Thanksgiving is still a week away, and I'm already weary of all the attention being focused on Black Friday. I guess I've gotten pretty jaded at people's attitudes and their willingness to literally trample one another in hopes of buying cheap "stuff" and "things" just hours after were supposed to be thankful for what they already have.
Whatever happened to the spirit of "peace on Earth and goodwill toward men?"
My first memories of Black Friday happened during the early days of the Cabbage Patch Kids' phenomenon where parents were pushing and shoving each other in hopes of scoring one of these "must-have" dolls for their child that Christmas. They were willing to harm their fellow man (and woman) for a piece of plastic and cloth wrapped in a gaudy cardboard box.
I wonder how many of those parents thought that beating someone up -- literally in some cases -- was all worth it when their child opened that gift, played with it for a couple of hours and then got bored.
I've seen firsthand how ugly people can get when it comes to their quest to buy "must-have things" for their families. The worst happened during my time in Japan when ravenous Beanie Baby hoarders rushed the gates of the base exchange trying to get their hands on as many of those stupid stuffed animals as possible.
My three children nearly got run over in the stampede. What was worse is the store management didn't seem to care that people got hurt because they made a lot of money that day.
Today, those stuffed bean-filled toys that were supposed to be "investments" and help families to somehow put their kids through college are ending up on the dollar rack at the local thrift stores. So much for making smart investment choices.
Despite anything I type in this column, I know there are those out there that will still want to subject themselves to the Black Friday madness. However, after what nearly happened to my children, I have vowed to never let myself fall prey to these despicable marketing tactics.
If I really need that television or computer, I'm willing to pay the extra dollars. It's a lot safer.
But now I want to change directions and focus attention on a group of people in this community that won't attend Black Friday this year no matter how badly they want to be a part of the carnage. They are the individuals and families in our community struggling to make ends meet that can barely afford to put food on their tables.
For them, they can only dream about going to these stores and shopping for bargains. If they're lucky, they might have a turkey on the table on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Having a present beneath the Christmas tree -- if they can afford one in the first place -- would be a bonus.
Before I go any further, I have a few questions for those who often have sharp words and go out of their way to criticize the less fortunate.
How these people got into their financial situations doesn't really matter now, does it? Will pointing fingers or trying to blame someone put food on their tables or make their situation better? Does gloating that you have money and other people don't somehow make you happy?
If I were you, I'd be really careful answering that last question. I've seen too many instances over my career as a journalist where karma struck back at prideful individuals and brought them to their knees.
As the saying goes, "pride goeth before a fall."
As the season of thankfulness and charity begins, I'd like to challenge people in this community to take time and focus attention on where it's needed the most -- to help those who don't have the financial resources to help themselves and their families.
It starts by simple acts of charity -- putting a can or two of soup in a donation box or a pocket full of spare change in a collection jar.
It continues by going through everything we own to see if we really need all of this accumulated "stuff" sitting in boxes of our closets to see if it could help someone in dire need.
That spare coat you haven't worn in years because it's no longer "trendy" or "fashionable" could keep a person warm against the harsh Idaho winter this season. A pair of "gently used" mittens and hat your teen can't wear any more will allow a young child to stay comfortable when they walk to and from school.
Over the years, I've seen firsthand how these small acts of kindness and compassion make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. When the pantries of our local food banks started running low, people of all ages took a few minutes out of their lives -- some devoted much more -- to ensure no one went hungry over the holiday season.
Regardless of how much time, food, money or gifts local residents donated, each of these efforts added together to make a huge difference. But perhaps the greatest gift of all was seeing how much people in this community care about one another.
As they dropped off their bags or boxes of donations, they never asked questions. They simply knew someone out there needed the help and responded with an outpouring of support not seen in a long time.
In an odd sort of way, perhaps it reminds us that each of our lives could change unexpectedly for the worse. It also reassures us that others in our community will be there to help pick us up when we stumble -- no questions asked.
Author Jean De La Bruyere once said that, "out of difficulties grow miracles."
Perhaps that's what is needed here. Despite the demand out there, we can ensure everyone is able to find a reason to celebrate the holidays. We can make seemingly impossible a reality -- to create a series of small miracles.
It's a lot better than trying to fight one another over a super-cheap television set we probably don't need in the first place. It'll also be a lot more rewarding in the long run.
-- Brian S. Orban