A Gift For the Birthday Boy – by Captain Elmo Jayawardena

It was a lazy morning during the Christmas week, I do not recall the date, but I do recall it was the time rich cake tasted very poor. This usually happens around the twenty ninth of December. Eating too much of it. The balloons were getting their first lines of deflation. Christmas feeling was still very much around, serenading in the night, carols in the air, a continuous exchange of visits and gifts, an extended celebration of a two thousand year old birth.

We were enjoying one of those pleasant after breakfast chats, supplemented by a free flow of coffee. The doorbell rang and there was a little girl, standing at the doorway with a piece of paper in her hand and a face that carried an expression of want. Rather a common sight during Christmas.

She very humbly murmured that the paper was her booklist and that she was going around begging money to buy her schoolbooks. She said this to my children and they went inside and brought some coins for her. This kind of incident happens very often in my hometown, especially during Christmas.

Little Girl and Family At Home During ChristmasFrom where I was seated I could see her clearly. She looked about ten years, her feet were bare and she wore a dress two sizes bigger than her. She had one of those “nobody knows the troubles I've seen” faces. She spoke in a clear and humble voice and looked me straight in the eye. Something made me get up and speak to her. I am glad 1 did, as the words we shared made a big difference to me. Rather a world of difference to me and my otherwise mundane Christmas.

In answer to my questions, she said that her mother made hoppers (local pancakes) and she sold them before going to school. That was their livelihood. She had done well in school. For the new class she was entering the textbooks were given by the school, the list was for the rest. The hopper money was not adequate to cover the list and hence, she was going from house to house asking for help.

Her voice told me the story, her eyes told me that it was the truth. Who was I to judge? I said I'd buy her what was in the list.

We drove to a nearby bookstore. In silence she sat, with a strange look on her face. It's a look the needy have, a hard to believe ‘what's happening to me' look. It's a desperate yet special look. Somewhere along your life, you need to have eaten a lot of bread and salt to recognize it.

At the store the clerk was ticking each item and taking it out of a show case. The little girl kept staring as if dazed. A faint trace of a smile on her face. Perhaps she had never possessed so many new things before. They were merely exercise books, pencils, felt pens and such things. We bought her what was in the list and she whispered her thanks in utterances. Her gratitude was all over her face, the happiness sparkling through her eyes. Strange, I hadn't been aware that giving such simple things to one in need, could bring me such a lot of happiness.

As we drove back I could see in the mirror the little girl. All the gifts I've given in my life never lit a face so much. She was clutching the parcel with her little hands and smiling to herself, perhaps thankful that someone had taken the time and trouble to buy her a gift. The total event made us all very happy. Our Christmas became more meaningful, for the birthday had come, we bought our share of gifts, without forgetting the birthday boy.

I've written this story as it happened, in all its simplicity. I share the facts, but not the feeling, unless you too experience the pleasure of buying a gift for the birthday boy. I cannot remember the gifts I've given for Christmas, nor the ones I've received. They are mostly a meaningless social obligation. Yet, I remember every detail of the one gift I bought for the birthday boy, a little gift that did not cost much. I feel very happy every time I recall it. I am thankful that I was blessed with an opportunity to accomplish it.

The birthday is just around the corner. We do not go for birthday parties buying gifts for everybody and ignoring the birthday boy. There are many who represent the birthday boy. Many who would go through Christmas hoping for a little change, a little light, a little shine, which usually is denied. It is not for us to question validities, but to lend a hand when we can. A gift is something we give to make us happy. Buy gifts, by all means buy gifts for everyone, but when you go to the party don't forget the birthday boy.

This story was written by Captain Elmo Jayawardena, Founder and President of the non-profit association AFLAC International. He is also author of “Rainbows In Braille,” a collection of short stories. All sales of the book go towards AFLAC International and copies can be purchased for $10 by emailing him directly at: elmojay at sltnet dot lk

The Spiritual Moral / Meaning of This Story

The story presents a beautiful illustration of the essence of giving, especially during the Christmas season. It highlights the profound spiritual principle that true giving is about recognizing and responding to the needs of others, rather than just fulfilling social obligations or traditions.

One of the core spiritual meanings of this story is the importance of empathy and compassion. The narrator initially sees the little girl as just another needy child, a common sight during Christmas. However, upon interacting with her and understanding her situation, the narrator experiences a deep sense of empathy. This empathy moves them to take action, to go beyond the superficial gesture of giving some coins and instead meet the child's actual needs. This act of empathy transforms the narrator's Christmas from a mundane celebration to a deeply meaningful experience. It reminds us that true compassion involves not only understanding others' pain but also doing something to alleviate it.

Another spiritual lesson in the story is the transformative power of kindness. The little girl’s gratitude and the light in her eyes as she receives her school supplies reveal the profound impact of a simple act of kindness. This transformation is not limited to the receiver; the giver also experiences a profound sense of joy and fulfillment. The narrator discovers that giving, when done selflessly and with a genuine desire to help, can bring immense happiness. This teaches us that kindness has a ripple effect, creating positive energy and transforming both the giver and the receiver.

The story also underscores the significance of mindfulness and presence in our actions. The narrator’s decision to truly engage with the little girl, to listen to her story, and to take her to the bookstore represents a mindful approach to giving. Instead of treating the act of giving as a routine or obligation, the narrator is fully present in the moment, making a conscious choice to make a difference. This mindfulness allows the narrator to experience the true spirit of Christmas, which is about being present, attentive, and responsive to the needs of others.

Furthermore, the story emphasizes the importance of gratitude and appreciation. The little girl's gratitude, expressed through her eyes and whispers, is a powerful reminder of the value of appreciating what we receive, no matter how small. Her reaction teaches us to be grateful for the blessings in our lives and to acknowledge the efforts and kindness of others. The narrator’s reflection on the event, recalling it with happiness and gratitude, highlights how gratitude can enrich our lives and make our experiences more meaningful.

Lastly, the story serves as a reminder to focus on the true essence of celebrations like Christmas. Amidst the festive cheer, gifts, and social obligations, it is easy to lose sight of the deeper meaning of such occasions. The narrator’s reflection on the importance of remembering the “birthday boy”—a metaphor for the spirit of Christmas—urges us to center our celebrations around love, generosity, and the well-being of others. It encourages us to seek out and help those who represent the essence of the season, those who are in need and hoping for a little light and joy.

Personal Reflection Questions:

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Empathy in Action: Reflect on a time when you were moved by empathy to help someone. How did this experience impact you and the person you helped?
  2. Transformative Kindness: Can you recall an act of kindness you performed that had a significant impact on someone’s life? How did it make you feel?
  3. Mindful Giving: How often do you practice mindfulness in your acts of giving? What steps can you take to ensure you are fully present and attentive when helping others?
  4. Gratitude and Appreciation: Think about the last time you received something small yet significant. How did you express your gratitude? How can you cultivate a deeper sense of appreciation in your daily life?
  5. True Essence of Celebrations: How do you balance the social obligations of festive celebrations with their deeper spiritual meanings? What practices help you stay focused on the true essence of these occasions?
  6. Recognizing Needs: How do you identify the genuine needs of others around you? What can you do to be more perceptive and responsive to those needs?
  7. Joy of Giving: Describe a moment when giving brought you immense joy. What made that experience special for you?
  8. Compassionate Engagement: How do you engage with people who seek help from you? What can you do to make those interactions more meaningful and compassionate?
  9. Reflecting on Generosity: How has your understanding of generosity evolved over time? What experiences have shaped your view on the importance of giving?
  10. Spiritual Fulfillment: How do you seek spiritual fulfillment during festive seasons? What traditions or practices help you connect with the deeper meanings of these celebrations?

A Poem Based On This Story

A Gift Beyond Measure: The True Joy of Giving

In December’s light, the carols play,
The air is filled with festive sway,
But in a humble doorway stands,
A child with paper in her hands.

Her eyes a story, her voice sincere,
She seeks some help, a need so clear,
For schoolbooks she must somehow buy,
Her mother’s pancakes barely ply.

Compassion stirs, I rise to greet,
This girl with life’s burdens replete,
Her tale unfolds, her truth revealed,
A world of hardships unconcealed.

To a bookstore, we make our way,
In silence, she holds hopes at bay,
The clerk retrieves each listed item,
Her gratitude begins to brighten.

A smile forms, faint but pure,
In her eyes, a spark so sure,
Exercise books, pencils, pens,
Simple gifts, yet life amends.

As we return, I see her beam,
A moment from a distant dream,
Clutching tightly, gifts so small,
Yet they mean the world to her, after all.

This act of giving, pure and kind,
Unveils a joy within my mind,
A Christmas touched by a child’s grace,
A light of love in her embrace.

For every gift I've given hence,
None matches this small recompense,
To give a gift with heart and soul,
Fulfills a deeper, sacred goal.

As seasons change and years progress,
I’ll not forget this happiness,
The birthday boy, a child in need,
A reminder of love’s true creed.

So when you celebrate this year,
Recall the faces, far and near,
Who wait for kindness, pure and bright,
To share in Christmas’s gentle light.

For in the act of giving true,
We find the joy that’s ever new,
And light the world with love’s pure flame,
In every heart, a spark to claim.