dispatch from the kindness trenches


I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the notion of “Christmas spirit”.  It’s not something that shows up for me every year – more often than not, Christmas brings some variety of “slog through till it’s done”.  Once in a while, though, there is this nice warm rush of good feeling that’s as enjoyable as post-run endorphins.

What is it and why does it happen?  And why at Christmas?  My data sample of one indicates that it’s not borne of aggressive markdowns on triple-thick cashmere sweaters (though I will admit to swooning a bit), spiked cider or the celebration of a certain important birthday.  It has more to do with Christmas being a time that generosity, togetherness, creativity, joy, impetuousness and cheer are officially sanctioned by our high-achieving culture.  It is expected that these abstract dictums about general goodness, that for most of the year float around subconsciously but hold little tread, will be moved up to the top of the To Do list.  Deliverables are expected.  And so, we slightly slyly put the usual cacophony of responsibilities away for a while and feel justified in pursuing more gentle things, if only for a month.

I think there’s room for me to learn something from this about how to better be in the world.

But the cacophony IS an issue, a big one. I once started a project that turned out to be unfinishable. On a large piece of paper, in the finest tip pen, in the smallest letters I could make, I wrote out all the “reminders” that are in my head on most days.  I filled the page and was not done.  Make money, keep a tidy house, shave my legs, hydrate, look away from the monitor, be thoughtful and nonjudgmental in times of stress, stay in touch with relatives, go to the dentist, don’t sit too long, save for retirement, be present int he moment, strengthen my core, buy local, wait for the walk sign, eat fresh vegetables, recycle, volunteer, meet all deadlines, moisturize, water the plants, stock the pantry, weed, send thank you notes and feed the birds.  I’m not sure what the answer to addressing all this is, but frankly, I’m a bit tired from the incessant question.

And on kindness, what more Christmas spiritish thing than to follow a December calendar of kind things.  First two days were great.  I gave a friend a really nice (and deserved) compliment and gave some money away to someone who needed it.  But then things got tricky.  There was no trash in the neighborhood to pick up and the card I wrote to a serviceman/woman thanked him or her for being on the front line and encouraged them to hang in there.  After writing the card, I found out that the only way to get a card to a service person was to send it to Walter Reed, which would by definition mean that the person was not on the front line, but injured in Bethesda.  And then, I hate to admit it, my lust for doing good fell apart.  Every day I get the reminders on my calendar, and in an overwhelmed state, I click them away, not needing one extra thing to do.

Think I’ll take it back up tomorrow and try to perpetuate this state into daily (hectic) life.  Happy Christmas to those who celebrate, and happy holidays to all others.

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