Kari Stiles shares a touching holiday story regarding the search for a rainbow night-light, and talks about her charitable ventures.
I’m a charity freak.
I love working with NGOs and charities. I’ve done a very small amount of international contribution. I volunteer locally. I am the community outreach coordinator for the unit I work on in my hospital.
I started a movement back in 2013 called “Take An Extra Bag” which is meant to encourage people to think beyond themselves during travel, or just during their day-to-day lives. The idea was fostered out of realizing the poverty surrounding hotels and resorts at frequently-traveled destinations, especially internationally. The idea—take one extra bag when you travel anywhere and donate goods to the community where you vacation. It also offers tips and ideas on how to support charities and meet community needs in your own neighborhood. Whether international or domestic, providing support to those in need is the right thing to do … at least it is in my mind. Our minds don’t have to agree. They just have to be respectful of each other. Thank you in advance for that.
There. That’s my background.
I hatched my community-service egg in my current place of employment about three years ago when I started driving the employees around to team up with and help out the neighbors. One thing I did is joined forces with the elementary school across the street from our building and, as you might imagine, holiday gift-giving is a big part of what we do. Today was collection day and I was gathering items from the gift list for a 15-year-old girl.
- T-Shirts (black, gray, white)—CHECK
- Knee-High Socks—CHECK
- Black or Gray Sweatpants—CHECK
- Hoodie Sweatshirts—CHECK
- Retro Air Jordan Sneakers—CHECK
- Basketball-Type Shorts—CHECK
- Marilyn Monroe Poster—CHECK
- Rainbow Night-Light—NOPE
Rainbow night-light. Nothing.
So, I hit the stores looking for a rainbow night-light. Each store = nothing.
My brain keeps spinning out, “What does a 15-year-old, who’s asked for everything in black, white, or gray, want with a rainbow night-light?”
Next store, nothing. It’s the last remaining thing on her list. There’s this primal need to wrap this one up completely since we’re so close.
On to the next shop. Ramming my cart around a large, multi-billion-dollar store mumbling, “Rainbow night-light, rainbow night-light, rainbow night-light.” There I am staring at night-lights and there’s nothing even close to a rainbow. “Rainbow night-light.”
Listen, I don’t know anything about these families aside from what they request. We are given no information, just, “They’ve fallen on very hard times this year [like fire, devastating illness, loss of a parent, etc.] and could use support to get through the holidays.”
“Rainbow Night-Light.” I stared back at the paper list in my hand and read it again, then felt like some subconscious fairy waved smelling salts under my oblivious, night shift nose. Suddenly, it’s as if she’s sent me a personal message. “Acknowledge me.” “This is important.” “This is who I am. This rainbow night-light.”
I am definitely guilty of overthinking things. You might have picked up on that by now.
She may just like rainbows but, at age 15, maybe she feels that posters or clothes with rainbows are no longer “cool.” Do they use that word anymore? Cool? Most teenagers wouldn’t be caught dead in the clothes that the girl in the TV show The Middle wears.
I overthink things. Sue me. However, I was suddenly more driven to find a rainbow night-light than ever before, feeling like doing so would provide some sort of validation for her. “Got it, sweetheart. Rainbow night-light. We’re good.” So, I kept looking for a rainbow night-light. Nothing. This is important. Can I MAKE a rainbow night-light that doesn’t look like a drunken paint-by-numbers project? Of course. I can do this. This is important. Rainbow. Night-light.
I found a night-light that seemed willing to be fiddled with and bought a huge, steroid-injected pack of permanent markers to create the rainbow. This is important.
I sat down with my new pile of markers and my fortunately-steady hand (read: decaf only coffee now, and I swore I never would do that) and altered an otherwise benign night-light into one that, when illuminated, radiates ROYGBIV with PRIDE.
I paced around and stared at it wondering if I was being arrogant or disrespectful by doing what I did. I thought, “How rude to whip something up like this. How ignorant to assume what you’re assuming, Kari. But, what if my hunch is right? She deserves a real rainbow night-light, some sort of acknowledgement from the universe that she is good stuff, that we got her subconscious message and not only did we get her gift requests we stand with her and the rainbow.”
Then, it hit me: ALL YOU CAN DO IS DO.
She’s hopefully going to look at it and either NOT know that it’s kitchen-table crafted, or she’ll realize it is and think, “Hunh. Someone actually did this for me.”
Naturally, it could be the teen-angst response, “What the *&%@# is this? Pppffttt!” and then teeth click like she’s never seen anything so pitiful.
I’m hoping it’s that she realizes it was hand-done, that it wasn’t perfect but it was pretty darned good, and that so is she. All from a piece of plastic that plugs into a wall.