Wednesday, December 27, 2006


This time of year newspapers, it seems, publish a flurry of public interest stories. It is such a nice feeling to open up the paper and be given ideas of how we ought to be treating our brothers and sisters. The gruesome accounts of gang warfare give way to saccharine-sweet tales about puppies and hugs. The lurid tales of torture also give way to the occasional inspiration. An article ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer which recounted a woman's encounter with elves:

Elizabeth Schmincke has no Christmas tree. Not one light or decoration. No presents. Not even a lousy candy cane.
"We're not going to have Christmas," she said Friday in her Fishtown apartment. "I'm just not in the mood."
Schmincke, 39, and her children were evicted from their home last July.
The family split up: Her daughter went to live with an uncle; her son moved in with his older brother; Schmincke went to live with her husband, from whom she had separated, in his rooming house. She had to hide because women weren't allowed.
Schmincke stashed all her possessions - her wedding dress, her photo albums, her grandmother's bureau, the arts and crafts her children made in school - in public storage for $270 a month.
Last fall, she got a job working from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. at UPS, scrounged together money for rent, and moved the family into their current place. But she's already behind on rent, and has never paid the storage bill.
On Tuesday, her possessions were auctioned off.

Basically it starts out as a hard-luck story. Like so many Americans the Schminckes have a funny last name. Err, i mean like so many Americans the Schminckes were a payceck away from poverty and a lack of health care pushed them over the edge. That is where the story get's weird: 10 a.m. yesterday when three little kids in elf hats knocked on their door.
"Are you sure you got the right house?" asked Francis Schmincke.
The pixies didn't say a word. They handed him an envelope and darted off.
Inside the envelope was a one-sentence letter: "Please read your e-mail now!!"
Puzzled, Elizabeth Schmincke turned on her computer. There, sure enough, was an e-mail from the Chief Elf himself.
"Dearest Elizabeth," the message began, "we read with great interest your recent e-mails, which were forwarded to us, concerning your troubles. We were greatly moved by them. In this season of hope and joy our hearts were heavy with sadness, and we knew that we must act."
The elf goes on to explain that the family's owed rent for November and December is now paid in full.
"Oh, wow, they paid the rent," she said.
"Who did?" asked her husband.
"The elves. That's all it says."
The e-mail included a postscript: "You might check out front. Your memories are arriving."
Just then, a moving van rumbled up the street.
The Schminckes hurried outside.
"We've got some stuff for you," said Hughes, of Relocation Services.
Then elves of a different sort - the kind in heavy brown boots and blue work pants - hopped out of the van, the sides of which were papered with Christmas gift wrap.
Box by box, they unloaded a lifetime of cherished family keepsakes, heirlooms and home comforts. A purple bicycle was first off the truck.
Elizabeth Schmincke cried joyfully. "I'm shocked. My stomach is all in knots," said her husband. "Whoever was behind this I'd like to know, because nobody does stuff like this for other people anymore."

Apparently there is a group of Elves operating out of Kansas City that finds people in shitty situations and bails them out with immediate absurd interventions. The group secretly bid on the Shminckes' possessions and then used a network of favors to have them delivered with a flurry of drama and SEAL-like timing.
Reading the whole story got me misty-eyed on my trip to see my family. What a joy these people (elves?) brought! How beautiful were their random acts of kindness. Apparently those acts have been so transformative that many former recipients become part of the clandestine elvish machine.
The husband said "nobody does stuff like this for other people anymore". I can't imagine the rate of this stuff is all that different, but our awareness of it may be. I hope the media spends more time spreading these chicken-soup-type stories all year. They help inspire people to behave better and give us all models for amazing ways to change people's lives.

Nachman of Bratslav taught im atah maamin she yecholel lekalkel, tamin sheyecholel letaken. (i learned this from michael strassfeld who, incidentally, has a great niggun for it). it means if you believe that you have the power to destroy, to make things worse, believe also that you have the power to redeem, to repair, and to raise up. We are so often aware of the ways in which we fail and even more, the ways in which our fellow people fail. when we open the paper we so often read about those everyday failings, wars, disease, and murder. we so rarely read about the spontaneous acts of love that change the course of lives. apparently they aren't newsworthy. Perhaps not, but i would love to read such things more often, cause, lord knows, they are happening everyday and the extent to which we will be inspired to take part is related to the extent to which we know others take part. Let's learn and let's do. And, whoa, how fuckin' cool were those elves?!


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