December 14, 2010

'Tis the Season....

Deck us all with Boston Charlie!
Walla Walla Washington and Kalamazoo!
Nora's freezin' on the trolley,
Holler dollar cauliflower alleygaroo!
(To be sung with more gusto than tunefulness)

I wish I could take credit for these lyrics, but I can't. The late, great cartoonist Walt Kelley penned this fractured "Deck the Halls" decades ago in his comic strip, "Pogo." The "carol" is much longer, but I've never forgotten this first verse.

What does that have to do with anything? Nothing. I just like its silliness....

I've been thinking lately about our legacy. We have so many problems today: war, a crisis in national leadership, a weakening economy, a poor national self-image, dogs and cats living together...okay, so I borrowed that last from Bill Murray to lighten things up. But if you listen to the news or are a devotee of the Internet, it's all so darn dreary.

I have a T-shirt that asks, "Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?" I bought it as a joke, but really it's an example of the negativism that permeates our society. And we really need to change that. What better time to begin than at Christmas?

After being cut off in traffic by a bozo on a cell phone, perhaps waiting for 20 minutes because the person in front of you has 45 items in the 10-or-less line, or maybe being near-trampled in the wee hours of Black Friday, many of us might not be ready to buy into this peace on earth, goodwill toward men stuff. But we should. People are nicer during Christmastime. More charitable. Really.

Ever see Pay It Forward? It's not exactly the classic Christmas movie in the vein of The Christmas Story or Miracle on 34th Street.
But it's a perfect way to celebrate Christmas (or the "holidays," if you're afraid of the P.C. police). In the film, Trevor McKinney, Haley Joe Osment's character, figures out a system to help folk in need, with the condition they pass it on -- pay it forward. In the film, his legacy is that the idea takes off.

That same thing can happen in real life. Ever hear of A Texas man has started a help-your-neighbor movement by putting dollar bills into envelopes and giving them away. His one request: if you don't need it, maybe add something to it and pass it along to someone who does. Both are wonderful ideas!

However, there are others. What if we, each of us, started being nicer to one another? This doesn't have to be complicated. What if we simply complimented the harried grump at the Post Office, or told the overworked grocery store cashier with the aching feet how much we appreciated what they do? Or let the driver go in front of us at rush hour rather than crowding forward so he and the 15 cars behind him are locked out?

Or what if we shrugged off instead of flipped off the knucklehead who just crossed three lanes without signaling? Ever heard the expression, "no harm, no foul?" It applies in life, too.

I gotta tell ya one more thing, then I'll stop.

Several years ago, The Wife and I were on vacation and went into a local craft beer place for lunch. As we ate, we overheard a subdued conversation at a table nearby. I don't remember what the young cashier was telling her friend. It wasn't my business, anyway. But I do remember the thing going on in her life had her distraught and she was not-very-successfully holding back tears.

I often carry a small, stamped aluminum cross in my pocket to remind me to be good. After the young woman rang up our bill, I quietly said to her, "This helps me. You take it."

And I put the cross in her hand. She looked at it and looked at me and thanked me. Then, we left.

I could have given her a stone, it didn't matter. I don't know how my gesture helped her, or if it did at all. I like to think so. But even if it didn't, the effort, simple as it was, was the important thing. Call it karma, call it vibes, call it God's will, blessings, civility, whatever you want. They say a journey begins with a single step. I believe that a single loving gesture can be a first step to helping others. And it leads to another, and another, and another, each easier than the one before. The destination is a better world.

Regardless of all the crap that weighs us down day after day, our legacy still can be positive. Provided we help each other with little gestures, random acts of kindness. All we need do is watch for and seize the chance to offer them.

We should begin now, at Christmas. After all, 'tis the season. So, "Deck us all with Boston Charlie! Walla Walla, etc."

And just maybe we can dance...happily!

Blessed Christmas!