I’ve been going back over some of the holiday posts I’ve made on this blog since I started it back in 2008. What follows here is an adaptation of one from two years ago, that is worth coming back to. Besides it sort of ties into the one a couple of days ago about not asking a certain question.
Avoiding that question is just another way to be kind and aware of the needs of those around you. Though it is probably asked with the best intentions anyway, out of a sincere desire to just make conversation and show interest in others, it so often backfires because it highlights the guilt and misery many are apt to feel for not living up to what they feel is expected of them. Is this being overly sensitive? Maybe.
But this is about making some deliberate decisions to be kinder this season. We really do create some unrealistic standards for ourselves as well as others. And while I don’t wish to pile on more guilt, I have to ask, how does that tendency toward high expectations help bring about peace and goodwill? Granted, we should practice kindness whatever the calendar says, but there is a unique pressure that is often felt this time of the year. The desire to create a Christmas that is like “a picture print from Currier and Ives,” is often accompanied, or followed by, feelings of depression for failing to do so.
Christmas isn’t supposed to be stressful. Having been in our new home for exactly two months as of today, I keep reminding myself of that fact. “Who cares that the place isn’t a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting. You don’t even like Norman Rockwell anyway!” Maybe it stems from just wanting to create those warm feelings that I had with mom thirty years ago, when we put on some Nat King Cole and Burl Ives, and proceeded to sip hot chocolate with all the lights off except the ones on the tree.
Nothing wrong with that. But where do you find time for that in the unrealistic pace that we have set for ourselves over the holidays? Just like the covers of magazines that make us feel we need to have beach-ready bodies by May, or at least be appropriately disappointed in ourselves for not trying, the pictures of holiday perfection need to be tempered with the reality of peace and love. Peace means loving yourself too, cutting yourself and others some slack. And that unconditional love we often talk about involves accepting and loving the skin that we’re in too.
Below is a video of a song from Spongebob Squarepants that my sons and I have been singing each season for years. I think it’s still needed.
And then for contrast the same subject is covered in a more serious manner from poet Naomi Shihab Nye in her piece, “Kindness.” It’s not a Christmas poem, but maybe it should be.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Naomi Shihab Nye, “Kindness”
from Words Under the Words:
Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995
by Naomi Shihab Nye.