I'm walking home, following a night of overpriced drinks in a Los Angeles bar. It's late. It's cold. It's Christmastime. I pass a homeless man, bedding down for the night on a cement bus stop bench. We make eye contact. My eyes dart away from his gaze, and I keep moving.
Now I'm home, warm and cozy in bed. As I drift off to sleep, a wave of shame washes over me. How could I have walked past a fellow human suffering on the streets of Los Angeles? I picture the pained expression on his face when our eyes locked. Sure, I have my own problems. Some are legitimate. Some are attitudinal. But the homeless man has offered me a fresh perspective: I'm not on the street.
Safe, sound, and under two Bed, Bath and Beyond comforters, I fall asleep.
The next morning, I learn Megan Fox has purchased a house in my neighborhood. Robbie Robertson's "Somewhere Down The Crazy River" plays in my mind as I imagine Megan shopping on a midwinter's night in the local Trader Joe's. It's a pleasant image, but I shake it off as I prepare to interview AnnaLynne McCord, beautiful Hollywood actress from TV's 90210 and Dallas reboots. AnnaLynne has a new project, a heartwarming Hallmark Channel holiday movie called The Christmas Parade. In The Christmas Parade, AnnaLynne plays a humiliated TV host, who, void of Christmas spirit, flees to a small town and discovers the true meaning of Christmas by getting involved with a holiday parade. The Christmas Parade is exactly the kind of holiday movie you'll enjoy watching in your bathrobe, over piping hot chocolate. If you have a fireplace, even better.
I ask AnnaLynne why she wanted to star in The Christmas Parade?
"One of the reasons was because my mom has asked me throughout my whole career to do a Hallmark movie," McCord says. "So, as far as my mom is concerned, my career has hit a peak by doing The Christmas Parade. My mom couldn't be happier. And knowing that she's happy puts a smile on my face."
I like AnnaLynne right away, and I love that she did a Christmas movie for her mom.
"I responded to The Christmas Parade because I agreed with the lead character," McCord explains. "She has a very honest take on the sensationalism of the Christmas industry. Obviously, they tell her the meaning of Christmas. But I like that before that happens, there is a nice bit of messaging, sending the message that this billion dollar industry that is Christmas is actually really materialistic. I like that aspect of the film."
I ask AnnaLynne what she hopes the audience will take away from The Christmas Parade?
"Growing up, I remember watching Christmas movies," McCord shares. "Home Alone was something we watched every year. You get a little sappy with your family. It's sweet. It's cute. So, there's a sense of bringing the family together over watching it, but also being aware of this issue that is the sensationalism of Christmas. I wouldn't mind if they took that message home."
I wonder how AnnaLynne spends Christmas?
"Christmas is the most amazing time of my life, every year," McCord says. "I spend it in Cambodia with survivors of human trafficking. I work with the Anti-Sex Trafficking Organization. In spending the last six Christmases over there, the time and love that they've invested in me and that I've been able to share with them has really changed my life. So, Christmas is about perspective for me because I get to go to the complete opposite of what we have here in America, to a developing country where there is really nothing. And they're so grateful and so thankful. I bring them Christmas presents. I have 368 children now."
As I talk with AnnaLynne, I'm impressed by her passion for philanthropic endeavors. I knew she was one of the 90210 chicks, but didn't know she was so heavily engaged in charitable pursuits. Moved by AnnaLynne's compassion, a tidal wave of guilt hits me for having walked past the homeless man. I don't know what I'd do if I had to sleep on a bus stop bench? I can't even handle scented laundry detergents.
I'm not immune to homelessness. Actually, many of us are only a couple bad decisions, a few strokes of bad luck, or even just a bad Vegas trip away from it. Nobody plans to be homeless. It happens. I just hope that if I wind up sleeping at a cold bus stop during the Christmas season, someone will do more than storm past me on their way to a warm bed.
My fifteen minutes with AnnaLynne McCord concludes, and I become obsessed with finding the homeless man I previously ignored. I stop at a Santa Monica ATM and withdraw all I can afford to give. Arriving at the bus stop, I find him sitting on the bench and learn his name is Jim. I give him a nice wad of holiday cash, and walk away feeling satisfied.
Back home, I question my motivations. Am I truly a compassionate person, or am I only feeling satisfied because giving Jim money alleviated my guilt? Did I do it for Jim, or did I do it to feel better about myself? Who knows? Who cares? It doesn't matter. All that matters at the end of the day is that Jim gets paid.
AnnaLynne McCord has reminded me to practice compassion towards others, and that we should give what we can to those in need. And we should do it now. We can make every day feel like Christmas, if we keep choosing to give.
The Christmas Parade premieres December 14 on The Hallmark Channel