Updated: December 26, 2013 6:08AM
Deep within the Cook County Courthouse at 26th and California, Criminal Court Division Presiding Judge Paul Biebel Jr. instituted a specialty courtroom called “Veterans Court,” where those who have served in the armed forces face justice for their various misdeeds.
And if you sit in Veterans Court for any length of time, as I have, you quickly realize that the reason the court exists is not because veterans are significantly different from anybody else when it comes to committing robberies, for instance, or burglaries, or domestic abuse. But rather, being vets, they have a range of services available to them — addiction counseling, job placement, emergency housing and such — that regular felons do not. The purpose of the court is to pair them with those services, in the hopes they can turn their lives around.
Also quickly, even if, like me, you are not a particularly caring or generous person, it will occur to you that the big problem with Veterans Court is that it only offers help to veterans, and that a truly caring society would do this for everyone who screws their lives up so much they find themselves in jail.
That’s a long way of saying that as much as I’m a supporter of Christmas-season giving and the charitable stirrings it prompts in even the hardest of anthracite hearts, like mine, I can’t dwell very long on the subject without quickly beginning to suspect that the problem with the Christmas spirit of fellowship and goodwill is that it only occurs around Christmas. If then.
Though I understand why people turn away. It can be so heartbreaking to look. The Season of Sharing program run by the Sun-Times pairs the willing and able with letters from underprivileged Chicago kids. I’m looking at a stack of them now.
Kyrah, 8; we probably shouldn’t use her last name, to protect her from the stigma of being in need, though it’s common enough:
“Dear Santa,” she begins. “I would like to have a bady aliv” — this gave me pause. At first I thought she meant “Barely Alive,” and I shivered to think what depth dollmakers, inspired by “Twilight” no doubt, had now sunk. The mind reels. . . .
But a bit of reflection and online sleuthing led me to believe she means “Baby Alive,” a doll that comes with diapers, wets itself and — good Lord! — also “messes” in her disposable diapers, ($8.65 for a six-pack, which means they cost five times the price of actual Huggies for newborns). She asks for a few other toys, which she illustrates with drawings, and concludes “. . . and some shoes and a paint set. Tank you.”
“Some shoes and a paint set”? “Shoes” is one of those haunting requests that makes answering these letters both a challenge and necessary. What kind of shoes? What size?
Daunted, I fled to the next letter. Amanda — not her actual name — first butters up Santa. “You are the best in the whole wide world” and tells him “My mommy says that she loves me very much; she goes to school every day just like me” and frames the gift, not as a favor to her, but to her hard-working mother. “Santa can you help my mommy by bringing me a baby doll with clothes; and a stroller or some dress-up clothes with dishes. I know I will love whatever you bring.”
Hmmm. The third letter did the trick, from an 8-year-old boy named Bernard.
“For Christmas I would like to have Dragon Ball Z toy and some Legos I would like Yugamon toys too. Thank you,” illustrated by some very fine, fierce-looking triangular-headed lads, which proved helpful, because “Yugamon” doesn’t exist. A little fiddling online reveals, “Yu-Gi-Oh!” not only does exist, but its spiky yellow-haired hero looks quite like Bernard’s skillful pencil rendition.
OK Bernard, we creative types must stick together. I plucked his letter and sent the other two back to Season of Sharing HQ. Sorry girls, better luck next time.
If that seems hard-hearted, remember: I’m off to Target to shop for Dragon Ball Z and Yu-Gi-Oh, a ring of hell I thought I escaped a decade ago. What are you doing? So step up; if Kyrah is going to get her shoes, if Amanda is going to get her play dishes, you should stop tsk-tsking miserly columnists prodded out of their indifference by the seasonal dictates of their job, and go be the kind-hearted soul you demand that I be.
This isn’t easy, as you will see when you request your own child’s letter to puzzle over by sending an email to email@example.com or phoning our Season of Sharing office at 312-321-3114. You still have plenty of time. They need the gifts back, wrapped by Dec. 20. But it’ll be easier if you don’t drag your feet. Not easy, but necessary. Do it.