By Rep. Nick J. Rahall
Several years ago, on a cold, damp fall day, as I was leaving a meeting in one of our county courthouses, I had an experience that comes to mind this Christmas Season.
I was walking down a courthouse sidewalk and there, on the nearby lawn, was an older man lying on a bench. From his appearance and the condition of his clothes, he easily could have been there for more than a few days. I happened to catch his stare, and so I decided to go over and shake his hand and say hello.
As things turned out, I got to hear his whole story. He was a veteran, honorably discharged, but things hadn’t gone well for him for some years and now he was homeless and had little hope for his future. I told him that my office was just across the street and invited him to come in. I told him that with his written permission I could check with the Veterans Administration to see if they couldn’t lend a hand in qualifying him for some benefits that his service entitled him to receive. He was reluctant, so, respecting his wishes, I excused myself to get on to my next commitment. Before I walked away, I thanked him for his service to the country and then left him, hoping that he would make the decision to accept my help.
It took him a few days of considerable thinking, but don’t you know, finally he came into the office. Shortly thereafter, his claim for benefits was approved and he was able to move into a warm home. I have had many similar experiences over the years, but this one sticks in my mind at this time of year, perhaps because this gentleman was so visible to so many, sitting on courthouse bench, not far from where, today, the sounds of Christmas carols resonate.
I cannot help but think of our Lord’s guidance to each of us as Christians to care for “the least of these” among us when I think of that stranded veteran there at the courthouse. And just like the Christ child, the “King of kings,” who, himself, was born in the most unlikely of places, a manger, the Lord’s work here on Earth sometimes finds itself in unlikely places, even a courthouse lawn.
Christmas in southern West Virginia is always made richer and merrier by the warm hearts and helping hands of our families who were raised to watch over and care for their neighbors -- wherever, whenever they are in need. Day in and day out, throughout the year, West Virginians convey the season's spirit of giving, rekindling the Christmas message for us all.
Government at all levels can and should be a full partner in embracing “the least of these,” not only because, as we Christians know, it is the right thing to do, but also because it elevates the strength of our Nation as we lift the hope, potential, and lives of our not-so-well-off neighbors. And I believe that, as a Nation, we embrace them best not by trickling down on them, but by reaching down to them and helping them up.
Each Christmas Season we are joined by all manner of help, from all levels of the economy, to feed and clothe the poor, to heal the sick, and take in the homeless. We welcome these gifts of kindness, but we must wonder why others, especially in the Halls of the Congress, feel compelled to confine this spirit solely to the Christmas Season.
Let us all work to carry the ideals of a giving Christmas into our Nation's New Year. Let us insist that words of compassion from others be turned into concrete deeds to free human potential.
May you and yours have a bountiful and merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
(Rahall, D-WV, represents the state’s Third Congressional District.)