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A Season of Giving, Healing, and Leaning In

Matt: This is a sobering column so let’s put an uplifting image(s) with it.

By Lori Welch Brown

I’m feeling a bit conflicted as we approach the holiday season.  Part of me is poised to go dashing through the snow, caroling and merrymaking, holding hands and spreading the Christmas spirit while the other part of me wants to lock my doors, bolt my windows and hunker down for eternity or at least until I run out of champagne and chocolate.

I’ve just read about the shooting at the University of Virginia where three young athletes—Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry, and Lavel Davis, Jr.—were shot down in the prime of their lives.  I am heart broken.  How can this be?  How is it that someone would want to destroy the lives of these young men—not to mention their families and friends—and also traumatize everyone who has a child in college or pretty much all of us with access to a news outlet?

Is it drugs? Mental illness? Childhood trauma? Bullying? Access to firearms?  D) All of the above? At this point, does it matter?  What matters is that Devin, D’Sean, and Lavel are gone from this earth, and those poor families will never be the same.

I didn’t know any of these young men, and I do not have a child in college, and yet I feel immobilized.  What is there to celebrate? What about my friend who has a son at nearby JMU?  Is he safe?  Are any of us?

How are we supposed to hang our mistletoe and stockings, hover over fragrance counters trying to select the perfect gift, and drag out our ugly sweaters in the midst of grief, turmoil, and utter chaos? Of course like most, I’m sending prayers and healing thoughts which in this moment, seems about as futile as sending an edible arrangement.  “Sorry for your loss—how about some chocolate covered strawberries to help process your grief?”  Or, maybe a llama.  Llamas seem to make everything better.  Or perhaps some goat yoga will help.

But, maybe this is where faith and hope kick in.  Maybe this is what the magic of the season is all about—coming together, even if just for a minute, to share joy and sorrow. Opening our hearts just a little more to help carry the weight of someone else’s grief and widening our shoulders to help carry their burden.  And, maybe this year calls for each of us going the extra mile to spread some cheer and merriment when we can.

When the UVA shooting occurred, I was attending a writing retreat which, to my surprise, happened to be geared towards Christian inspirational writers.  While I am a Christian, I probably wouldn’t have knowingly signed up for this particular event as it’s not my genre.  When I found out this tidbit of info, I poked some fun and made some jokes mostly relating to me taping up my potty mouth for a few days which I probably should practice more often, truth be told.

It turned out to be an educational few days, but one of my main take aways after spending time with the other participants is that it does not matter who you are, where you’re from, or what your beliefs—everyone has something they’re struggling with be it grief, illness, caregiving, trauma, etc.  I am often quick to judge and within the first day learned that the woman I had labeled the pageant queen has a son currently struggling with a crack cocaine addiction.  This beautiful, soft-spoken woman whose baby-like skin I was secretly coveting was carrying around an elephant-sized weight on her heart. Another woman had recently lost her husband to suicide just prior to his hospice nurse arriving.

As we begin this holiday season—whatever holiday you are honoring—perhaps we could kick it off with a few simple thoughts:

No matter what your beliefs, we are all in this thing called life together.  Everyone is hurting/struggling with something.  Our smile, kind word and/or gesture could provide them a momentary lift so let’s be generous;

Those UVA students could have been any of our son, daughter, nephew, niece, godson, etc. Let’s practice empathy and kindness to everyone in our path and share their collective grief.

Maybe this is the year we step up our game, i.e., do something out of the ordinary and unexpected—dare I say—something extraordinary.  Reach our hand out to someone who may be spending the holidays alone or someone who is struggling or grieving.  Volunteer at a shelter.  Deliver a meal to a sick co-worker.  Drop off a care package to a nursing home.

The only way out is through.  As I stand in the checkout line at Safeway or browse the aisles at TJ Maxx, I’m going to imagine everyone I pass as the parent of one of those boys, and I’m going to do whatever is within my power to lift them just a little. Instead of leaning away and cursing the lines, I’m going to lean in, practice patience, and perhaps help lighten the mood and lift some spirits.  In the grand scheme of things, it seems pathetically small, but maybe all the small kindnesses will shift something in the universe. Or, maybe one small gesture will result in a cosmic shift for one individual. One never knows.

We may be heart broken, but we aren’t broken.  Let’s lean in, hug, and throw out some love, ya’ll.  We could all use some extra this year.

From my house to yours, I wish you health, peace, joy, and a respite from your struggles.  May you be lifted and feel the light we are shining on you today and always.

About the Author: Lori is a local writer, painter and pet lover who loves to share her experiences and expertise with our readers. She has been penning a column for the OTC for over 20 years. Please follow Lori online on Medium for more missives like this.

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