to donate my money, time and energy.
From Biblical times to the present people have always given of themselves to the poor and downtrodden. When we think of present day philanthropists, the names Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mother Teresa, Oprah, and a whole lot of others spring to mind. But they’re not all. The stories that touch my heart are the ones where a person in line at the grocery store tells the clerk he wants to pay for the next five or ten customers’ food bill. Or the man in a restaurant who picks up the tab for the next table. Or the person in line at the fast food place who pays for the next car’s bill. Or the child who donates all her birthday presents to the less fortunate. Generosity is everywhere and income plays little part. It’s big and small, rich or poor.
Settlers on the frontier never failed to give alms to the poor no matter that they had very little themselves. They had a generous spirit and a desire to pay forward what others had done for them.
I think of the old Texas ranchers…Dan Waggoner, Burk Burkburnett, Daniel Webster (80 John) Wallace who made sure to spread their good fortune to others. They helped their neighbors and took good care of their ranch hands and their families.
And a prostitute/brothel madam, Martha Hall aka Molly b’Dam, who lived in Murray, Idaho. During a blizzard she took off her heavy fur coat and gave it to a mother and child because they had none then bought them a cabin in which to live. She nursed sick gold miners and gave to the poor. When smallpox swept through the town in 1886, she cleared out the hotels and filled them with the sick. Then she rolled up her sleeves, working tirelessly until she could no longer stand. She barely ate, not even stopping to change clothes. A year later she came down with consumption (Tuberculous), a death sentence at that time. The women of Murray kept a 24 hour vigil by her bedside. When she died on January 1888 at the age of 35, miners left their diggings and sluice boxes became silent. Thousands of people came from all over to pay tribute to the bold, beautiful woman with a generous heart. A Presbyterian minister delivered the eulogy and not a dry eye could be found.
Every August the folks of Murray hold a two-day celebration in honor of the woman who showed exactly what true benevolence looked like.
Then I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jane Addams of Chicago, Illinois. She along with Ellen Gates Starr founded a settlement house in 1889. Hull House became world famous for helping countless immigrants who needed someone to show them how to live and thrive in the U.S. It became a safe haven for those immigrants who were taught English and given all the skills to become vital, contributing citizens in their new country. They closed it in 2012 and it’s now a museum that celebrates the life of these two pioneer social workers. They were truly women of vision.
These people are only a drop in the bucket. There were thousands of others in the 1800’s who gave generously of their time and money no matter their social status or wealth. Everyone of them was important.
So as you prepare for this holiday season I hope you have giving of some kind in your heart…a smile, a laugh or a moment of your time for a lonely man or woman.