Better together

I had abuse hurled at me a few times this week. Ah, Christmas must be upon us, where emotions get ramped up – of all kinds. Road rage torrents against cyclists are year-round, but being shouted at while I grapple through snow – I mean, really?

An even more unnerving encounter was when I was delivering a food package and had trouble contacting the recipient or gaining access to his building. Another resident saw me and started railing off quite vehemently how I shouldn’t be providing such a service to this particular person. But within minutes of Mr. Grumpy’s departure, several nice people appeared and helped me gain access to the building and to deliver the food parcel. So I always think there are more people willing to help and be kind than those who are surly.

It’s in this way that we can always achieve more with the help of others. It’s like when I’m out with birds, I often feel dismayed when I see other people gathered about in one of ‘my’ spots. But when I get chatting to them, I hear all kinds of interesting bird stories and gain useful tips before these enthusiasts soon depart.

I often feel I need to achieve things on my own. But I’ve learned that we can achieve so much more if we work together, positively helping and reinforcing one another with dignity and respect. Our world needs us working together, not apart or in opposition. Over the holiday season, it’s more important than ever to make the effort to be helpful and kind, as we’re all feeling additional stress during our uncertain, fragile times.

The presents of presence

As the holiday season is upon us, so with it comes the stress and scramble to buy the perfect gifts for everyone close to us. Saying that, the more time I spend with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s, the more I realize that the greatest gift you can give is yourself – your time, your listening ear and your positive, patient presence.

I occasionally buy my mom gifts, like cookies or colouring books, but not very often, since she doesn’t understand what many things are for. Most of the time she doesn’t know exactly who I am either. In a way, it doesn’t matter. She’s always happy to see me because what she does understand is my smile, my laughter, my caring eyes and compassionate reassurance when I talk or play a game with her or just sit together. She picks up on my warmth, and in turn, she smiles and even chuckles sometimes, even if she doesn’t know why. But my presence makes her feel calm and secure and this is the best of what I can offer her.

I’ve repeated this act of sitting quietly with other friends and family members, and have seen the difference that it can make. We’re often so quick to rush in and want to fix things for a person and it can be very hard to stop ourselves from trying. Usually the person just wants to express themselves – to be heard, to be listened to and for their problems and concerns to be acknowledged and validated as real.

I’m not saying to never give a gift to someone – of course, as long as it is thoughtful and appropriate and given with your heart. But never underestimate the value of your presence to another person. The one thing that we can never get back is time, especially time with the person when they are gone. The pandemic has taught us the pain of being apart from those we love. When you can, give the gift of your presence to someone who is in need of your company. Because this can include all of us at some time in our lives and it is something that we can always cherish, no matter what the occasion or time of year.

Keeping commitments

It snowed one day this week. The kind of wet, rain-like snow accompanied by wind that seems to blow in your face, no matter what direction you’re facing – at least on a bicycle. I found myself in this predicament because I had committed that day to deliver some charitable gift bags on my bike.

It was a long cycle to the pick-up point, which took me 40 minutes, as I had to cycle extra slowly through the snow, with visibility being very limited, as the snow careened into my face. Then two hours doing deliveries and back again. By the time I got home, face dripping, I was thoroughly exhausted physically and mentally.

Part of me wanted to write this off as a ‘bad experience’ but then, I have this blog to write! Actually, while reflecting on what I was going to say, I ended up repeating the above scenario another day, this time in winds which developed suddenly up to 50km/hour – very scary! But I’m still keeping to my original thoughts, that while both experiences were a struggle, I don’t think this kind of adversity is necessarily a bad thing. Rising to such challenges can show you what you’re truly made of, and the achievement can strengthen and give you a boost of energy which you can then hold in reserve.

But on top of that, I also think it’s extremely important to try and keep whatever commitments that you have made. First off, to consider very carefully what you commit to before doing so, and then to treat these endeavors seriously and with respect. We live in an age now where we click and unclick onto items and experiences, and where there is a tendency to drop out of things that don’t suit our mood at the time they come round. Of course, there are instances that arise where you have to change your plans or withdraw from commitments, but I don’t think it’s something we should approach lightly.  

If anything, I feel that keeping our commitments is a muscle we all need to exercise more because not only do the people around us need this level of care and commitment, but so does the world, if we have any hope of fixing any of the problems that need addressed. We should all strive to be part of the solution, in whatever way we can, starting with providing the help that we say we will. In the meantime, I’m very much hoping for some mild days of sunshine…

Snowflake cardigan

Much as I think this would make a great name for a band, this story is actually about a sweater. I was in the market for a new cardigan to replace one I have that’s falling apart, and I wanted a light material with a zipper, surprisingly hard to find. However, while the aisles of a voluminous thrift shop, I found one – not black, like I’d wanted, but purple with pink and white snowflakes. It was so pretty that I couldn’t resist, but when I tried it on, it looked completely different and just not right. I went to put it back and then was transfixed by how nice it was and so tried it on again – off, on, fuss – repeat, until I had finally decided that it just wasn’t going to work.

At the moment when I was putting it back on its hanger, a saleslady came by and remarked on how lovely it was. I explained my dilemma of the on vs off scenario, and when I tried it on, she immediately proclaimed, ‘Oh, you look frumpy in that. Don’t buy it!’ I was surprised at her candidness but was actually relieved that she confirmed what I’d been thinking too.

Later, I got to thinking about how something can seem so right and then when we ‘try it on’ it doesn’t suit us at all. This isn’t that unusual, but maybe what’s more surprising is how often we still want the item regardless, perhaps because we feel we ought to. Or maybe the object or experience genuinely looks appealing from the outside and so we feel that we should want it – maybe because societal pressures make us believe that we need it in order to be happy.

I think if you try something and it doesn’t work for you, no matter how objectively desirable it seems, it’s perfectly okay to reject it. We are all the architects of our own lives and must construct the details of our own dwelling according to what feels right to us. And just like snowflakes, this will be unique and different for everyone, so we must tailor our experiences to what better fits our own sensibilities or beliefs. This last metaphor would work better if I could actually sew a button, which I can’t. Thank goodness for zippers, or in desperate times – safety pins – until the right fit truly comes along.