Tenth Day of Christmas: The people that we always hoped we would be

When I began these 25 Days of Christmas blogs, I indicated that my hope was that I could persuade my EDIT page 35(new)friends and acquaintance to give the holidays a chance. Not as a religious observance, but as an all-too-brief interlude from our normal routine of becoming so absorbed in our petty day-to-day routine and grievances–I know some people are dealing with significant challenges, but honestly, most of us go through the day and our most serious grievance is that the barista got your latte order wrong–that we forget about the rest of the world. That we forget wonder and joy and disregard every opportunity to go out of our way for our fellow humans.

I think Bill Murray’s character (Frank Cross) said it best in Scrooged:

 It’s Christmas Eve! It’s… it’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we… we… we smile a little easier, we… w-w-we… we… we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!

That’s what I love about Christmas. I enjoy the tree and the cookies and I absolutely love the creative challenge of buying presents for people. I even live for Christmas carols, the music that tends to produce outraged gasps of horror from everyone else, who seem to collectively view Christmas music as a taunt of sorts. It’s coming for you, and despite the fact that you knew it was all along, by golly, you’re going to act outraged that it’s right around the corner. But then, don’t you live your entire life that way? Rushing from home to work to the cafe to work to Target to wherever else, all the while feeling put upon and harried and snapping at people for infractions like trying to talk with you or perhaps taking a little too long to order their coffee? What I love about Christmas is the fact that most of us seem to pause, whatever our feelings about the holidays, and give extra consideration to the concerns and feelings of those around us. And it’s so incredibly beautiful when that happens.

Last night, Colin and I were in the Target parking lot–a place I generally avoid like the plague–trying desperately and not very successfully to stuff two oversized bookcases into my not-very-large car. We concluded that our best chance would be to leave one dangling out the back of the trunk and try to tie the trunk down. We were a mere 15 minutes from home and figured we stood a good chance of arriving safely, but it would likely have been an uncomfortable and stressful ride. Just as we were about to attempt to stuff the last box into the car, a guy got out of his truck and asked us where we were going. Colin told him our house was a good distance away, mostly because he felt guilty at the idea that this guy would go out of his way for us. But the guy persisted and Colin explained to him that we lived in Edna. It just so happened our Good Samaritan lived in Arroyo Grande, and he insisted our house was on his way. He helped us load our bookcases into his truck, followed us to our house, and helped unload them. It didn’t qualify as an act of heroism–there were no besieged kittens or schoolchildren involved–but as an act of kindness, it meant a great deal. And not just because Colin and I were spared a very stressful 15-minute drive. It meant a lot to know that someone was willing to take a few minutes out of his time to help strangers, and you can bet your peppermint sticks that I will do the same for someone else at the first available opportunity.

When I thanked him for helping us, just before we left the Target parking lot, he said: “It’s the holidays.” Now, that’s not to say he wouldn’t have ordinarily helped us. Had this occurred in March or September, there’s still a chance he would have done exactly the same thing. Maybe the holidays are just an excuse for us to indulge our better selves–the kind, generous, thoughtful person who’s with us all along, all 365 days of the year, but who often has to take a backseat to more pressing concerns. Either way, this Arroyo Grande resident helped complete strangers, and he cited the holidays as part of his reason for doing so.

I’m not always the best person I can be. I’ll be the first person to admit that I get caught up in my own small world, and Santa knows I was quite absorbed in my own goings on this year especially. I don’t know if it’s possible to write and publish a book without being unnaturally self absored. Maybe. Maybe not. But when December rolls around I always manage to snap out of it. The manuscript for my second book will sit untouched until after Christmas and the time that I would have devoted to wrestling with fictional beings will instead be spent trying to express my gratitude to the people in my life. And, hopefully, inspire that feeling in people who aren’t ordinarily in my life, the passersby whose trajectory briefly intersects my own.

So I’m not asking anyone to decorate a Christmas tree, to attend an ugly sweater party, to down a gallon of egg nog, to build a gingerbread house, to believe in Santa Claus, to buy a single present, to flood the neighborhood with a seizure-inducing light show. I’m simply asking that you offer to put a stranger’s bookcases in the back of your truck. Or buy coffee for a stranger. Or make an ornament and send it to someone you haven’t seen or spoken to in a very long time. Because if not now, then when? And if we don’t occasionally give liberty to those instincts and exercise those muscles–the kindness muscle is located between your scapula and fibula, in case you were wondering–then I fear we risk losing them all together.

(The image, by the way, is from New Times‘ 2013 Bill Murray-themed Best Of issue with Colin Rigley as Frank Cross, and if you look closely you’ll find me and some of my favorite people of all time, including: Ana Korgan, Maeva Considine, Aileen Manley, Nick Powell (holding his daughter Layla), Matt Fountain, and Matt Foote, all of whom have had some role in making New Times awesome over the years. And I probably never should have started naming people because now I’m feeling bad for not naming everybody, when clearly everyone in that photo is amazing because they took time out of their day to come to the SLO Little Theatre and pose in a photo inspired by a scene from Scrooged. Yeah, I know a lot of cool people.)

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