Teri Orr: Taking charge of The Season
And so it begins… the season the Grinch hated and I know exactly why — it is the noise, Noise, NOISE! Buy this, feel that, celebrate this way, do good, relax, enjoy, decorate, entertain, find meaning.
You can’t prepare for the onslaught of emotions regardless of the myriad of times you tell yourself and your therapist assures you, you are past that, dealt with that, worked through those old land mines. You are ready for triggers of food and beverage and memory and song. Yes, song. A single sax, echoing in an old brick building, playing "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas" was one of the saddest songs I ever heard, at one of the saddest times of my life. I was not having myself a merry little Christmas that year, twenty plus years ago. I was miserable and my teenagers were miserable and I just wanted the whole season to fast forward to bleak January where I knew and trusted the landscape well.
This is not a universal season of cheer, and hope and clean clothes and full bellies for all. Let alone gifts meant to reflect deep emotions of love and respect and gratitude. And joy, which is not pleasure but an emotion that elevates and transcends the temporary thrill. Joy is elusive. Unbidden. A surprise mostly.
Joy to the world. That would be something.
How, when the world, and our place in it, is so noisy can we think and feel and make thoughtful decisions about how to share what we have with those who have less, and share with our loved ones tokens and talismans of our affection, gratitude for another year of working hard to grow and love together?
It comes down to The Gift. And the ridiculous weight we put on the exchange. The Thing that will represent all those tangled wishes and dreams and built-in apologies and hopes for a brighter future and some kernels of great thoughtfulness and deep meaning and connection. I have tried to find those for years and here’s my personal gift-giving guide.
Find the place where you connect and celebrate that. Was it a trip you took this year? There is still nothing to equal a frozen frame of time captured and printed and then encased in a real frame to remind you of that time on the beach, river, ski slope, trail. Where you laughed, fell, got wet, climbed high, slid down… together. If there wasn’t a photo op, maybe there were shared times and you have collected the menu, the ticket stubs, the program, the pressed flower and you can put those together in a way that connects you again.
Maybe there are things you want to say, tried to say, thought you said but you aren’t certain you did or that you were heard. Find lovely stationary (yes, this part matters) and write your heart. Put down on paper with your best handwriting and flowing ink, your gratitude or respect or apology or joy you shared with the receiver. All the big boxes and satin ribbons won’t be able to compete with honest words, gracefully presented.
You want to do good in the world. You had a good year and you feel compelled to share. You had a crappy year and you want to forget about it. Giving to something like Kiva feels good, and is good and you can pick where your dollars will help someone help themselves. But you could do that locally. You could donate to the work the local charity Hope Alliance does for health care in South America. You could donate to the powerful work the National Ability Center does locally with citizens who come the world over to get help here. Or the People’s Health Clinic, who provide free health care to the uninsured in our community — often undocumented workers who are making the beds and making the salads for our guests.
There are so many ways to make a difference and send a card to someone telling them you did that with them in mind.
But when in doubt, create a memory. The cost varies from nothing — being spontaneous and making snow angels in fresh snow with a child, a surly teenager, an older person. To a bit more grand… go to one of the fancy hotels that have outdoor fire-pits and indulge in ordering s’mores. Sit outside in the snow with anyone and laugh at your good fortune to have these incredible amenities that we can enjoy pieces of without booking a room.
Go to a show. There is a shortened version of "The Nutcracker" produced by a local dance company and performed by local children. Go see that with the pigtailed, sparkly girls and red-cheeked, brass-buttoned boys and feel their great sincerity in wanting to "get it right."
Shop local because those businesses will be grateful for your business. And here’s my go-to favorite feel-good. Go to your comfortable diner. Order your meal, make small talk with your server. And then when you pay your bill, leave a tip that matches the cost of your meal. Your ten dollar breakfast is matched with your ten dollar tip. It is direct and impactful and I guarantee you, it feels better than anything you buy from a catalog.
To make the holidays have meaning, you have to take the time to search for the meaning — first for yourself and then to give away, share, rejoice in. The season has started and how you engage is all about attitude. Take time to check in with yours this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
“If you cannot love your neighbor as yourself, no matter who they are, start by looking in the mirror and see what changes need to be made from within.”