This holiday season, I am reminded even more of the importance of exercising compassion and empathy.
I shouldn’t have to be homeless to imagine the bitterness of winter temperatures for those who have no roof over their heads and no bed with fluffy pillows and a down comforter to keep them warm at night. I don’t have to miss meals to feel the nausea, lethargy, and distraction from not having enough nourishment in my belly.
I don’t have to experience the anxiety of pulling out a bank receipt that shows a balance that won’t (in any stretch of the imagination) be enough to cover the monthly bills, or worse, seeing a negative balance to sympathize with those who are unemployed or still struggling in the current economy. I shouldn’t have to experience cancer to empathize with someone who’s going through chemo and radiation therapy.
I don’t have to care for an elderly parent, say goodbye to a friend struck down by disease, or bury a murdered child to have my heart break, or to reach out to comfort, hug, hold, and support a family member, a friend, or a stranger who has lost someone essential to their lives.
For Americans, our season of officially giving thanks begins on the third Thursday of November, Thanksgiving. Oftentimes, with the stress of planning and preparing feasts; purchasing gifts or stressing about finding extra money to purchase gifts or going without gifts; end-of-the-year additional work and subsequently extra hours at our jobs; attending holiday school performances, work parties and social get-togethers; dealing with family dynamics or having no family at all—it can be difficult to remember that this is a time for giving.
This season, I am reminding myself to give—with consciousness and clarity, discharging my stresses and anxieties (even if temporarily), so that I may give freely and openly, without judgment or expectation.
When a friend’s stress is overwhelming, I tell myself, ‘Cut your errands short and lend an ear, turn off your phone, and pull your sleeve down over your watch face.’
When my eyes sting because they’re so tired and all I want is to get that next load of damn laundry folded and the dishes cleaned before I call it a day, and my child calls for…me, I let the laundry wait and leave the never-ending chores to remain undone a bit while longer. I go to my daughter, curl up in the bed with her, and release the day from my mind so that the only world of which I’m aware is the child right in front of me.
When a wee tiny wisp of an elderly woman spends 20 minutes mailing a package while the line at the post office extends past the door and down the steps, I tell the person in front of me that I like her intriguing coat and then we move on to how we will be spending our holidays and to whom we are mailing our packages. Finally, I simply wait my turn, mentally sending good wishes to the old woman with her cane, her hand shaking as she writes her check, her lips quivering as she tries to get her words out, and know that I, too (with luck), shall reach her age and deal with the consequences of old, old age.
This season, I remind myself to take that unwrapped gift to the local firehouse, take the end-of-the-day extra baked goods from my favorite bakery and drop it off at the food bank, and prepare to hand out lunch bags of turkey sandwiches, cucumber wedges and holiday cookies to my neighborhood homeless like my daughter, ex-husband and I used to do when we lived in Hollywood. Show people, tell them, ‘You are not alone; I see you.’
Sometimes, the whys and wherefores don’t matter, the old baggage, the open wounds. Sometimes I need to push myself past what grips me in hurt and pick up the phone, call an estranged sibling and say, simply, “I love you.” Issues don’t magically disappear, but the freely offered sentiment can open a way forward, even if just for that moment.
The odds are, if we all give, then we shall all receive.
Give with a free, loving heart, and receive in the same way. I remind myself that when someone brings me an unexpected gift—a tin of holiday cookies, a card, a phone call, or even a hug—to receive that gift with a thankfulness that seeps throughout my every inch. Don’t flick it aside with, “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” or “But, I didn’t get you anything.” Welcome his gift and his thoughtfulness. Let it fill and soothe, nurture and replenish.
We need the love and compassion of others, especially when tragedy hits so close to the holidays. Let’s not shy away from it, from the pain and loss, but embrace each other and help each other stand up. We are only alone if no one reaches out, if no one offers a hand…or if the offered hand is not taken.
Let this holiday season be a time of selfless giving, true compassion and empathy, honest love and kindness, and altruistic benevolence.
Let our humanity excel and radiate—in the way we give and receive, share and comfort, support and love our children, family, friends, and neighbors, as well as our beloved towns, cities, country…and our precious world.
Every stranger is a potential friend.
Open your heart.
Love is essential.