One of my favorite Christmas movies is Elf, the story of Buddy, an orphan who stole away in Santa’s bag on Christmas Eve and ended up being raised at the North Pole. Buddy is as sweet as the sugary diet that he so loves but somehow he doesn’t quite fit in with the other elves. When he learns about his true identity he sets off to New York City in search of his birth father and hopefully finding an idea of who he really is.
I love Buddy for his unadulterated innocence. He doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body even though he is not always treated with the love and respect that he accords to everyone he meets. He seems strange in a world of hustle, bustle and competition but people eventually respond to his genuine nature. He finally learns that just being himself is his best talent.
I’ve been fortunate to know many individuals much like Buddy, people who almost appear to be otherworldly in their ability to see the good in every person and situation. One of the first of such people that comes to my mind is one of my former principals, Joe. To this day his face is continually lit with what seems to be a permanent grin that is so spectacular it lights up a room. He is filled with happy greetings no matter the time of day. I have to admit that am not a morning person so I sometimes avoided Joe in the earliest part of the school day because I felt overwhelmed by his expansive good nature. Still, in my heart I loved that he was so exuberant and open. I know the kids did.
Joe began his career working with special needs children. I suspect that he was wonderful in that regard because he is so accepting of everyone exactly the way they are. As a principal he reveled in making everyone happy. He started each school day with optimism and spent his hours thinking of ways to bring out the best in people. He’s retired now and often travels to Haiti and other countries that have experienced difficulties. He volunteers his time and talents and makes many friends. His Facebook posts are infinitely positive and hopeful, filled with inspiration and faith. He even takes the time to warn all of us who are his friends to be careful as we travel about during the holiday season.
My mother was a beautiful soul like Joe, almost childlike in her interactions with people. She seemed to be a lovely sprite with one of those magical smiles that only very special people have. Like Buddy, the elf-human, she found great joy in the simplest things. Nothing made her happier than a really good cup of coffee or an ice cream cone. She enjoyed looking at Christmas lights and she didn’t need an expensive display to feel excited. A few strands across a front porch were enough to make her happy.
Some people saw my mother as an eccentric but most learned to return the love that she gave so freely. She literally spent her days thinking about everyone that she knew and she gave to so many charitable organizations that she barely had enough money at the end of the month to meet her own obligations. She scoffed when I reminded her to be more careful with her funds and insisted that she would be fine which, in fact, she usually was.
I have known many young people who were so much like Buddy, Joe and my mother. Among them is Danny, one of the most remarkable young people that I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. Danny claims that he was not always as agreeable as he now is. He tells a story of a troubled past that landed him in the hands of the police. When he realized how close he had come to ruining his life and when he saw how devastated his mother was, he set out to change direction. He did so with great determination and the Danny that I met was kind, sincere, honest and peaceful.
Danny is a valiant prayer warrior. It is through God that he has found his way. Whenever I request that Danny storm the heavens for a particular cause miracles seem to happen. He is a person that everyone seems to love and admire, a leader who exemplifies the kind of high moral character to which we all aspire. He literally radiates empathy and a holy spirit.
I once taught a young lady who was much like Danny. Her family was homeless and she slept in the trunk of a car each evening. Many young girls might have been angry and disruptive given such dire circumstances but she was quite literally optimistic and content that her situation was only temporary. In the meantime she made the best of things and found ways to see her lifestyle as a kind of adventure. She somehow managed to do all of her homework and came to school hiding her poverty behind the two outfits that she alternated. She spoke of how lucky she was to get breakfast and lunch at the school each day and had high praise for the owner of the funeral home behind which her family lived. They allowed her to use the bathroom facilities and to sit inside while she tended to her studies. She searched their dumpster each evening for “treasures” including the flowers that she brought me. I suspect that I learned more from this precious child than she ever learned from me.
I always thought of my grandmother as a kid in an old woman’s body. It was difficult for me to imagine her boarding a ship all by herself to come to America and a strange new way of living. Like Buddy, she was so uncomplicated. She needed little to be satisfied. A fresh loaf of rye bread or a Whitman’s Sampler was akin to a pot of gold for her. She appeared to know little of the world or the hatefulness that lurked outside her door. My mother said that she hugged and kissed and protected her children with all of her might. She lived her days in peace and offered her love without any restrictions.
We are surrounded by many people like Buddy and the others that I have described. Sometimes we think that they are a bit unconventional. We may worry about them because they are so guileless. Somehow they manage through the force of their love to pry open even the most hardened hearts. They change our world for the better. We know that just being with them makes us happy.
I’d like to think that we all have a bit of Buddy in us, we just need to allow our inner child to emerge. Not only will we make the people around us feel better but I suspect that our souls will feel more harmonious as well. Be an elf. Smile and enjoy the beauty of the moment and the people that we encounter as we go about the business of our days.