The holiday season has swooped down upon us alarmingly quickly this year (or maybe it just feels that way with my days packed so full) and with it, blustery winter weather.
It’s the traditional season for most Americans to turn their minds toward turkey dinners, time spent with friends and family and Christmas. It’s the season for gratitude, making memories and giving to others.
I have to admit, however, that the world around us hasn’t really embodied much of that lately — from natural disasters to weekly shootings and constant reports of foreign affairs escalating, the news has left me a bit wrung out.
Locally, we’ve had some disheartening news as well, with national problems finding their way into our region and touching local lives in the most intimate of ways. In a community as small as ours, any tragedy touches the entire area.
Recently, while listening to a radio show on NPR, I caught a conversation that revolved around all of the American tragedies that have taken place in the past few months, and the term “empathy burnout” was used to describe the lessening of the sense that people “cared” about these tragedies, and were less inclined to give time or donations to causes, when the causes don’t appear to ever end.
The conversation went on to describe how people can essentially only handle so much emotional distress before they click off empathetically, and how people may feel that they’ve done their fair share and don’t have the energy to continue to give and help. But what is one to do when the holiday season isn’t feeling as festive as usual for so many?
Well, I can only speak to my own experience. The most important thing I’ve discovered thus far is to take action. It may be something small, it may not in and of itself change the world, but taking action will remain the infinitely better choice to me when compared to stalling and bogging down in a sea of stagnation.
I try to focus energy on a place where it will do the most good, whether that be giving an elderly veteran (who also happens to be my father-in-law) extra time to time-travel and relive memories of an adventurous past out loud in long yarns that untangle at their own speed, or feeling the exhilaration of a wet, Winnie the Pooh-worthy blustering breeze run down my neck and tear at my sweater as I stop my car and embark on an on-foot, high-speed garbage can chase down the road so the neighbors don’t come home to find their cans disappeared into an ocean of sagebrush.
As I’ve been told repeatedly by many in my life over the years, it really is the little things that matter. For those that have the time and ability, there are so many ways to take action in making things a little happier; a little more warm and merry. Locally, you can volunteer to assist with anything from helping homeless animals to organizing community events. Donating to cherished sites, causes, programs and the like are all great ways to give back and put positivity and an attitude of gratitude into the world, starting at home.
Some days, there may not be the time, energy or resources available to give back the way we all wish we could, but even on those days, I guarantee there will be moments handed to you that give you a chance to actively show gratitude, patience, love and empathy — all of those qualities we are reminded to embrace this time of year.
There will be moments in traffic where I can choose to speed my way along or wait and let other vehicles in. There will be doors that I can choose to hold for others, and long lines at the store in which I will be able to choose to be patient. Mostly.
No matter how I look at it, there are a wild infinity of ways in which to embody the spirit of the season and hopefully carry it through midnight into 2018.
I can’t think of a better way to express my hope that you all have a happy holiday season than to quote an old Buddhist sutra, which says, “May you be happy. May you be free from harm. May you receive boundless compassion and may peace and harmony fill your heart.”