The end of the year season always slaps me in the face with a big reminder: buy, buy, BUY like there’s no tomorrow. Yet internet adds also encourage me to spread the joy to those who have less. The machine at the checkout prompts me to give $5 to homeless pets. My orthopedist sends a letter telling me how her office has adopted (with some of the money I paid her) a needy family for the holidays. What’s behind it all the disguised holiday spirit, though, is often the message, “I’m a responsible website/store/provider. So remember to give me some more of your money next year.” Buy? Give? Take? Receive? Enough mixed messages to give me whiplash.
Still, I get it: this is the time of year to think more about others than I have in the past, the time of year to let the holiday spirit move me in generous and meaningful ways. But what does that mean when you are already more stressed than normal? When family tensions run high? When obligations pull harder at your heart, pocket, and conscience?
This year I came up with two coping strategies.
- Use the cloak of the holiday spirit to correct past errors. I read recently that John Stuart Mill said in On Liberty, “the source of everything respectable in man, either as an intellectual or as a moral being, [is] namely, that his errors are corrigible.” So I want to use this time of year to right the wrongs, intended or unintended, I have done to others. I finally have a cover for making that call I’ve been putting off much too long. As I pass a gift to someone I’ve hurt, I will slip in an, “By the way, I’m really sorry for what I said a few months ago. That wasn’t what I meant at all.” Saying a sincere thank you to someone who usually brushes me off will be less intimidating when I do it at an office party or after a few drinks.
- Set my own intention for the race to December 31. I finished the Honolulu Marathon a few days ago. I never ran in my life until four weeks before the event. So one goal was to finish without injury. But another equally important one was to use the 26 miles to leave 13 things behind me and pick up 13 things along the way. I typed a list of these things, printed it out, and cut the paper in half. On race day, the bad things went in one pocket and the good things in another. I thought of them along the way, not all the time, but now and again, when a volunteer waved a sign (“Run like it’s the start of the Hunger Games!”) or I crested Diamond Head hill. But one of my “bad” things just tagged along for the whole ride, like an annoying Christmas song at the mall. At mile 25, when I’d been walking for many miles, I thought, “I guess I just have to outrun it.” I took off, sprinting the final mile, passing hundreds of my walking compatriots. The crowds on the sidelines, bored, I imagine, by having only walkers to urge on at this point in the race, took up my invisible cause and cheered like crazy. When I thought I might have to stop because it was too hard, they motivated me, clapping, pounding their noisemakers, yelling at the top of their lungs. My head felt light with the heat of mid-day Honolulu. My inexperienced thighs burned. But the intention kept me going. When I saw the goal, I pushed myself harder, riding the wave of support. Crossing the finish line was one of the best moments of my life. And, yes, on the course somewhere in that final mile, I left that damn thing behind me.
So I end this year with the knowledge that I can’t change the past. But I can set an intention and make up for it. At this time when the world bombards me with requests and tries to guilt me into action, I have these coping techniques I can use to make the season my own. What are the ways you bring the spirit of the season alive in your life?