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Spirituality Essay:

Santa    ( December 2006 )

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Columnist Leonard Pitts reported on a Midwest man, Larry Stewart, who's quietly, anonymously, become known across a wide swath of America as "Santa."

It started when he was down on his luck thirty years ago, broke, hadn't eaten for two days, and in order to eat, went to a diner, and when the bill came, feigned that he'd somehow lost his money and couldn't pay. The owner seeing this came over and realizing what was happening, said, "I think this fell out of your pocket," and put a twenty into his hand.

That incident so overwhelmed him that later, after his life started coming together, he saw someone in the same situation, unable to pay a tab, and gave him a twenty.

He liked that feeling so much, he took $200 from his bank and drove all over town looking for what he described as " 'that look' -- desperation, poverty, need - in their eyes." He gave out fives, tens, twenties, until it was gone.

Larry made it big eventually. But every Christmas season he randomly handed out $100 bills to those who he'd sense needed it. Over the years, it's totaled $1.3 million! People report how that gift changed their lives, gave them hope, inspired them to kindness, helped them to first-time feelings of connection and meaning.

Now he's dying of cancer, and broke again unfortunately. But he's been talked into coming out of his anonymity, and is allowing the media to write about his life. He says it's because when he dies, he doesn't want the idea of random kindness to die with him. He wants people to remember that giving is its own reward. He wants everyone to know how good just giving feels.

Larry Stewart Historical note - Rick wrote this in December 2006. Larry Stewart (pictured at left) died on January 12, 2007. If you'd like to read more about him, here's a link to the Wikipedia article about Larry Stewart. He was a fascinating man.

This is one in a series of essays on spirituality by Rick Childs, lay leader of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Mendocino Coast. You may want to:
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