Revelations: Christmas spirit comes alive
It isn't often I leave an interview in tears.
At least not the uncontrollable tears that I'm wiping off my cheeks while asking myself, "What in God's name is wrong with me?"
But a few days ago, after interviewing Samuel Lane Jr., his wife, Maria, and their four young daughters, I had a most unusual emotional response to a highly emotional interview.
Many of you were introduced to Lane this week when I wrote about his daughters' Christmas poem on giving up Christmas.
In the poem, which they hoped to publish in the Advocate, they let us know their father was dying and the family could not afford a funeral.
Rather than asking for the community to donate Christmas trees and toys, the girls elected to forego Christmas altogether and raise $8,032 for their father's pre-arranged funeral expenses.
Their father, Samuel, 56, has congestive heart failure and Type 1 diabetes. He's also illiterate, a double amputee and unemployed for many months.
A few weeks ago, he was given a grim prognosis. He had six months to live and would possibly not make it through Christmas.
If that wasn't bad enough, the Lanes' financial circumstances were dire. They're barely able to meet their most basic needs, such as paying rent and buying food.
The family of six is surviving on less than $700 a month and government-issued food stamps, and they're living in a two-bedroom home with a bug problem.
Neither of the parents are employed. The girls are too young to work.
They are poor. They are in need. They're two months behind on rent and facing eviction if they can't get caught up.
The family is having to make decisions about giving up Christmas, or paying for funerals; and making rent, or paying the electric bill.
These are circumstances that no 10-year-old, or 14-year-old child should have to endure.
It would have been so much easier for me to detach emotionally from the family if the Lanes were crazy, or selfish, or displayed some air of entitlement to charity.
It would have been so much easier to not want to cry for them if they were rude to me, or each other, or if it was apparent that the girls really did want toys and a Christmas tree after all.
But the family was beautiful and kind and the girls were serious about giving up Christmas.
After 20 years, Samuel and Maria were still so much in love, and the daughters adored their father and the thought of losing him was devastating.
"She still can't talk about it," Maria said, pointing to her youngest daughter Monica, 10, who's afraid to lose her father.
Everyone in the room at some point during the interview was sobbing while they spoke. Not wiping away little tears, or quivering their bottom lips - they were sobbing.
I did my best to write down quotes and family information while batting away my own tears and wiping the snot dripping from my nose.
When there was nothing left to say, I walked out to my car and sat there for a moment.
I thought about my own father and mother and how I would feel if my family couldn't afford their funeral, or a measly Charlie Brown Christmas tree to put up in our living room.
I thought about how many times in recent weeks that I haven't returned my parents phone calls because I've been too busy or too tired.
So, I decided I needed to call my mom and let her know I was thinking of her.
After telling her I just called to say I loved her, I again started to cry.
Through my tears, I told her all about the Lane interview and how frustrated I was with their situation.
I told Mom I planned to purchase them a Christmas tree and sign the kids up for Toys for Tots.
"I just wish I knew how to help them," I said.
My father, who was now listening to the conversation on the speaker phone, shouted from across the room, "Jenny ... do you need me to send them some money? We can send them money if you think that would help."
I thanked him for the offer, but said I wasn't looking for him to fix anything. I just needed to figure out what to do, and what my role could and should be in helping this family.
The next day, I wrote the Lane article the only way I knew how. It wasn't the best story I've ever written, but it was honest and real.
I prayed, and prayed again, and hoped with every part of my soul that when it published on Wednesday that someone with a few more financial resources than me would read it and feel compelled to help.
But that didn't happen.
It wasn't one charitable giver who read the story and decided to help.
It was an entire city.
I fielded more than 50 calls and emails and Facebook messages on Wednesday and Thursday from people who wanted to meet every last need the Lane's could possibly have. People called about donating Christmas trees, Christmas gifts, food baskets, toiletry baskets, hospice service, pest control services, rent and utility payments, family photography sessions, engraved necklaces for Samuel to leave his daughters, groceries, Christmas dinners, clothes, shoes, gas money, offers to attend local shows, and multiple offers for area organizations to "adopt" the family to meet any other needs they may have.
And those are the offers I know about. Who knows how many others stopped by or contributed on their own.
The goodness of humanity and the Christmas spirit took over this week, and an entire community decided they were not going to let the Lane family suffer.
For that, I applaud every one of you for your efforts to serve the Lane family.
Your generosity allowed this family the ability to look back on Christmas 2012 as the best Christmas of their lives, rather than the year their father died and they could not afford to bury him.
It's a beautiful thing to be a part of. And I'm OK with getting a little emotional about that.
Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.