The Christmas season is upon us once again. This magical time of the year brings warm and happy feelings inside, for most of society.
Growing up in Pearl, Mississippi, Christmas was always my favorite time of year. Waking up early as a child, racing to the Christmas tree to see what Santa brought, tearing off the wrapping paper to see what surprises lay inside. Mom cooking in the kitchen, and when I got old enough, teaching me how to make chicken and dumplings from scratch at the kitchen counter. I still remember the smell of those Christmas meals lingering in the air as we wait- ed for friends and family to join us.
Now it seems like those memories took place four lifetimes ago. Somewhat familiar, but masked by a haze of pain. After a series of horrific events I found myself living on the streets at the age of 49, and Christmas suddenly took on a whole new meaning. Instead of celebrating the holidays, I would disappear and pray for that day to pass as soon as possible. It became a day of misery and dread. More than other days, it became a day that confirmed what I already knew but tried to never think about: the undeniable truth that I had lost everything, including my family and loved ones.
It took several years and several Christmases on the street before I could accept my new life. But three years ago, I seriously contemplated the value my life and it was then, in the deep recesses of my mind, I heard a faint voice say, “since when has this life been about you?”
It stopped me in my tracks, my mind went blank and again I heard, “since when has this life been about you?”
I quickly gathered myself and started to analyze this statement.
I realized that up until that point, my main focus in life was all about me. No wonder I was miserable, I was focused on a life that had been ripped apart, a life not worth living, a life that was no longer mine. My life was void of any possessions and the people I loved were dead and gone.
As I continued to contemplate this thought I had a revelation, a moment of clarity. All at once, I gained a new perspective about the holidays. Even though I am no longer decorating a house or Christmas tree, buying presents or attending the typical holiday parties, I found new meaning in my life and the holiday season.
And it requires just one thing, my time.
For the last three years, I have been running a Christmas blue jean drive for the homeless. During the week of Christmas, I gather worn blue jeans for people in need. The first year, I set up a table outside the YMCA on Allston Street. YMCA members and passers- by saw it, and before I knew it, I had collected 35-40 pairs of jeans.
Last year I did the same thing, and gathered 50 pairs of jeans. Then, on Christmas day, I load up my backpack and walk around the streets, giving out t-shirts, socks, and blue jeans to people I see.
When living on the streets you come to realize that it is the basic fundamentals that make a difference. Things such as safety, food, clothing and most importantly, companionship. More than money and possessions, these things are what makes life worth living. Small things such as used blue jeans make a huge difference when that’s all you receive for Christmas.
Before realizing I could invest in my new community, my focus was on regaining my place in society: starting another business, buying another Cor- vette, new boats and jet skis, another house on the ocean. These are all the things the advertisements said I needed in order to be happy and leave a legacy for generations to come.
But I no longer do things for what I can get. Instead, I do things because I can give. As my dad used to say, “ Right is Right and Wrong is Wrong, you do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
I used to believe that Christmas was about buying presents, and celebrating Christian beliefs. It is only now I realize the real purpose of Christmas is about spending time with the people you love and creating memories that will last a lifetime. This is a truth that’s only revealed once someone or something in your life is lost.
Timothy Busby is a homeless writer who lives in Berkeley. He writes from his past five years of experiences while living on the streets from New Orleans to Berkeley, and many cities in between.