Four years ago, I was preparing to retake my national boards for my PA certification, that I have to do every 6 years. I went to a review course in Chicago because I wanted to go to the Museum of Science and Industry that was there. Well, the review course was so intense, 15 hours per day, that I never made it and hardly even left the hotel over the week that i was there. Fast forward 4 years. This year was were planning on going to Equador to have a service oriented Christmas where we worked in some orphanages that are run by some friends of ours. After months of planning and fundraising through the donations of shoes, we decided it was not going to work out for us to go due to schedule and costs. But we had already prepared our kids for a non-tradition, service oriented Christmas, so we needed to find something else. Well, nobody goes to Chicago during Christmas, so we got a good deal. I was excited to go because I would finally be able to go the science museum that I missed 4 years prior. But we still wanted to do some sort of service. We looked into working in a soup kitchen or something like that but could not find anything. So we decided to put together care packages that we could give out to the homeless. Jan and my mother-in-law Connie sowed together some materiel that looked like bags of potatoes, then we filled the bags with personal hygiene products, candy, snacks, and gift certificates to McDonalds. On Christmas morning, we organized out bags, stuffed them into backpacks and started out onto the streets of Chicago. The streets were not empty, but only had a fraction of the normal number of cars and pedestrians. Compared to some other cities that we have been to like San Fransisco, Chicago did not seem to have as many homeless people. We tried to be selective in which homeless people we gave the ‘bags of Idaho potatoes” to. We had seen a guy sitting on a bridge under a blanket on Christmas Eve, on Christmas day he was still there so we gave him a bag and like the other recipients, he was very grateful. When we came back later that day, he was gone. We did avoid the homeless that appeared angry. One guy was blowing a whistle repeatedly and was wearing a sign around his neck that read ‘Government Whistle Blower!” He did not look happy, so we skipped him. There were two other guys we met that were very happy and even did a little dance after we gave them the gift. One told us to look him up on YouTube because he said he was a street performer, but only in the summer months, he panhandles in the winter. Sure enough, we did find him on YouTube, although he was painted up like one of those silver statues and it was hard to tell if it was really him. Later in the day, we saw a young African-American female runnng toward us that was crying while she clutched a teddy bear. We asked her if there was anything we could do for her and she said she needed to get to ‘the shelter’ before her mom had her arrested. We gave her some money and a hug, that was all we could do. At least two of the homeless people that we gave the gifts to commented on how we seemed to have a light about us, and when looking at our 4 sons that were with us, counseled them to honor and follow their parents because we have obviously done a good job raising them, ( I am only repeating what they said!).
It was an incredible experience and I think our boys really did feel the true meaning of Christmas and the joy that comes from giving to others. I did not want to take pictures of any of the homeless people, but I am including some of the pictures that we took of us from the Willis Tower and the Chicago skyline.
On a dermatology note, I was amazed at how many people I saw with some major skin cancers on their faces. And it is always awkward to try to say anything to them.