Shortly after I graduated from university, I landed a job as a bank teller in Toronto. It was surprisingly enough one of the best things that could have happened to me at the time. I was pretty shy growing up. I’m not a big talker. I was always the quiet one in our group of friends, I probably still am. But as a bank teller, I was forced to interact with everyone: comely girls, creepy men, and cranky old people. Slowly, I began to get comfortable with my role and with time I gained confidence. It was a small neighbourhood branch so it had a very sociable atmosphere. The branch manager (Vicky) was Italian, the two personal bankers (Nitee and Niadia) were Indian and Spanish, the financial advisor (Akis) was Greek, and my two side-kicks at the till were Irish (Julian) and Canadian (Kathy). I was there for 3-months and absolutely loved it.
What I remember most fondly from my experience was the period leading up to Christmas. I can’t stand the cold. Even after having spent nearly a quarter of my life in Canada, I never got used to the winters there. But for some reason, during each Christmas season, I wouldn’t mind freezing. I think it had much to do with the wonderful holiday spirit.
It was fascinating for me to see the entire city come alive. Trees and malls would be decorated with lovely looking lights long before snowfall had any chance to cover them in its fold. From November onwards, you could shop till you drop with big discounts at every store. I would spend from my purse to buy blank cards and gifts for people I worked with. And every morning, as I picked up my “double double” from Tim Hortons, I would smile at the sight of Santa and his reindeers doing the rounds on my coffee cup. At our branch, the local radio station was always on as background score for our daily activities. In December, all they played were Christmas jingles. For the first few days I went mad listening, but as time drew on, I found myself humming along. My favourite was Chris Rea’s “Driving home for Christmas” and The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York.”
I noticed our customers become friendlier as well. The grumpy old man was not so grumpy anymore and the hurried small business owner found the time to say hello first. As Charles Dickens once observed: “I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
Just like my colleagues at the bank, we all may have come from different places, but we all still belong to humanity. No one has exclusivity. As the late musician Jeff Buckley advocated: “The soil from America can differ from the soil in Malaysia, but its soil, it’s still the same. And the colour of people’s skin can differ from place to place but it’s still skin. And, in that regard, there is no difference.” We are all but travellers heading to the same destination, even if not in the same direction.
If there is any moral principle that we must understand, it is that humanity is as one single body, and each nation, all races are the different organs. The well-being of each of those organs determines the happiness and well-being of the entire body. The shame is in not feeling the strain when one organ of the body is in pain. The need of the world today is a selfless conscience together with a sense of awakened justice. The world will crumble when all selfless people cease to exist. In many ways, it would appear their number is thinning quite rapidly.
Our welfare is not in looking after ourselves, but in looking after others. This season, what we truly need is to give a damn.