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A Thanksgiving stranger told me something that changed my Grinch ways

December 02, 2013|By Ernest Wilkins, @ErnestWilkins

I hate the holidays. 

Ok, let me clarify. I hate the feeling that the holidays bring. That hopelessness that comes from never having enough money to give stuff to the people you love. The unsettled feeling of realizing that feeling inferior because you can't afford things is a messed-up outlook on the world. Ugly sweaters and the people who insist on throwing parties to celebrate them. It's all annoying. I'll admit that the "spirit of the season" never really affected me ... that is, until this past Thanksgiving.

I was heading to a Friendsgiving with my co-workers and some buds. Waiting on the corner for a cab, I heard someone yelling. "Excuse me! Sir! Excuse me!" 

Until it was apparent that she was talking directly to me, there was no intention on my part to respond. This is Chicago, right? The last time I responded to a guy who called out to me, he ended up showing me his penis. Something told me to turn around. She looked scared and was minutes away from breaking down in tears. I walked over. She asked if she could use my phone. She was lost and couldn't find the address to her niece's house. Again, skepticism set in. How did I not know she wouldn't just pull off with my phone? She then asked, "Were you waiting for a cab? I can give you a ride where you're going!" Now I was DEFINITELY giving her the side-eye. Can you imagine? "Ay man, you heard about what happened to Ernest?" "Yeah, they found dude in a dumpster with a Ventra card shoved up his butt. Damn shame." Despite the weariness, something told me to chill. I decided to give her a chance.

I'm so glad I did. 

Eileen--that's her name, by the way--and I took off toward my Thanksgiving dinner and got to know each other a bit. We talked about everything from her past (born and raised in Chicago with some stops all over the country) to why she doesn't have a cell phone (She believes they kill communicating and things like subtlety) to her late mother (passed last year, this Thanksgiving was the first big family event since her death and that whole thing stressed her out) to a crazy recipe for taffy apple salad. (Apparently, the key is to chop the apples, not dice them and to not use Cool Whip, because Cool Whip is all chemicals.)

The whole experience was an eye-opener. Being there for other people is something we all like to assume we would do, but a lot of times we don't take the action to help someone in need. Call it fear, laziness, whatever you'd like. All I know is that a woman in her late-50s completely flipped my mind-set on the holiday season. If I can leave you with anything, remember when you're going through it this holiday season: It's not about money! It's about being a good person and taking the time to be thankful for the good people in my life. Thank you, Eileen. 

(I still hate ugly sweaters though.)

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