As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, we are reminded everywhere from decorative hand towels to Hallmark movies to be thankful and generous. We give thanks for the people and things in our lives. We donate food and necessities to those in need and give thoughtful gifts to our loved ones. However, there is a piece to this generosity and kindness that we often miss, a generosity of spirit. We think about what people need — food, clothes, a new bike, but are we thinking about where they are coming from and how that plays into how we treat them/think about them?
One of the most valuable things that anyone has ever said to me came from my therapist in the weeks after suddenly losing my Mom. She said, “you have to remember that grief is an extra weight on you. It makes everything in your daily life harder than it might be for other people. Don’t be surprised if you are more tired by regular life than other people who are not carrying around that weight.”
Ironically, those words lifted a weight. I was exhausted and I was struggling. Her words gave me permission to give myself a break. To understand that I had something extra weighing me down that made me have to push harder to do everything. Seven years later, I still go back to those words on days when I’m struggling to get through everyday life and I grant myself the kindness of forgiveness for not being able to do everything I think I should.
The real gift of those words was how they opened my eyes to the weight of others. On my saddest days, I wish I could wear a sign that says, “Please be kind and understand that I’m grieving and it is hard to do anything else.” So now, I try to treat people like they are all wearing signs. Sometimes I know what those signs say, but often, I don’t. What I do know is that most people have days where they are doing the best they can even if it looks to the outside world that they are not.
Ultimately, this means remembering when we are annoyed or upset by someone’s actions that there may be more to the story. They may have just received bad news or good news that has them distracted. Someone may not be pulling their weight at work or in a volunteer capacity, but maybe it is because the invisible weight they are carrying that day/month/year is just too heavy to do anything.
This can go for our kids who act out because they had a hard day they don’t want to or know how to talk about. Maybe our partner doesn’t clean up the way we want because of an upsetting call he/she got from a superior. It may happen with friends who are having personal issues that they mask with a smile, but never seem to text back. We may have colleagues who struggle to get out of bed let alone send a timely email response. And most of all, it can be true for each of us who work so hard to keep up with the demands of an incredibly fast paced world without taking into consideration the effects of everything going on in our lives. The weight can be new and fresh and it can be old and steady. Either way, it is there.
So, as we think about generosity this season, let us remember the generosity of spirit. To our loved ones, to strangers, and to ourselves. As we get annoyed or stressed or angry, let us try to read everyone’s signs and in turn, react with kindness.