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Bah humbug until a child's cry brought some home truths

THE next fecker to ring our door bell was begging for trouble from me. And I intended to see that they got it. I didn't care if it was some idiotic ID-waving charity collector seeking alms, or a pregnant young wan on a donkey with her long haired, bearded lout of husband, looking for help.

For the past two weeks our family had answered at least 20 phone calls from various charities looking for support. Some, in fairness, gave in at the first refusal, others just kept going 'til I slammed the phone down in temper. (But I love slamming phones anyway, especially when it bounces out of its cradle and has to be slammed down a second time!). Our doorbell was ringing three to four times a day with various people looking for food and/or cash. Bugger off and bah humbug!

Hadn't hubby and I enough problems of our own? With four offspring, trying to make our incomes stretch to buying Christmas presents, new clothes and household necessities were enough of a problem. As a self-employed accountant, my hubby's income was hit by the recession. As a nurse manager with the HSE, my salary was also down.

Our three-piece suite in the sitting room could do with replacing for a start. I definitely didn't have time to clean the house on my own. Where the hell was I to get the extra €80 a cleaner would cost for a few hours? For the first time ever, we weren't going to be able to get the two youngest everything they wanted for Christmas. That hurt. After all, their laptops were now three years old and genuinely did need replacing. I was feeling very sorry for myself. Work life was getting much more difficult. I was fed up giving so much and gaining so little -- especially when there were so many tossers who couldn't be bothered getting a job. And there I was, slaving away to support so many others.

'Our doorbell was ringing up to four times a day with various people looking for food or cash'

One evening as I sat on the sitting room couch, sipping hot chocolate and gazing into the dancing flames of our roaring open fire, the 'next fecker' arrived at the door and sealed her fate by ringing the bell. I couldn't believe it -- the cheek! The rain was lashing down in blinding sheets, and she expected me to stand there getting drenched answering her call. As I opened the door, two small children crouched behind her -- their huge brown eyes staring out at me fearfully. The mother couldn't have been more than 20, and as she struggled to balance a bundle of moving clothes that morphed into a baby in her arms, she started her begging mantra. I was furious and made short shrift of her.

I almost had the door slammed closed when a child's cry made me open it again. One of the little lads had fallen and was lying on the ground sobbing. His mother went down on her hunkers and -- holding baby and child -- she cradled both in her arms.

I felt like such a bitch!

Where had my humanity gone?

Who stole my compassion?

When had I become such a sanctimonious, hard-hearted wagon?

Only 20 years prior to this I was a young mother like her. Our doorbell rarely rang at Christmas because our door was almost always open, welcoming everyone to our humble home. Having little, we shared a lot.

As the rain lashed down on that young woman, I stared out into the mirror of my soul and saw only the darkness of pure self-absorption reflecting back. While I love whingeing about my hard work and poor pay, the reality was that my salary is nothing to sneeze at, and my hospital management team are exceptionally supportive. I have no right in the wide earthly world to feel in any way hard done by.

I walked out and took the soaked baby bundle from her arms. The young woman obviously couldn't speak English, but then, some things need no words. An hour later saw them leave our home with full bellies and, for the mother, a ridiculously long leather coat with a warm fur collar. It had been hanging in my wardrobe for the last three years unworn, so no credit to me in giving that goodwill to her.

I certainly wasn't going to be inviting her to dinner anytime soon -- and no, neither would we be meeting up for coffee.

I have no doubt that I'll go back to whingeing again, and back to that moral superiority that'll see me taking satisfaction in being able to judge other people.

But Dear Lord, let me not do it again for this Christmas at least. Let me be willing to share some of my life to help those in need without seeking personal gratification from my puerile efforts.


Sunday Independent