Dear Sergeant Santa,
Richmond misses you. We miss the realness of your workshop on West Marshall Street. We miss the wonder of seeing you at community events, regardless of the time of the year, in your snow-white beard and red suspenders. And we miss the generosity that you bestowed upon our city and inspired in our hearts.
Amongst the noise of the holidays, the incessant wish lists, and the relentless chase of the picture-perfect Christmas, you embodied the spirit of giving and authenticity—the real Santa. You gave the Richmond community so much more than toys and books.
Growing up, you came to my neighborhood Christmas party annually. While every child climbed into your lap to tell you our deepest Christmas wishes, you also accepted from each of us something to give another child. Then, you distributed in areas of Richmond where children otherwise received nothing for Christmas. You gave us the gift of giving.
You helped me understand that there isn’t a magic land where toys and resources come from. In order to give to others, we must give ourselves. As I grew older, you reminded me that there was still magic in the story of Santa, not because of fictional folklore but because of the authentic generosity that you displayed to and cultivated in the Richmond community.
When I was five and miserable with chickenpox on every inch of my body, you came to my house to pick up my bike to fix up for someone else. But the very first thing you did was squat down and open your arms wide to envelop me in a giant hug drying my tears. You gave me the gift of your time.
You helped me learn that true generosity requires an investment of our hearts. It requires seeing other and noticing needs. It requires the willingness to put our own agenda on hold to compassionately address immediate needs.
Thank you for the wonder that you added to my childhood. Thank you for the lessons of authenticity and generosity that you lived out. I long for my children to experience these lessons in real ways and am saddened they will not meet you and have you be a part of their Christmas memories. In your absence, I know that for my own family to encounter the spirit of giving, I must take the reigns.
Ricky Duling, 1926-2010, was a retired Richmond city police sergeant who dedicated himself to making sure all children in Richmond, Virginia had something to open at Christmas. To read more about Sgt. Santa, see Sgt. Santa – A Tribute.
Was Sgt. Santa part of your childhood Christmas? Share your memories in the comments! With the absence of Sgt. Santa, how do you continue these lessons he lived out?