by Kathy Clark

The holiday season is difficult for a lot of people. Many become consumed by the expectation of gift-buying and gift-giving among friends and family. The days leading up to Christmas are often spent in a furious search for the right presents — or any presents — for those to whom we feel obligated to give something. But one settles on something and does the requisite wrapping and adorning of packages. And in a flurry of activity, all the stress about finances, all the fretting about what to purchase, all the time and money spent driving from store to store, all the angry words spoken to us by impatient shoppers around us, it all culminates in a brief acknowledgement of the gift, which is then placed in a pile of other gifts to be taken home. It is a bit of a letdown.

Many people love to shop and are not impacted by the consequences of collective mass consumption. But it isn’t really fun to think about the fossil fuel required to run the plants that produce and deliver the goods to the stores which rely on fossil fuels to give them power. It’s no fun to think about the growing trash heaps in our landfills and the islands of trash in our oceans. It’s no fun to think of the environment at Christmas, nor the reprehensible conditions in which Third World workers produce the goods we consume.

Okay, I know: I’m preaching.

With my birthday situated smack dab in the middle of Christmas and New Year’s, I have often found myself in a purgatory of introspection during this season. You know, end-of-the-year type stuff. What have I accomplished? What did I set out to accomplish? What do I need to accomplish and how will I accomplish it? Coupled with my seasonal shortage of money and energy, I never have been able to follow this line of questioning without becoming a little depressed. And the depressed state of mind eclipses the holiday cheer. Still, I have it easy compared to some folks. I have family and friends. I have a home. I have a job. I have my health. I have much to be grateful for. But this time of year is hard. There is an unspoken expectation that we should all be holly and jolly. And sometimes, this just doesn’t seem possible.

Over the years I have done a lot of work on my relationship with this season. Giving takes many forms and can be done in an instant on the cheap or for free. And when it arises spontaneously and creatively, it feels truly joyous to engage in the act of giving.

A friend of mine created a Random Acts of Kindness Month page on Facebook where people are encouraged to perform and report their random acts during the month of December. It’s fun to read about the nice things people do for each other. And little gestures go a long way.

I purchased a candy bar and a card for a co-worker who had been in an automobile accident that morning. It had been her fault and the other person involved in the accident was completely unkind and melodramatic. This sweet girl was carrying the heaviness of a temporary financial inconvenience in her psyche and I couldn’t stand to see it. I wanted to celebrate the fact that she was not injured, nor was the unkind person she hit. So I gave her the small gift and she was so touched by my gesture that she had tears in her eyes. Such a small act made a huge impact.

At my place of employment, a lot of people donated some of their own sick hours to a co-worker currently battling cancer. Enough people donated five, 10 even 20 hours so that this man can spend the holidays at home as he finishes his radiation treatments. He was relieved by this gesture as his energy was waning. His wife, too, is grateful for this gift. This is the kind of giving I can get behind. And there’s no reason to limit this sort of giving to the holiday season.

In addition to having adjusted my attitude towards giving, I can now examine my life at the end of the year from the perspective of gratitude. In this manner, I feel less like I am lacking something and more like I have everything I need and am exactly where I need to be. I am in a happier state of mind. I still fall prey to the questions that will eternally plague my mind, and I still fall into worry and self doubt, but I return to the awareness that everyone has something for which to be grateful.

Can you use both of your legs to make you walk? Be grateful! Can you breathe without an elaborate system of wires and oxygen tanks? Be grateful! Can you read and write? Can you make a joke or laugh at one? There is, at our core, a lot to be grateful for. Celebrate this. Now and always. And celebrate each other.

I guess all I’m saying in this relatively long rant about the state of being human during the holidays is just this: Be kind to one another and focus on gratitude. Smile and say thank you.

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