BY LAM HO
Many, many Decembers ago, a little boy found happiness in a board game and a green, plastic model train set. He was six or seven years old, and his family had traveled from a faraway land called Vietnam to the wild jungles of Brockton, Massachusetts. His parents worked on sub minimum-wage, temporary, often overnight assembly-line shifts, so Decembers were frequently marked by their fearful desperation and strain of trying to pay for heating and warm clothing. Even with welfare assistance, they were rarely successful in those early American years and his sister survived much of that winter in a pair of completely open-toed, heeled, sided-gel sandals.
That year, however, would become arguably the best holiday season he has ever enjoyed. Somehow, through one of those fairy tale chances, his family found themselves at a Christmas celebration for families in need. The little boy experienced many unique adventures that day, from eating as much as his tiny, little belly could hold, to playing with other children and to being unshadowed by the shame that seemed to surround his life or the crime around his home at 355 Main Street.
But on that day, on that magical, magical day, the boy discovered the most wondrous enchantment, the most powerful of spells: compassionate generosity in the form of a plump, red man who gave him two brightly wrapped packages with big plastic bows (treasures he saw for the very first time). That jolly prince was a messenger for all the kind-hearted angels who had donated and collected gifts for those children, like our little boy, who would otherwise never know the exquisite joys of shaking gift packages, peering at them under bright light, otherwise ingeniously calculating their contents, or of course actually opening them on Christmas morning.
Being curious and clever, but oh so wickedly impatient, the little boy reasoned that not being Christian, he didn’t need to wait until the 25th. In fact, I don’t even think he made it to December 22nd. But, if you had witnessed the pure, utterly spontaneous, unquestioning happiness which coursed through his body as he opened up those two presents from the church’s gift drive, I think you would forgive him too. He and his sister played with the Monopoly game he unearthed in one package almost incessantly for the next three weeks; he now considers himself a Monopoly virtuouso, although likely because he cheats. In the other box, our troublesome little boy found a battery-operated train that he immediately set zooming around his family’s third floor apartment, through its two bedrooms and three beds into which they managed to squeezed nine people. If only you could see how happy he looked as he chased after the train.
That vision of my storyboy is the inspiration for the Giving Tree that now stands in the lobby of the Hark. In the billion-dollar Harvard world of privilege, opportunity, and success, I rarely witness the genuine, literally overwhelming happiness that that poor, immigrant child found in those two inexpensive gifts. Every year, as the holidays approach, we are generally fortunate enough to spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on presents for our loved ones and ourselves. But I am willing to bet my entire holiday-gifts budget that, despite our access to Ipods and Playstations, to diamonds and Audis, very few of us will come remotely close to experiencing or even witnessing the ecstasy I have described above, all from a board game and a green, plastic train set.
I know because it is my story I am sharing with you: those emotions and memories which I cherish jealously because not only have I never enjoyed them again but they also become dimmer with each passing December. They were the explosive reactions to compassion and generosity of a little boy who had known mostly alienation and deprivation.
Thus, I created the Giving Tree not only in hopes of returning the compassion and generosity I experienced as that little boy but also to remind myself and others to appreciate the unadulterated happiness which only compassion and generosity has the potential to create.
As you finish the semester, which costs you $30,000, enduring the stress, frustrations, and challenges concomitant with such tremendous entitlement, I implore you to not only remember my insignificant tale but also to delve into your own moments of happiness. There, I hope that you will discover the compassion and generosity which would inspire you to share that happiness with those children for whom a gift costing only .033% of your semester costs could be their magical train set.
THE HLS GIVING TREE
The Giving Tree was founded by Lam Ho at Brown University in 1998 and Oxford University in 2002. Since 1998, the Giving Trees have raised over 5000 gifts for children in need.
This year, Cassie David, director of community service for HL Central, Section 2 1Ls Alexander Boni-Saenz, Kami Kruckenberg and Lam Ho are establishing The Giving Tree at Harvard Law School. Running from December 1st to December 16th, the HLS Giving Tree will provide gifts for homeless children at Project Hope. The centerpiece of the project, the “tree”, is a non-denominational artistic representation of giving, adorned with ornaments that contain descriptions of suggested gifts. Students, faculty, and staff are asked to pick up ornaments, purchase gifts, gift-wrap them if they wish, and drop them off at designated locations. Alternatively, they may donate money to be used to purchase additional gifts.
A project intended to unite the HLS community in compassionate generosity, it is a collaboration between many HLS organizations. The HLS Giving Tree is presented by the Dean of Students and HL Central. The Law School Council, a co-sponsor of the event, arranged a wonderful kick-off event, organized by 2L Art Samuels, last Thursday. Other co-sponsors include JOLT, LAMBDA, SPIN, La Alianza, Office of Public Interest Advising, HELA, ACS, Law Couples Association, In Vino Veritas, BSA, Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Journal, CYA, Blackletter Law Journal, Human Rights Journal, LLR, Forum on Local Government and Politics, Harvard Latter Day Saints, Direct Action, Women’s Law Association, Squash Club, Working Group on Gender Justice, U.N. Reform Conference, HLS Veterans. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and Foley & Lardner LLP have generously supported the project.