"Operation Santa!" by Padraic Lillis
The past couple of years Christmas had lost its meaning for me in how I was celebrating it. The children in my family had outgrown the magic of Christmas and gift giving started to feel like an obligation and not necessarily a gesture in the spirit of the holiday. This year my family was going to be in different places for the holiday and I decided to stay in New York to celebrate with friends. Two weeks before Christmas my theater company produced a festival of solo works. One of the shows we presented was my show on suicide awareness. The show takes an emotional toll on me to perform and I have learned to do things to take care of myself. Some of the things I do are exercise, meditate, and try to be of service. I decided that when the show closed, as an act of service and a way of feeling the Christmas spirit, I would answer a letter to Santa Claus. The United States Postal Service has a wonderful program, "Operation Santa", that organizes letters from children to Santa and invites people to read a letter and to buy a gift from 'Santa' to be shipped to the child to under the tree in the morning. I planned to go and read the letters a week after the festival closed. It felt like an appropriate time to address my post show blues and to help get me into the holiday spirit.
The day before I was going to go I was finishing a meeting and got a text from a friend, I'll call Stan, that read, "I'm not doing well. I think I need help." As soon as the meeting was over I called Stan. He was depressed. He too had recently completed performing in a show and was feeling a lack of purpose. This wasn't something Stan and I usually talk about. He is very positive and proactive in his approach to life and work. This was different. I listened. I affirmed his feelings. I invited him to join me tomorrow for "Operation Santa". I knew from feeling the way he was describing that's it's good to make plans. To be expected somewhere and accountable. The next day we met at the Post Office. He was still a little down but clearly happy to have a plan.
Reading the letters was moving. We both responded to a letter from a five year old girl that wanted two dolls. We left to go on a shopping spree. Stan's mood was much lighter and I felt connected to the spirit of the holiday. We found one doll and Stan offered to order the other online. We would meet up in two days with the wrapped gifts for the Post Office to deliver for Santa.
When we met up to ship the gifts Stan told me that when he left me after shopping, he ran into someone he knew from high school that was visiting the city for the holiday with his wife. Stan and two of them sat down and had a long lunch and an inspiring conversation. The couple shared positive things going on in their lives, positive memories of Stan from high school, and encouragement and admiration for what he was doing with his career. Also, they loved the idea of "Operation Santa". Stan was again his very positive, proactive self and like me, appreciative of the gift we were giving to the five year old that wrote to Santa.
Participating in "Operation Santa" helped to put me into the holiday spirit and lift me out of a sense of self seeking that surrounded the close of the show. Sharing the experience with Stan helped make it special. We got to share in the joy in the act of finding the right gift, wrapping them, and seeing them off to delivery. That was the gift we gave each other. The impulse to invite Stan to join me was simply to give him somewhere to be and to make sure he was okay the next day. I thought it would help. It turned out it was the boost he needed to be inspired, empowered, and refocused in his sense of purpose and possibility.