It started as a story that was posted to the RUBIS (gas station) staff WhatsApp group. Then as with most things on WhatsApp, it spread like gasfire making the news and crossing into international networks.
So, what was this big story?
It’s a story so wreaking with compassion and sheer genius that it had to be shared, so heart-warming it inspired my deluded heart and infiltrated it with optimism and hope for Jamaica.
Do I sound like a woman grasping for a story with a happy ending? You know the type where the hero swoops down and saves the heroine from the evil antagonist waiting to harm her?
A bit dramatic, you may be saying. And you may be right. If you’ve been following the news lately, the spurt of violent crimes being committed across the island against women almost daily since the start of December would be making you feel that Scrooge’s Christmas ghosts have invaded Jamaica and the joyful Christmas spirits have fled. After almost a daily deluge of such depressing mysoginistic bloodletting, who wouldn’t have embraced a good news story like this? Who wouldn’t be gasping for a happy typical Christmas story?
So, as the Loop story goes, a female driver drove into a Rubis gas station to purchase gas. Somehow, the Rubis pump attendant reportedly glimpsed a man hiding in the backseat of her car. He was said to be armed with a long knife in hand.
Thinking on his feet, the report noted that the station attendants employed delay tactics with the woman who was trying to use her debit card to pay for the item. By repeatedly telling her the card was being declined by the machine, the attendants kept her from leaving. At the same time, they reportedly alerted the police who came on the scene and apprehended the man, thus saving the unaware woman from the threat that was lurking in her car.
When I called seeking confirmation on the story , a Jamaica Gasolene Retailers Association (JGRA) staffer didn’t have much more to add to the Loop report. She said a manager of the Liguanea Rubris station had sent her the message. But she was unable at that point to say whether this is where the incident occurred. According to the story, the police did not have a report on the incident. PCN’s efforts to get a confirmation from the Constabulary Communication Network were also unsuccessful on Wednesday.
Despite the mystery surrounding this unconfirmed but beautiful story, I felt my spirits lift the moment I read it on Monday morning. Mainly because I had begun to despair that my fellow Jamaicans had stopped engaging with each other in a humane and compassionate way
The grief porn and seemingly obsession with blood and gore on Facebook, the murder and fatality headlines that lead the nightly news, and road rage seen on our daily commutes. It gets overwhelming and caused me to reflect on how we can change the negative news into more humane, positive and uplifting ones.
What better time to do this than the season of peace, joy and goodwill?
But who will take on this mission?
How about the one reading this? Yes, you. Me and you in our little corner of this earth.
Like these gas attendants, we can make our own kindness stories that will go viral this Christmas. I compiled a few ideas to help you get started. Here goes:
#1. Start a revival on and off social media.
Use your Facebook Live, Youtube and Periscope to start vlogging and sending out positive life – giving messages to your followers. Commit to sharing only photos that inspire rather than degrade, depress and demean. Share posts that will motivate and uplift, that features life, love and laughter, not death; beauty, not the ugliness and muck in our society. And remember to affirm each friend on your contact list. DM a personal holiday wish or prayer to each person.
#2. Share your Christmas dinner
Plan to share your Christmas dinner with at least one person who needs it this year. Remember how your mom or grandma used to do that back in the day, even when there was not enough to feed your family? My mother likes to recount how every Christmas, my late grandmother would pack baskets of food and dispatch my mother and her siblings to poor and needy folks miles away so these people could have a Christmas dinner in their bellies. She recalls how effusive their gratitude were.
As a girl, I saw my mother repeating the same charitable acts at Christmas time. She’d pack our tantalizing Christmas dinner and order us:
“Take this dinner to Ms Oni,” a bed-ridden old lady who lived alone in a messy, run-down hut across the ball field (which my mother would go tidy up when the hoarding she practised became unsanitary).
“Take this sorrel and piece of cake to Ms Paulette (our neighbour).”
And so the rounds around the community would go on Christmas Day, while my siblings (well, maybe I was the main culprit) fumed, once out of earshot, that she was giving away all our delicious dinner which we very well had more than enough space in our tummies to hold, even though we had just finished full plates.
Baking this year? Make an extra cake (or purchase one–many supermarkets in town now have bakery sections). Do you bottle your own extra ginger beer or sorrel? Make a few extra bottles and gift these to the lady down the street with the eight children, or drop off a bottle to the infirmary in town.
If you can afford it, other recipients of those home-made cakes or cookies could be the children’s ward at the hospital, wards of the state at the children’s home or juvenile prison or the old man living in the old van in the neighbourhood you’ve been complaining about to the authorities forever to have removed. (Ever thought that maybe he hasn’t been moved because he’s supposed to be a channel God wants to use to bless you or your community?)
Look around you and start making that list. The needy is everywhere– on your street, apartment complex, and church.
Times are different, I can almost hear you say. People don’t want anything from anyone. The Christmas basket distribution era is old school. But giving can never be outdated.
This holiday weekend, make giving the family tradition you pass on to your children.
#3. Donate Warm blankets to the Homeless
December nights are cold even in Jamaica. Why not toss a warm sheet or comforter to that homeless person you pass each early morning on the street on your way to work. Bare feet also get awfully cold during the chilly evenings, so check your closet and find a home for that pair of shoes that didn’t fit which you couldn’t be bothered to return to the store in January or shoes your kids don’t wear cause they have way too many to choose from. There are kids and youth on the streets who will be happy for them.
When you go to make your drop offs, gain extra blessings by putting a few coins in their palms for a warm meal.(In case you’re wondering whether providing the person with a cooked meal wouldn’t be better, I learnt last year that feeding the street people is forbidden by the Kingston Poor Relief Department. I am not privy to what led to that decision or whether that pertains to mass feeding by civic groups or an individual meal.) But if you wont be breaking any laws in your town, go right ahead and give out those boxed lunches.
#4. Send a handwritten note that says, “I’m thinking of you”
The high crime rate in Jamaica will leave many sad hearts this Christmas. So many families will be left with memories of the loved ones they lost to gun violence, road fatality or sickness this year. Christmas will be hard for the new homeless who lost their homes and property to fire, and for that empty nester whose children won’t be coming to visit this year. Consider paying a visit at home and share your ear and sympathies. Invite someone to your church service, or social. Another way to show your care is by sending a greeting card. Add a personal touch by writing an encouraging message. All these gestures will send a message that says, “You’re in my thoughts and prayers this Christmas”.
#5. Show Appreciation to your community servants
Send over a surprise treat for the teaching staff, hospital staff, police officers, and firemen that serve your town. Put a tip in the postman’s and garbage collector’s envelope this year. Theirs is often a thankless job. Any tiny show of appreciation can make a huge difference to their morale.
Now we come to the real mckoy. How to star in your own heroic blockbuster — the kind that has a good heart-warming end like the Rubis story. One that scoops up all the selfless good-doing of Christmas and snowballing it into something bigger and more beneficial for your community and family.
#6. Make a difference that lasts and lasts beyond Christmas
Christmas charity should not start and end in December. It shouldn’t be okay to pack up the tinsel and put the Christmas lights away on December 31. That giving spirit and goodwill should not end with a final cheery ‘Season’s greetings. See you next year!’ to your neighbours, before closing your door firmly and going back to minding your own business.
Some of us are gonna do exactly that.
But you have a choice.
Instead, why not make a 360-degree turn for 2017?
All it takes is a little (okay, okay, make that a little extra) effort. Intimidating, I know. But, remember that famous Chinese proverb?
A thousand miles begin with a single step. Take that step.
If you’re shy, mobilize your friends, neighbours or family. It’s often easier to do a seemingly insurmountable task with your friends.
Start making a real difference that lasts and lasts. . .
How? You ask.
Start a Movement
Reconnect and re-engage with your tribe. Create the ideal community you want to see by starting a movement like Nanny, Paul Bogle, and Marcus Garvey did. Maybe you don’t like what is happening in your town. Maybe you’re tired of how your hospital treats sick people. Probably the way your bank hikes their fees every time you go in for a transaction is setting your teeth on edge.
- Speak up. Write letters to the editor, school board Chair, CEO or your government representative.
- Tackle a community nuisance. Start a monthly community cleanup project and mobilize people to help tackle litter like community volunteer, Justin Rudd does the third Saturday of every month in his Long Beach, Florida community
- Stage a town hall like this amazingly selfless family physician, Dr. Marion Wible did to garner feedback on what your customers or community want, then tailor your services to meet their needs. Dr. Wible is the leading voice calling for a radical health care system reform for patients and doctors in the US. She is also a physician entrepreneur who pioneered innovative “neighbourhood clinics of the future”, leading a movement that puts patient care at the centre of focus for doctorss and garnering interest from many doctors across America who want to spread the good. How did she do it? She acted with her heart and made what seemed impossible possible.
- Create an online petition and canvass for signatures to end a pain point like violence against women and girls, stall an industrial threat, get action on noise abatement, encourage support for an important cause or some other civic action you want your elected officials or community to enforce. Go ahead. Start that advocacy group or join one. Here are two examples of civic engagement groups you can join:
http://dogoodjamaica.org/ — A non-profit organisation which offers an online information portal for and about civil society organizations in Jamaica that offers voluntary service.
National Integrity Action – They agitate for integrity building and anti corruption
But act. Stop just standing by. Care about what’s happening around you. Get out from under your zombie-like daze of your mobile devices and cable television, and follow Michael Jackson’s advice:
I’m Starting With The Man In
I’m Asking Him To Change
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The
World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change)
(Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na,
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are endless opportunities to brighten Christmas for the less fortunate, lonely, those grieving and suffering this year. I couldn’t exhaust them here. See these only as seed ideas to reconnect you with the childish holiday glee and goodwill that is embodied in the true Jamaican Christmas spirit.
Christmas day is as ephemeral as Santa Claus, but doing a kind deed for someone and pledging to spread joy through your community one step at time can make Christmas last and last beyond December.
And should you be blessed to be on the receiving end of a Christmas gift or a random act of kindness this holiday, whatever form it takes, pay it forward and watch it take shape and snowball into a movement that engenders robust change. Make A Difference this Christmas and keep the momentum going into the new year.
What is in it for you? A holiday that is merrier and brighter than you ever anticipated. A joy that will go viral and last and last around you and your family and neighbourhood.