“Hi there, Aaron. How can I help you today?”
For all my scheming and planning, I realized I had neglected to come up with a coherent response to this most basic question.
Half a dozen of my previous responses ran through my head, but none of them made sense for this particular situation.
Things were going to get awkward.If we ever love money more than people, we've missed the point.Click To Tweet
The Not So Automatic Transmission
I was standing in the lobby of my trusted auto mechanic for the past 10 years. As much as those of us in the FI community love to wear our older cars as badges of honor, we often forget to share the “joy” of performing maintenance on these lovely cash-bought, paid-for chariots.
As someone who struggles to tell the difference between a radiator and say, the uh…carburetor (I totally just looked that up on Google to see if it was a real word), maintenance means building the kind of trusted relationship with a mechanic where we know each other by name.
But today I wasn’t here to discuss either of my vehicles.
It was just a few days before Christmas and neither of our cars were in the shop for maintenance, or in need of any new maintenance. This eliminated the usual phrases I would use when dropping off or picking up one of my vehicles.
My brain was having a hard time forming a request outside of those two scenarios…and Bill could see it on my face.
The Gift That Keeps On Meaning Nothing
Several years before I found myself tongue-tied in the lobby of my mechanic, my wife and I discovered we had grown disenchanted with the idea of exchanging Christmas gifts with our extended family.
It’s not that we don’t love our family, but we recognized two things.
- We loved spending time with our family – chatting, playing games, doing fun things with the kids – more than the exercise of exchanging gifts.
- We were all reasonably well off. Some would say blessed, or lucky, or privileged, but the simple fact was that I didn’t need to buy my dad golf balls and my mom didn’t need to buy my wife earrings as a way to show our love. The act had grown superfluous. It just wasn’t as meaningful as we all were hoping it would be.
So my wife and I proposed a new tradition. We would buy the kids Christmas gifts, but the adults would take the money we would normally allocate to buy gifts for each other and instead use that money to help someone in need. Someone who was in a far more desperate situation than we were. Someone who would appreciate the gift far beyond what we would.
It wasn’t the most popular idea. Traditions come with their own momentum and baggage, but our families were open-minded and decided to give it a try.
That first year my sister and brother-in-law bought groceries for a family that was struggling financially. My parents helped a family in their church that was going through a job loss.
These kinds of stories become the new “gifts” that we shared with each other around the dinner table for Christmas. The kids still got to open their presents, which we enjoyed as much as they did, but our adult gifts migrated from material things to things we’ve done to spread the Christmas spirit beyond our own family.The simple fact was that I didn't need to buy my dad golf balls and my mom didn't need to buy my wife earrings as a way to show our love. The act had grown superfluous.Click To Tweet
Actions to show people in the world that they matter, that they are not alone.
The Christmas season had become a time of looking beyond ourselves and our own families.
Which brings us back to the lobby of my trusted mechanic.
Car Repair Bills Suck
I drive right by my trusted mechanic’s shop every day on my way home from work, and honestly, don’t even notice it unless one of my vehicles is in there getting some TLC.
On this particular day, however, I recognized that Christmas was coming up, and neither of our cars were in the shop. That alone was a huge blessing that I often take for granted. But on this day I had a new thought.
Inside that shop were a dozen cars that belonged to other people. Strangers that I didn’t know and had never met. But no matter who those people were, I realized that having your car in the shop for maintenance just a few weeks before Christmas was never a good thing.
I was so grateful that I wasn’t having to deal with that, but also heartbroken for those people who were.
And then it hit me. What if our Christmas gift this year was paying for the car repair bill for a complete stranger?
It sounded crazy even as the thought ran through my head.
AND I LOVED IT!