I love this time of year – the smell of a Christmas tree (real or plastic, I don’t mind!), fairy lights, food and festivities with friends and family, carols and religious celebration, and shopping for presents. With children in the house, Santa’s pending visit also adds a healthy dose of excitement. I look forward to Christmas as much as I did as a child. However, it was perfectly summed up by an acquaintance at a mutual friend’s party when she said that somehow by the evening of the 25th one feels deflated, like things just don’t match up to expectation. Although I’ve never allowed myself to verbalise that thought – this lady hit the nail on the head and it got me thinking. What was it that triggered those feelings of disappointment? Certainly not the presents I receive – I love anything under the category of ‘gift’, the celebrations and the people. Then the ‘Aha!’ moment arrived.
The presents, celebrations and people are all external to who I am. Since these things bring me joy in any case, surely it must be something within me that is lacking. Giving it some more thought, the word popped up like a Jack-in-a-Box right in front of my mind’s eye, “Kindness” closely followed by a visual of Ebenezer Scrooge in the film version of A Christmas Carol that has haunted me ever since I had the wits scared out of me at the age of five. Clearly the passage of time has softened the scary bits somewhat and I’ve slowly forgotten the true meaning of the season of goodwill.
Thus, with a renewed pre-New Year’s resolution, I’ve decided to be more mindful about the needs of others using ‘Kindness’ as my measure. Now the thing with Karma, I’ve learnt, is that she doesn’t always boomerang around immediately and ensure you get the just desserts you deserve because of what you’ve just dished out. From a different angle, thanks to a long and protracted debate in my first-year Ethics class about altruism (doing going something good for the sake of it, not even for the feel-good factor) versus utilitarianism (doing something good and expecting something good in return, even just the feel-good factor) I’ve often felt slightly guilty about feeling great after doing a good deed. So, I embark on this mission without any expectation of gratitude, cosmic reward or the euphoria of being nice.
Well, before I can start acting and feeling like a fairy godmother, Kindness arrives in the form of a beautifully crafted Christmas tree ornament, handmade for me by a dear friend, that incorporates decorative elements of both our countries. This thoughtful gift will be treasured for many years to come.
The next time I see Kindness, it is just as we are crossing the road, on our way to a Christmas market. My friend cups her hand gently under her elderly – but spirited – mother’s elbow, carefully guiding her out of the way of the black ice and onto the pavement. It is done naturally without leaving her mother feeling dependant and also without any sense of duty or burden. Just a loving moment between mother and daughter. I am not sure that it occurs to them how extraordinary the moment is, but it leaves me with a lump in my throat.
Even though most things seem to “happen in threes” I am still left speechless when I am presented with an unexpected gift in a flat, silver box by two friends. It contains memories for me and memories that will one day belong to my children and their children. The perfect gift for a thoroughly sentimental girl.
Ah, but it doesn’t stop at Number Three. It’s midnight, I’ve just fallen asleep and am suddenly pulled back to reality by the grating sound of a rubbish bin being dragged along the cobbles of our communal driveway. Why on earth would our neighbour be taking out his bin? The rubbish truck doesn’t operate on a Saturday morning! Soon I fall back into a magnificent dream world until the morning when I’m woken up by the rubbish truck tipping and rattling the contents of the bins. Uttering a non-child-friendly word, it dawns on me that they’ve adjusted the schedule (which I did not check) to accommodate the Christmas holidays and our bin has missed its turn for the second week running. I don’t give it further thought until Husband asks me if I took the bin out. I frown, “No, why?”. He chuckles uncertainly and responds, “Well, I didn’t… and our bin is outside and is empty”. I am known to be fond of playing tricks, lying convincingly – only under these playful circumstances – and dragging it out, but I can’t take any credit for this. It must’ve been one of our neighbours, but the most likely one was most certainly fast asleep in bed, recovering from the flu. We live in a neighbourhood where people are friendly enough, but they get on with things – never interfering, meddling or being overly interested. The probability that it was an unlikely candidate seems to make the act even more thoughtful and kind. How remarkable!
We get back home in the evening after visiting friends. Husband unlocks the door, ushering the kids inside. As I get to the door, something on the welcome mat catches my eye. I bend down and pick up three polished semi-precious stones that have been left for us – no note, anonymous. It feels like magic – a coin from the tooth mouse, a stocking filled by Santa or a keepsake left by a guardian angel. Could it be from a neighbour grateful for us shovelling the snow from his part of the driveway? From a friend playing Secret Santa? Will we ever find out?
I don’t know if we will ever find the answer, but what is certain is that these acts of kindness have left an indelible mark in the very heart of me. I hope to be inspired by them and create as much happiness for others over time as I have been lucky enough to experience in one week. The three stones will be certain to remind me.