Holiday Spirit

I was at my desk deeply absorbed in a project, when a sulfur-like smell seeped through the cracks in the floor.  I sniffed the rest of the house and everything seemed fine.  Until two hours later, when I was sitting in the living room talking with my family and the smell interrupted our conversation.  My husband went down to check the basement and promptly let out a few expletives and screamed, “Turn off the heat!” Flames had overtaken the furnace… “Do not turn the heat back on until we have this fixed,” warned the heating and plumbing guy.  “Your furnace is cracked and just missed exploding.”
Yes, I know we are so reliant on our electronics and appliances.  We all complain how we go nuts when our cell phone or tablet dies, or when we have no way to get plugged in.  But we are thrown into a much more primal tizzy, awaking our deepest survival instincts, when our basic needs – dependent on modern mechanics – are not met.  While it wasn’t icy out, it was cold.  We took our kids to a hotel that evening.  I spent the entire night tossing and turning, worrying about how I would fulfill my work deadline that coming Tuesday, the same day the new, very costly furnace would be installed.

There were about twelve hours of self absorbed stress and feelings of overwhelm, and then it happened.  The outpouring of help and concern from our friends, got through to me.   The frantic survival instinct melted into deep feelings of peace.  “Take our space heater,” “Why don’t you all spend the night,” “Anything you need,”  “Dinner, a warm bed.”  We stayed up in people’s kitchens, sipping wine, eating left-overs, lighting Hanukkah lights with their extended families.  We were homeless, and yet more connected than I had felt in weeks.  The need for survival brought out people’s deepest truth – their love and altruism.We are a disconnected society, connected mostly through our devices, computers, tweets.  But when the real need for community surfaces, it’s amazing to find it is still there.  So, let’s make it a goal to find that humanity in ourselves even when there is no power outage or mechanical crisis.  Holiday time is as good as any to start looking for ways to help others, apart from just buying them gifts:

  •  Drop off home baked cookies to someone who doesn’t even expect a gift from you
  •  Lend a space heater
  •  Help a friend clean their clutter
  •  Invite over a family going through a hard time
  •  Build a fire and have friends over for donuts
  •  Send a personal email or letter catching up with an old friend, rather than just a generic holiday card.

Linger just a little longer, sharing a friendly nod, or a smile over a glass of cider.

The Protagonist of Your Life

Imagine standing on one side of a room.  On the other side is a table with a glass of water.  Inside that water is the answer to happiness.  All you have to do is walk across the room and drink the water.  It would be nice, wouldn’t it?  Now imagine that between you and the water is, say a fiery dragon guarding the water, enemies throwing torches at you.  This time, if you get to actually drink the water, you are not just happy, but a hero.

These obstacles are the elements of drama.  These are the elements of life.  We like to believe that we can just walk across the room and get the water.  That getting what we want should be pretty straightforward.  When it’s not, we often get overwhelmed, confused, stuck, paralyzed.  We blame ourselves, as we lose sight of the glass of water.   But if you get past the dragon, or slay the dragon, or tame the dragon, you have a deeper, more lasting sense of happiness and pride.  You are the hero.  It is amazing how many people don’t even know what their glass of water is anymore.  What will make them happy.  It’s amazing how many people know what their dragon is, harp on it, stare at it, tremble at it, but never find a way to get by it.

But, when we watch a play or a film or read a book, we, more often than not, know better than the main character.  We know what they want or need.  We see what’s standing in the way, and we even know, much of the time, what they need to do to overcome their obstacles, “Why doesn’t he just tell her?”  Why isn’t she honest with herself?” “Why doesn’t she just do what she really wants to do!”  We become experts at the dissection of the human psyche.   So why not strive for this clarity in our own lives?  We don’t need to go to a movie or read a novel to get it right.  This is our life, not a dress rehearsal.  We can use the same elements of enjoying a good story, to unravel our intentions and gain insight and perspective.  We can come to view our lives as stories that we can create.  We can become conscious, quite quickly, of our desires, what makes us happy, what is standing in our way, and how to address these obstacles.

There are elements of our lives, certain situations, our temperaments, people in our life,  that we can’t change.  Sometimes, it is the very glass of water that changes.  After going through a transition in our lives, we often cling to what we think will make us happy, what we were striving for when our lives were different.  With changing circumstances come changing intentions and goals.  But the story we choose to write, within these parameters, becomes our very own unique creation.  It can be tempered with beauty.  It can be full of heroism and pride.  Despite what comes our way, we can make peace with our obstacles, tame our dragons, and sip from our own personal glass of happiness.