Dec 26 2008

The Best Christmas Gift I Ever Gave Myself

I volunteered at Glide Memorial on Christmas day. I tell you this not because I want you think I’m this big-hearted, selfless philanthropist. Hardly the case. Honestly, as a maverickin’ gal,  I had nothing better to do on Christmas. I tell you this because I’m so glad I had nothing better to do. Because I learned there is nothing better to do. So shoulder to shoulder I stood with a bunch of very mellow, upbeat strangers for a few hours, stuffing brown paper bags — hundreds of brown paper bags — with sandwiches (1 bologna, 1 peanut butter), chips, and a candy. Sounds lame, but given the right group of people, this can be a very enjoyable activity. And doing this hearing the Glide Choir in the background belting it out — it just doesn’t get much better than that.

I could harp on about the importance of giving back, helping others less fortunate, blah blah blah. But you’ve heard all that before. But what I learned is how much I needed it, how much I got out of it. It was the greatest christmas give I could have given myself.

Let’s start with Glide Memorial itself, and specifically, the Rev. Cecil Williams. You don’t need to attend a holiday service to feel the power of Rev. Williams. Any service, any day will do. I’ve never been in the presence of Nelson Mandela or Jimmy Carter. But I imagine that if I were, I’d freeze. I’d be so overcome with awe that I’d be rendered useless. It’s like that with Rev. WIlliams. I’ve been to a few of his sermons and trust me, you will get goosebumbs. There is power and wisdom and kindness in his every message. Next time you visit San Francisco (or have friends visiting, if you already live here): screw Fisherman’s Wharf. Get yourself or your guests to Glide. Sure, its neighborhood, the Tenderloin, looks a little rough (very rough to those who aren’t visiting from NYC, Chicago, or Detroit). But trust me, it’s safe enough. It’s fine. There are people with some very real struggles on its streets, but I’ve never seen anyone there act aggressively toward a visitor. Plus, there are some good hole-in-the-wall restaurants nearby. Little Saigon is a few short blocks away and has great, cheap Vietnamese food. A little pricier is Farmer Brown, on Market, for some ass-kickin’ (and ass-expandin’) soul food.

The great thing about Glide: it isn’t about any particular religion. It’s about humanism. The human spirit, and love, and all those things we can take for granted or for some reason don’t nurture enough because of all the other distractions we’ve created for ourselves (Facebook, Facebook, Facebook). Surround yourself in the mesmerizing power of a Cecil Williams sermon — the great equalizer of all people from every walk of life — and you’ll have one of the biggest “aha” moments of your adult life. I’m not even sure what my “aha” was, but something along the lines of why did I wait so long to do this / this place feels more alive than anywhere else I’ve ever been / volunteering can be fun / church rocks! / I know what to do every holiday from now on.

Look, I don’t have particularly strong family ties at this point in my life. But for 3 hours today, I did. It felt beautiful. And it was fun! Merry Christmas everyone!

ps — word to my girl Janice at Glide: You are my idol! Thank you!