Christmas has become so commercial to so many that it is easy to feel Scrooged, or turned into a cynic, by the overflow of sustained hype and huckstering. This year, however, we might find it much easier to feel the depths of the emotion that rises from giving and from wanting to give, from submitting to the desire to make someone else happy, from helping to create happiness for as many as we can.
I say that because our great tragedy Sept. 11 should have straightened everybody out. We witnessed giving on a level that we might not have even thought possible in our time in the world. There was the stainless bravery of those cops and those firefighters, and the spontaneous heroism of the people in the street who helped one another.
The willingness to identify with everyone else filled the air of New York with compassion. The humanity, all of it rooted in giving, put wings on the grief and somehow lifted our city not into forgetfulness, but into an awareness of how much can be given when it is called for, when it is not expected, when it means the most.
We saw just how much sharing is central to society and that when we share the right things, we add high polish to the jewel of civilized living.
This returns us to the Christmas story, which has special power even if one has another religion, or no religion.
That is because it contains so much of our story. It is the tale of kings following a light and kneeling before a child in a manger, a child who was born among animals but whose life would symbolize the hope of humanity.
I can think of nothing quite so much like that as what New York came to symbolize in this narcissistic era in which far too many walk through the world looking into hand-held mirrors, as oblivious of others as possible. Those hijacked planes slapped the mirror away, and many people who lived in kingdoms of themselves found their souls kneeling before that disaster, awed as much by the humanity that it inspired as they were by the horror of the attack itself. An imperishable beacon of compassion was born in the rubble of a beastly act.
There will be a lot of mourning today because too many will not be home for the holidays, ever. We should share their grief as we have everything else throughout these months. But we should recognize that this season of giving, like a huge light continuing to broaden in the darkness, began to shine Sept. 11.
Stanley Crouch is a columnist for the New York Daily News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.