Giving Beats Receiving

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Frank Capra’s classic film ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ opens with friends and family praying for George Bailey, whose about to jump off a bridge. God summoned an aspiring angel named Clarence to help. “Splendid. Is he sick?” Clarence asks.
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“No. Worse. He’s discouraged,” God responds.
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Capra was onto something. Discouragement can eat a man up just as fast as cancer. A big source of discouragement is loneliness, especially during the holidays. With that in mind, I wrote a tribute to my grandfather and posted it a few days before Christmas. He’s alone and MY MICKEY MANTLE was intended to give him a lift. This is a postscript to that story.
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A couple weeks before I wrote the tribute, my eight-year-old daughter Maggie gave me a copy of her annual letter to Santa Clause. I read over her wish list. Then she asked: “Daddy, what do you want for Christmas this year?”
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The question gave me pause. Honestly, I haven’t wished for a gift in a long time. I decided that what I really wanted was to erase my grandfather’s loneliness. It’s the kind of gift money can’t buy.
Ralph Waldo Emerson had this to say about gifts.
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Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only gift is a portion of thyself. Thou must bleed for me. Therefore the poet brings his poem; the shepherd, his lamb; the farmer, corn; the miner, a gem; the sailor, coral and shells; the painter, his picture; the girl, a handkerchief of her own sewing.
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I am a writer. I decided to give my grandfather words.
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But I went in knowing that my words would need a miracle to deliver the gift I was after. You see, my grandfather is accustomed to having a house full of people during Christmas. That’s because my grandmother always put on a Christmas Eve feast: a turkey, a pot roast, a Virginia baked ham and pans of lasagna. Her Christmas Eve spreads were legendary. Dozens of family members and neighbors stopped in to eat. It was like an annual reunion. After the meal, Santa Clause would show up. I’m talking about the real deal. Every year of my childhood, bells would start jingling on the front lawn of my grandparents’ home around 8PM on Christmas Eve, followed by the words “Ho, Ho, Ho.” Santa Clause would come through my grandparents’ door with a sack full of gifts. Everyone who came for dinner got to sit on his lap and open a present. Kids got toys. Adults got stuff like socks and jewelry.
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My grandfather was in his glory when his house became Grand Central Station once a year. But those are just memories now. Children and grandchildren have become adults. Friends and neighbors have passed on. And now that my grandmother is gone, well, you get the picture. On Christmas Eve, my grandparents’ old house is more like a museum – quiet and empty.
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But I believe in miracles. Moments after my Mickey Mantle story reached the Internet, a newspaper editor named Chris Powell at the Journal-Inquirer asked permission to republish it as a column. His request inspired me to contact Gary Farrugia, the publisher of The Day, my grandfather’s hometown newspaper in southeastern Connecticut. I informed Farrugia that my grandfather had been a daily subscriber for decades and that seeing his story in print would make a terrific Christmas gift.
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Farrugia wanted to run it. But space was short and Christmas was three days away. For the next couple days I had a prayer in my heart that the editors at The Day would make room for my grandfather. On Dec. 24th I woke up and went to The Day’s homepage. Prayer answered! I saw a 1946 photo of my grandfather in his Navy uniform. Beneath was my story, which also ran in the newspaper. Immediately, my grandfather’s phone started ringing. So did his doorbell. People he hadn’t seen or heard from in years contacted him. His house became the go-to place again. The town clerk called to congratulate him. His longtime mail lady had tears in her eyes when she brought the Christmas Eve mail and kissed his face.

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Josephine Shelton, wearing Merle's Navy coat in 1946

My grandfather still visited the cemetery on Christmas Day. He never misses a day. But over the ensuing days, the gift of words continued to give. My grandfather received letters from an old friend in Palm Beach and a distant relative in Seattle. Both had seen the story on-line and took the time to pen old fashioned letters since my grandfather can’t receive emails (he doesn’t own a computer).
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Bottom line, when I talked to my grandfather last week, he was laughing and carrying on. Giving is better than receiving.
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So what’s your gift? Everybody has one. Try Emerson’s challenge – bleed for someone. It feels good. All it takes is a little time.

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Jeff Benedict is the bestselling author of sixteen non-fiction books, as well as a television and film producer. His latest book, The Dynasty, is the definitive inside story of the New England Patriots under Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, each of whom cooperated for the book. Published in 2020, it was an instant New York Times bestseller. The book is being developed into a 10-part documentary series, which Jeff is executive producing. In 2018, Jeff co-wrote the #1 bestseller Tiger Woods and he was an executive producer on the HBO documentary “Tiger” that was based on the book and aired in 2021. The book is currently being developed into a scripted series, which Jeff is executive producing. Jeff is also the executive producer on a documentary based on his book Poisoned that will air on Netflix. In 2017, he co-produced “Little Pink House,” a feature film starring Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn that was based on Jeff’s book of the same title. And in 2016, Jeff co-wrote with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young his bestselling autobiography QB, which was the basis of an NFL Films documentary. Jeff has been a special-features writer for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, and the Hartford Courant, and his essays have appeared in the New York Times. His stories have been the basis of segments on 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, HBO Real Sports, Discovery Channel, Good Morning America, 20/20, 48 Hours, NFL Network, and NPR.

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