Maybe I worked a few too many years of retail at Christmastime, or maybe it was just that I was alone during the holidays for a lot of years, or maybe it was the news each year, showing shoppers trampling each other to get the best deal on the latest gadget or gift. Maybe all those things combined left me expecting less from people at Christmas, watching how rude shoppers seemed to be to each other, and to retail employees, and how lost all the giving was in the getting.
Because of all that, I swore off of Black Friday shopping, and ended up doing more of my shopping online over the years than I wanted to. I believe in supporting local businesses, especially during the holidays, but after a few trips out in past years, being pushed or rushed and just watching the attitude of the general public, I started to feel like whatever I could do to avoid going out in all the Christmas madness was a good thing.
This year, things seemed different to me. Maybe just in a small way, but it seemed like maybe, just maybe, a lot of other people felt the same way and decided to do something different this year. One of my favorite quotes, and one I try to live by is: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. I am sure Mahatma Gandhi had bigger things in mind when he spoke these words, but you know what, maybe these small things are just what he was talking about.
Yes, this year there were idiots out there pepper spraying fellow shoppers to get video games. And yes, there were other stories of ridiculous behavior all in the name of saving money and getting the hottest gift this year. And maybe it’s just me, but there seemed to be more stories of good things people were doing this year.
The first example was the many “Layaway Angels” across the country who anonymously paid off people’s layaways at various stores. Once the first story aired, the idea caught on and spread, and I honestly just loved hearing and reading about those instances of the real sense of giving, of truly making a difference for people trying to make Christmas special for their families.
Without a doubt, I love giving gifts more than I do receiving them. Don’t get me wrong, I adore my Christmas gifts from my husband this year, and I always have a list of a things I want laying around; but nothing gave me as much joy this year as seeing my husband open a very special gift I surprised him with. I could have done without anything else except that moment. That was Christmas for me.
Several of my friends from completely different areas of the country posted on Facebook that someone anonymously paid for their breakfast, lunch, or coffee at a drive through in the last few weeks. These were unrelated instances, and in the comments, others would talk about also having had this happen to them.
All of this giving was contagious. People would read or hear about a random act of kindness, and it inspired others to join in. How amazing is that? Without exception, the people who were on the receiving end of those small gifts were touched deeply, and amazed at these strangers reaching out for no other reason than to give and be kind.
The lesson in all this is that these small things matter. Every day. You never know what a small kindness will mean to someone.
Several years ago, I was battling a deep depression, and I can remember so vividly one night driving home from work and just feeling so insignificant and small. I just wondered why I was even battling this depression, why I was even trying.
I stopped in the grocery store to get something for dinner, and I was fighting back tears, just trying to get through the line and get home. The line seemed to take forever, and when I got up to pay, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet. It hit me that I had taken it out of my purse at work and likely had left it there. It was one of those “straw that broke the camel’s back” moments. I teared up and told the cashier I didn’t have my wallet and needed to just void the sale, and from the next line, a customer walked over and swiped her credit card in the machine in front of me. It was a small total- I think maybe $20.00. She signed the receipt before I could say anything. She looked at me and touched my arm and said, “I saw you earlier in the store and wished there was something I could do for you- you looked like the weight of the world was on you. I am so thankful I could do this small thing.” She gave me a hug and walked off, smiling. I remember getting in the car with my bag after just being so shocked by her kindness. But I remember—and I always will—that feeling of that moment. I needed someone to reach out so badly. Even a stranger. It made a world of difference that day. I sat in my car and cried, but it was because I was so touched- and I felt like someone “saw” me. We all need to know we matter.
I have tried many times to replicate that moment for someone else. Writing this tonight made me realize that I need to try even more.
This year was the best Christmas for me in so many ways. I know a great deal of that is due to my husband and our happiness…but a lot of it was just taking time to savor these moments and appreciate everything. I realized that maybe avoiding the Christmas rush each year isn’t the key, it’s doing what so many others did this year —getting out into the craziness and changing it—one small act of kindness at a time.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from my house to yours. I hope 2012 is filled with many random acts of kindness for all of us.
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