December 22, 2010

{A Timely Reminder of the Spirit of Christmas}

It is that time of the year. The Christmas spirit is in the air. Of course the Christmas spirit is all about peace, love, and joy to all. But in my mind true Christmas spirit comes from the act of giving, giving without thinking, and having no clue what impact the giving might make in the lives of others.

This holiday season, I want to celebrate one such giver, a friend of mine, Julie Ann Debenham. Fortunately Julie may not get the Christmas-ONLY-spirit, as her acts of giving continue year round.

A week or two back I received a message from a classmate of mine from Brigham Young University, it was Julie. As we exchanged messages, I learned that she was visiting Colorado Springs and we could meet for breakfast or lunch that week. I was very excited to see Julie again.

Let me first take on a flashback so you know the kind of person Julie is:
A lot of my BYU classmates and their families were kind to me during my early days in the country, but Julie always stood out in my mind. This tall blonde classmate of mine first introduced herself to me during our first week of MBA classes as, “I am Julie from Alaska, and you are the smartest kid in the class.”  Of course, I liked her immediately; as any new student is a sucker for compliment. But I soon realized that inside Julie there is a soul that is genuinely caring and spontaneous. She always observed me and then acted instantly without hesitation.

The first instance of this was when she realized that I lived ten blocks from campus in the Cinnamon Tree apartments. It was a long walk to school and as fall was slowly turning towards winter, the walk was getting longer. I did not know when Julie saw me walking, but one day after class she walked me to her white Toyota Supra, opened the trunk, and took out her mountain bike. “Arjun” she said, “You can borrow this bike till I need it.”

Wow, life all of a sudden became so easy.  What took 15 minutes to get to class, now turned into 4 minutes.

Another time, I was walking back to my apartment carrying plastic bags full of groceries. As winter was in the air, the heavy plastic bags started to bite into my fingers. From time to time, I would stop and rest the bags on the pavement and warm my hands before continuing my walk back. During one such instance, Julie drove by. She waved at me, and ,made a quick u-turn, and came back towards me. She pulled over and with a smile asked me to get in the car. She dropped me off at my apartment. After that it became a ritual for her to pick me up and take me to the grocery store, every week.

Then came my first thanksgiving in the country. I had no clue what the significance of the holiday was. I was planning on using the holiday as a much needed break before the finals. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Julie told me to pack and get ready for the weekend. I was startled. “Where am I going?” 

By the time I asked I knew Julie well enough to realize that asking would not get me an answer. But this time she smiled and said, “I am taking you home.” 

I did not know what to think. I was not very familiar with social norms in the country, nor was I dating this girl. But then I did not have any other options for the weekend.

On Wednesday after class she picked me up and we drove towards Salt Lake City. As we drove, she told me that we were going to her parent’s home in Bountiful. I was excited. As we got close to her home, I was startled by the enormous sizes of the homes. I was staring at each of the homes, when we Julie pulled into the driveway of her parent’s home.

I was expecting an awkward moment when I met Julie’s family. Today if Raka were to surprise me by bringing a boy home with her over Thanksgiving, I would immediately focus on getting his finger prints and running a background check on the boy. But Julie’s family was kind and generous and welcomed me with open arms. It was a great weekend of amazing cooking and fun. When I think back, my fondest memories of the weekend are the moments I shared with Julie’s grandma, as she reminded me of my Maiji.


I was thinking of all the past moments of Julie’s kindness as she walked into the restaurant. We were meeting after nearly 18 years. She had not changed. The same smile, the same big hug, and the same way she always pronounced my name.

We sat down started catching up. I shared with her some of these memories and how she was kind and helpful during my stay in Provo. She smiled and said, “I helped you? Hmmm,” and smiled.

Then she shared with me what she had been doing over the past few years. She talked about how she spends as much time as possible helping others, whether it is an individual in her church or traveling around the world to assist the Red Cross on their next project. She had just come back from one such trip in Azerbaijan. It was amazing to see that she had not changed all.  I realized that if I was walking with bunch of plastic bags full of groceries she would still pull over and say, “Jump in Arjun, let me drop you off at home.” The only thing that had changed was her car, now it was an xTerra, perhaps she anticipated that my grocery needs have increased.

As she shared her thoughts something she said made me pause and stare at her. “Arjun, I want to help others, I want to make the world better in any way I can.” As I listened to her, my memory went back to Raka’s statement as we were driving from Boston to New Haven, when she had told me the same thing.

Soon lunch was over and after a hug, she was off on her long drive to Salt Lake City.  As I started driving back home, I remember that Maiji used to tell me that there are no accidents in life. Everything has a purpose and the challenge is to find the purpose.

Julie’s reconnecting with me must have a purpose. In the holiday season this was a reminder to me of the true Christmas spirit. And the spirit of giving is a yearlong thing and not restricted to a one time act of goodness.

As Raka and I try to get ready for Christmas this year, I am simply thrilled to meet my friend and in the process relive her goodness. Goodness from people like Julie not only changes other’s lives but also inspires others to goodness. I told Julie that I am so glad that I have a daughter and a friend who are both great people and they are trying to change the world for the better. It feels good to be surrounded by goodness. Reconnecting with her is one of the best gifts I could get this Christmas.

Raka and I wish happy holidays to all of you.
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