Once there was a man named Givent Ake. Givent had a life that from the outside people might appear green with jealousy. He had it all, one might say. A big fancy house with lush gardens and a swimming pool, fancy cars, and vacation homes scattered throughout the world, which were often the gathering place of celebrities and high profile guests.
Givant was married with two children. His wife, Gabby, was very active in non-profit volunteer activities, and enjoyed making sure that her name was on several buildings for her generous contributions to the community. She loved the spotlight. Gabby dressed impeccably, had her nails done once a week, and hired a maid to keep up around the house and help with the children, who were driven to a private school daily.
Givent Ake was a business man. When he talked with people he drew them in with his charismatic personality and easy conversation. But there were ulterior motives. Givent hid behind his façade of kindness to propel him forward financially and to feel powerful. For the deep blue shadows in his eyes revealed that these acquaintances, these "friends" were only being wooed because they had something he wanted in the future when he needed to cash in favors. He lived by the motto "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine."
Now in a nearby town, there was a lady named Lotta Faith. Lotta lived a simple life. She lived in an older house and lived below her means. Although she didn't have children, she was a wonderful teacher and mentor for troubled youth in an alternative school. During the holiday, instead of gifts, she would clean out her closets and donate to the local charities for families in need. She would hand-make items and write deep, long, letters to families and friends thanking them for the gifts that they were giving to the world through merely existing. She was never long in face or short on a compliment, even to a stranger.
Lotta had no desire for recognition. Often times she would perform random acts of kindness. And each week, she would stop by the corner park of Main Street and 10th, where old Ernest claimed a bench of his own.
"How are you today, Ernest?" she would say.
"Same as ever, dear. Still ticking, God knows why," Ernest would mumble, his hoarse throat barely a whisper.
Lotta would sit down next to the man with the twinkle in his sad blue eyes and they would begin the familiar conversation that had become part of their greeting routine. She enjoyed his presence. She always felt better sitting, listening to his stories, telling and sometimes asking his advice about the troubled kids she worked with, without breaking their confidentiality. When it was time to go, Lotta would hand Ernest a brown paper bag, filled with his favorite turkey and cheese sandwich, mustard only. And cookies. Two homemade chocolate chip. Ernest would smile, and say,
"Thank you dear. Not many people take the time to really talk. But everyone sure thinks they have important things to say! You keep the faith, now, ya hear?"
One week later, two days before Christmas, Lotta stopped by the park and Ernest wasn't there. She asked the corner shopkeeper, who allowed Ernest to warm up in his shop occasionally, if he had seen the old man.
"Ernest passed away last week. Apparently a heart attack. We didn't know where to find you. His children wanted you to know he spoke of you fondly, and often."
"I didn't know he had family" she whispered, visibly shaken.
"Oh yes! Old Ernest was well-known around here. I thought you knew?!"
"Why, Ernest was once named Givent Ake. He had a beautiful wife, although she talked way too much….." he paused.
"Well, they had two lovely children. He was a millionaire, you know."
"Go on. Please…."
"Well, Ernest, or Givent, lived the high life. He didn't have many friends. He pretended to be a friend to many, but he used people. He would only give to those whom he wanted something in return.
His wife died in a tragic car accident ten years ago. He changed his life after that. Vowed to appreciate every moment, and against his grown children's wishes, decided to go incognito and start to walk the streets every day, only coming home to a modest home at night. He was trying to understand the human conditional."
"The human conditional?" asked Lotta. "You mean the human condition?"
"No. The human conditional. Ernest said that most people he met had the tendency to only give on conditional terms, dependent on what they could take back. He used to be that way when his name was Givent Ake. Said he was cursed the day he was born because of his namesake.
The last several years of his life have been filled with deep sorrow and regret, but also wisdom and compassion. Why, he even helped me put my son through college! And remember that anonymous donation to your school? That was him! That was Ernest! I promised I would never tell….but, you know."
Lotta stepped back. Then she understood the many conversations she had with Ernest. And with her head held a little higher, knowing she was blessed with her given name, she set out to continue an Ernest journey to change the Givent Akes of the world.
Moral of the story? You have to have a Lotta Faith, and forget about Givent Ake. For life, my friends, is not about give and take. It is about being Ernest in your gestures of good will, giving unconditionally, knowing that as connected human beings the rewards will come in mysterious ways and through people and events that you do not expect.
Wishing you all the Ernest Spirit of Lotta Faith, Giving, and Harmony as we journey through this holiday season!
by Jen Slayden