To sound a little Dickensian as Christmas is approaching, here is a tale of two (very contrasting) sorts of seasonal spirit. One is told in a story that made the national news here in Britain (I can’t speak for other countries, so I don’t know whether it was also big elsewhere) last Friday. The other was considered of lesser importance and was only to be found on the local BBC Look North news.
I’ll tell you about than one first. I became aware of it only because I see the updates on Facebook of Britain’s NHS Blood and Organ Donation organisation. A few days ago a young girl, Chloe Beaney, 14, was desperately ill with restrictive cardiomyopathy – essentially heart failure – as an after-effect of chemotherapy treatment for leukaemia as a two-year-old. It was thought she had only days to live, and she was at the top of the transplant list in hospital in the north of England. An urgent appeal went out for a donor and her story garnered 7,400 shares on Facebook.
But then yesterday came the wonderful news, tempered of course with the sad knowledge that another young person had died, that a heart had become available and been successfully transplanted to Chloe.
So now she has been given her life back, through the altruism, selflessness and generosity of a total stranger and presumably the agreement of his or her grieving family. Out of one family’s tragedy has come another’s salvation. I do hope the donor’s family, in the midst of their sadness and loss, are immensely proud of him or her. I certainly would have been.
Now isn’t that just about the most valuable gift that anyone could give? As a non-believer I can’t speak about the religious aspect of it, but isn’t this, really, the True Spirit of Christmas? Isn’t the True Spirit not about receiving, getting loads of stuff to go with the loads of stuff you already have, but of giving gifts of real, intrinsic, immeasurable worth?
Contrast that with the other, apparently far more important story, judging by the exposure it had. I speak of the gross consumer binge that is that unfortunate American import to Europe: Black Friday. ‘Black’ seems to be an entirely apposite adjective. We were treated on the network news to scenes of people queuing outside shops and then being let in, a manic tsunami of wild-eyed, shopping lust-inflamed humanity trampling each other underfoot in a feeding frenzy of avarice and acquisitiveness. We stared at the unedifying spectacle of shoppers tugging at (‘geroff, it’s mine, it’s mine!’), squabbling about and even fighting over giant plasma televisions (although they’d almost certainly already got a slightly smaller one at home) and other such consumer goodies.
It wasn’t even a matter of doing their presents shopping for others and keeping the spending within reasonable limits. Oh no! Black Friday isn’t about Christmas giving at all. It’s simply about materialism, excess, over-consumption, huge profits for retailers and the cult of ME.
As someone put it very well on Facebook today (and here I paraphrase slightly): ‘why isn’t the same effort that’s put into selfishly buying un-needed tat put into voting for political candidates who care about things that really matter?’
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all Christmas spending on material stuff is nasty and to be righteously avoided. I like a certain amount of not-strictly-necessary product, a little once-a-year decadent self-indulgence, as much as the next person. But surely it’s a matter of degree, of moderation, isn’t it? And, when you consider the amazing gift that Chloe has been given, one of perspective?
So which of these news stories do you think better exemplifies the Christmas Spirit? Call me puritanical or moralistic or a snob if you like, but I know what I think.
Anyway, the very best of luck to you, Chloe Beaney. I hope you have a long, happy and healthy life. And rest in peace, her donor. On behalf of us all, thank you for your gift. You are a hero!
Picture credits: BBC Look North and Wales News Service.