A friend recently learned that her husband got a promotion and her family of six would be moving to Australia. The four kids are between the ages of 10 and 15. Even though they’ve moved several times as a family, this new experience will surely change all of their perspectives for life.
Because she’s always done such a good job of moving, I was surprised when she wrote me not long ago and said, “You’ve moved several times as an adult and I’ve always been impressed with the way you integrate yourself in a community. What advice do you have for us as we get ready for this move to the other side of the world?”
She’s right in that I’ve moved several times as an adult — 10 different cities since I was 16, including the city where I went to college. Clearly, I thrive on change more than most and have approached each new locale with great anticipation. In fact, the only move that was a struggle for me was our move here to Lafayette. We’ve been here for a dozen years now. It’s the only home our daughters know. Even so, I have lots of thoughts on moving to a new place and starting a new chapter of life.
From the moment you learn where you’re moving, become a student of that place. The Internet makes this process much less complicated, but there are still several steps in that process.
1. If there are guidebooks, buy them. Study them. Get a feel for the fun things to do in what will soon be your new home. If you’re a list maker, make lists of the things you want to do and the order you want to do them in. I will confess that I have a guidebook addiction problem, but you would be amazed just how much you’re able to learn from them — from exactly what to order in great local restaurants to hidden trails that take you to special vistas. I recommend first focusing on the area within a 60-minute drive of your new home. Then branching out from there for weekend trips and getaways. Look for diversity of activities. Keep at the guidebooks, long after you’ve arrived.
2. Start reading their newspapers and other publications. Get a feel for their news, politics and culture. Find out about big events in the area that are happening now. Next year, you’ll be familiar with them and already know which ones you want to attend. Like the guidebooks, keep reading the paper once you get there. It will give you insights and connections to that place and people that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
3. Start reading and watching good fiction set in your new home. No, it’s not all accurate and some of it is over dramatized, but it will offer you insights and familiarity that is impossible to get otherwise. Especially with your family going to Australia, there is so much literature and film based there. The possibilities are wide. I’d recommend a family movie night once a week until you knock out the big movies of Down Under.
4. Start seeking out music from your soon-to-be home. No matter where you’re moving, there is bound to be a variety of local music — new and old that will give you a sense of place that you simply can’t get any other way. (As far as Australia goes, The Waifs — a band that came to Festival International a couple of times years ago, is a personal favorite!)
5. Start researching the school and sports options for your children now. Figuring out where you want them to go to school now will help in the house hunting process. If you contact schools, they will often put you in contact with other parents whose children already attend school there. I recommend communicating with those families in advance to help determine where your children will go to school. Plus, it’s a great way to have some pre-connections for activities once you get on site.
6. Research clubs, groups, churches and other organizations you might be interested in joining once you arrive in your new home. Once there, join them and get involved.
7. Once you’re in your new home, instigate outings and dinner parties with new friends. Even though you’re the foreigner, don’t wait for others to invite you to do things. In fact, the best thing about being a foreigner is that you’re not expected to understand all the local customs. So don’t worry about that kind of stuff at all! Invite people into your home and lives — and they will do the same. Of course, every outing won’t be a love connection, but in time, you’ll find your people. And your world will never be the same!
The bottom line is to get engaged with that place and its people. Volunteer. Ask questions. Seek advice – especially from people who have lived there a long time. Personally, I love to talk to old people in a new place. They also offer a sense of place that you just can’t get from another source. Listen to everyone’s stories — people love to tell their own stories. In those wonderful exchanges, you will not be able to help falling in love, bit by bit with your new home.
In one month, I will turn 50.
Once again, I am throwing myself a party.
I learned long ago that it isn’t fair to others (specifically my husband) to meet my personal party expectations. So, I’m going all out and planning the whole thing myself. Others are helping. I am not averse to giving assignments in the planning process.
To celebrate, I’ve rented cabins at the state park near my hometown and have invited dear friends representing each of the decades and places of my life to join the fun. They are making plans to come from near and far. I am touched and honored that they are doing so.
Once there, many of them won’t know each other. So we’ll have plenty to discuss to change that, but this is not going to be a weekend of rest, relaxation and conversation.
Nope, we are going to have a field day.
My father, the master of all field days, is in charge of that portion of the weekend’s activities. For years, he served as the athletic director at the only school in the tiny town where I grew up. Beyond that, he was the town’s recreation director. Every spring, we had a field day at the school with at least 50-60 competitions. It was fun, but it was also serious business.
My dad had that thing organized. Different faculty members facilitated various activities from the sack race (which was run in heats, with the top five from each grade going on to the finals), the egg toss, the three-legged race, the baseball throw, the long jump, bubble gum blowing contest, water balloon toss and the list went on and on.
For the grand finale, every grade assembled a tug of war team. Points were tallied and the class who earned the most points was appropriately lauded. Winning was a matter of school pride. This was important stuff.
At least it was to some of us! But back then I was not aware enough to realize there were probably people who did not relish every moment of field day. I did not notice the folks who were probably simply enjoying a day away from regular classes. For me, that day was close to nirvana.
For many of us, we mapped out our day and strategized to have key people participating in the competitions we knew would give us our best odds of winning. Field days were magical.
In that spirit, I’ve asked my father to dust off his field day hat and whistle and organize another afternoon full of competition.
At first, he balked. “Jan, I really don’t know what I could organize for women half a century old,” he said.
I politely told him to figure it out. We were up to the task.
So, my friends are making their plans and preparing themselves for a field day. No, it’s not how they expected to spend the first weekend of spring this year, but they’re up for it — or at least willing to go along with it!
I believe we’ll have a good time, despite — or maybe because of — having half a century under our belts.
She swings through the air with the greatest of ease. That’s the girl on the flying trapeze.
A young friend of mine will turn 30 in March. Last year she made a list she called “30 by 30.”
Her list contained 30 rather ambitious things that she wanted to do or accomplish by the time she turned 30. She has already marked off a number of items on her list — she visited the White House. She has done a yoga class, bought a real Christmas tree, caught a fish and water-skied.
She’s slept on a houseboat, done Asian karaoke, eaten crab and done a round of speed dating. She’s participated in a Fantasy Football League, seen a Broadway show in previews, ridden in a helicopter, eaten Ethiopian food and had her caricature drawn. She went to a hockey game and completed a home repair without anyone else’s help.
She has almost met her weight loss goal, getting closer every day to running a mile without stopping and will soon pay for someone else’s drink at a coffee shop.
Two weeks ago, however, she was able to mark off a biggie from her list. For reasons beyond my powers of comprehension, she included “Flying on a circus trapeze,” on her to-do list. Fortunately for her, she lives in Washington, D.C., where the Navy Yard played host to a trapeze school recently. So, she signed herself up and went with a friend.
I’m not certain what all was involved with the training or how many times she was able to experience the trapeze itself, but she sent me the video of one of her attempts and has granted permission for me to write about it.
On the video, my friend is hooked up to wires and harnesses. She stands on the edge of the platform and on the verbal cue, she lets go and swings through the air. The coach then gives her another cue to put her feet on the bar. Then, “Let go with your hands.”
And my friend swings through the air hanging by her knees.
Then, the caller and coach yells for her to place her hands back on the bar and gives the final line of instruction, “On my call, three big kicks and let go.”
My friend follows the instructions perfectly as the caller yells, “Kick back, forward, back and let go.”
For that moment, it was like beautiful choreography, but my friend does not let go. Instead, she swings back and inexplicably starts putting her legs on the bar again. The coach again yells, “Let go!”
And my friend begins to swing forward again.
The caller yells in a stern voice, for the third time, “Let go!”
And even though my friend is half dangling from her legs and in the wrong swing position, she finally obeys and lets go of the bar — and meets the net with a lovely face plant.
I watched the video a number of times, trying to figure out what it was about it that mesmerized me so.
Then I realized.
My friend’s experience on the trapeze is a lot like what many of us do with big things, little things and other disappointments in our lives.
We know when we’re supposed to let go rather than hang on. We know we’re supposed to take three big kicks and let go. Instead, we start putting our feet on the bars — swinging back and forth when we have no business doing so anymore and not nearly as gracefully as life once was.
When we’ve exhausted the possibilities, are out of strength and momentum is fading, we’re finally convinced to let go. By then, we’re in the wrong position and scared to death. We flail more than necessary, but we finally let go and land in the net with a face plant rather than in a much more agreeable position — all because we didn’t let go when we should have done so.
In my effort to get more exercise and take more steps, I’ve been going on walks all around town. Last week as I was walking down a short block of Dover Drive in the Broadmoor area, I looked ahead and saw a small bridge that led toward a bright green post with a pale yellow box on top. I thought it was an elaborate birdhouse, complete with a fancy roof. The whole scene had an unusual, aesthetic appeal and stirred my curiosity. With each step, I tried but couldn’t figure out what was going on.
When I was upon it, I could see the tiny structure wasn’t a birdhouse or an artsy mailbox. However, it did have a lovely glass door with a small sign beneath the box. The sign read, “In memory of Frankie Bourgeois Rue, Little Free Library, Lover of Books. Take a book. Lend a book. #10988”
And through the glass door, I could see books. I felt like Alice in Wonderland and crossed the bridge. I couldn’t believe someone had taken the time, energy and expense to build this little structure — with its own lovely bridge, no less — all in an effort to give away or share books.
I opened the door and checked out its very respectable selection of bestsellers and lesser known books, fiction and non-fiction — something for almost everyone.
There was also a leaflet that read, “Welcome to our Little Free Library. Take a book. If you see a book you want to read, take it. Return a book. If you don’t have a book with you, that’s OK. Next time you come by, return the book. Or, bring another book you want to share.
What kind of books to return? Books you would recommend to a friend; that you would read to your children or grandchildren; books that teach, intrigue, engage, delight. Novels, children’s books, young adult fiction — good books!
Want to leave a note for the next readers(s)? Please do. On a separate slip of paper, inside the cover, include a short rating, comment, full review, new words, favorite quotes. No spoilers, please. Optional: Write your name and city inside the front cover. LFL books travel around and there’s no telling where a book you read or donated may end up.
The Little Free Library is part of an international network registered with the Little Free Library organization. Go to www.LittleFreeLibrary.org.”
Here was someone after my own heart. The day that I took this walk was one of those polar vortex, record cold kind of days, but I stood there feeling all warm and cozy knowing that someone had started this organization and someone else loved Frankie Bourgeois Rue enough to go to the trouble to create something this beautiful. I was amazed, and I wished I had known Frankie Rue, a lover of books.
After I got home, I read about the Little Free Library network that was started by Todd Bol in 2009 in Wisconsin, as a memorial tribute to his mother, a former schoolteacher who loved reading. “He filled it with books and put it on a post in his front yard. His neighbors and friends loved it. He built several more and gave them away. Each one had a sign that said FREE BOOKS.”
And so a movement was born.
The original goal was to have more Little Free Libraries than Andrew Carnegie built libraries — 2,510; a goal was reached in August 2012. By January 2014, there were between 10,000 and 12,000 Little Free Libraries around the world. According to the website, there are 47 Little Free Libraries in Louisiana, but only one in Lafayette.
People who create them say the tiny structures help build community in ways they didn’t anticipate. They meet more neighbors and others than they have in years. All in all, they’re just good things and serve as a way to share books with others — spreading knowledge, ideas and literacy.
Frankie Bourgeois Rue, here’s to you and the good you have inspired.
A little gizmo I got for Christmas has provided a major wake-up call on what I’m doing to maintain/improve my health and fitness levels. It’s also made me reflect on how the difference daily reminders and real data make to my psyche.
The gadget I’m wearing is a bracelet, but the new versions come in several styles by several companies. Here’s how the one I use works: I wear a little bracelet on my left arm. During the day, it acts as a pedometer that syncs with my phone. During the night, it measures how much sleep I get — both light and deep sleep and how many times I wake up. I’m unsure how it does that, and I’m unsure if the light and deep sleep measurements are correct, but I do know the wake-up references are correct — and that, in and of itself, is rather amazing.
So what does all that mean? Well, for one thing, I’m supposed to get about 10,000 steps a day.
In my normal daily routine, I realized I was only getting about 4,500. So, I’ve started making changes — both subtle and substantial. For one thing (and I’m not proud of this), but I realized I had started relying on my super-helpful and energetic 12-year-old daughter to run and get things far too often. Now, I’ve basically made seeing how many steps I’m able to log in a day as a game. Rather than asking her to fetch something, I’m much more likely to get up and go get it myself.
Also, in the cold weather, I didn’t mind not driving.
“The bridge is closed?”
“No problem, I’ll walk home from work.”
And so I did — and that day I came close to reaching my total steps goal, but the big lesson has been just how difficult it is to reach 10,000 steps in the way we’ve organized our lives in 2014. Our lives just aren’t set up for 10,000 steps a day. However, on my recent trip to Honduras, I was able to log 10,000 steps a day with no problem. The added benefit of getting enough steps in was also that I slept better — and I realize that this isn’t rocket science!
Back home and at work, I’ve found that I tend to remain idle for far too long. Even though I’m working, I’m sitting at a desk, usually moving little more than my fingers on the keyboard. I’ve begun setting timers to remind me to get up and walk around the office. I tend to get so lost in what I’m doing that I often find myself hunched over in terrible posture, which can add to other health concerns.
All in all, the research is overwhelming enforcing the importance of an active lifestyle. Recent research suggests that sitting too long does terrible things to our brains — potentially increasing blood pressure and contributing to the development of heart disease.
Remember the old ad with the egg in the frying pan? “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs.”
A new version of that may go like this: “This is your brain. This is your brain on the sofa.”
Perhaps the difference between the foolish and the wise is knowing when to stop and when to keep going.
Nearly four years ago, Layla Taghehchian, the daughter of a dear friend, was approaching college graduation from UL with a degree in biology. She asked if I would help edit an essay she was writing to get into physician’s assistant school. I said, “Sure.” Then I asked, “What exactly is a physician’s assistant?”
According to the American Academy of Physician’s Assistants, a PA is “is a medical professional who works as part of a team with a doctor. …PAs perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice and prescribe medications.”
I told Layla to bring it on. She read me her paper. We edited it. She applied to several schools. The schools are highly competitive, but we were hopeful.
Several months later, I learned Layla had not been accepted. She got a job, but she deliberately didn’t seek the best job she could get. She sought a job that would make her a more desirable candidate for PA school. She became an EMT.
A few months after that, Layla came around again. She explained she was applying to PA school and wondered if I would help edit. We edited her paper a second go round and, once again, Layla applied to a variety of schools across the country.
Months passed. I was afraid to ask what happened. Finally, her mom told me that Layla didn’t get into any of the PA schools.
At that point, some of her friends encouraged her to move on. Instead, she kept her fulltime job and enrolled in paramedic school. She believed being a trained paramedic would be smiled upon in another attempt at applying for PA school. Often times, three weeks would pass before she would have a day off.
When the time came, she called me again, “Ms. Jan, would you help me edit my PA school essay?”
I told her I would, but this time I did some research. The little bit I could find told me that PA schools didn’t want anything canned. They wanted the same thing that they rest of us want — heart. When Layla brought her essay the third time, I said, “It’s good, but this time, you’ve got to go all in, Layla. You’ve got to dig deep and tell your biggest truth. You’ve got to figure out what is it in you that is driving you as hard as this is driving you to become a PA.”
I could tell she doubted me. But like her, I was undeterred. I kept going. “You’ve tried the other kind of essay that was true too and full of all the stuff you thought they wanted to hear. This time, tell your story — one that could never be confused with anyone else’s.”
And she began to tell me about the cheese sandwiches her grandmother made her every afternoon when she got off the bus from school. She told me about growing up between two cultures — Cajun and Persian. She told me about her grandmother’s heart attack and death — and that she never got to say goodbye. Layla’s whole story unfolded right before our eyes. It was her story and hers alone — and it was beautiful.
She wrote it down, and we both knew it was good.
Once again, she mailed in her applications. Within a few months, I began hearing that she was getting interviews all over. This time Layla was accepted into plenty of schools. She got to pick the one she wanted! Earlier this month, she started classes.
I am proud of her for so many reasons — and the main one is her wisdom. She knew to keep going when so many of us would have quit.
When life is getting too comfortable, I’ve found it wise to devise a kick-in-the-pants-reality check. Keeping the bounty of our lives in perspective is almost impossible. I seldom realize just how comfortable most aspects of my life are — from hot water on demand, to the perfect pillow and bed, to car windows that dance at a fingertip’s notice.
Through the years, I’ve created reality checks in a variety of forms. I’ve learned to plan them in ways that are also fun and, as such, they are rarely to be confused with Galahad-like efforts. In fact, later this week, I’ll leave for an adventure/reality check as I join a medical mission, comprised of other Louisiana folks, to Honduras. The goal of the trip is to provide medical assistance for those who have access to little to no medical treatment. I plan to assist translating and however else the medical personnel need me.
My Spanish is rusty, but I’m usually able to communicate what’s needed — though my attempts may not be beautiful or grammatically correct. However, I’ve come to believe communicating at a disadvantage is good for me too. Surely, one of the best things about learning another language is the humility and courage required. I expect a week of doing my best to communicate in Spanish will be good for the nooks and crannies of my noggin, as well.
Learning and practicing a second language, especially as an adult, is fun too. The whole experience of learning something completely new can be truly exciting. I’ve read some research that indicates that some people exhibit different personality traits when they speak different languages. I can’t say for sure, but I agree that speaking/thinking in a different language presents a different take on the world. As I was reviewing some Spanish lessons last week, I learned a new conjunction and you may have heard me squeal — apparently, I’ve not cool enough to hide my excitement in Spanish or English.
Until now, my preparations for this upcoming adventure have begun and ended with practicing Spanish. Usually, when I’m taking a major trip, I plan, plot and research all the options and possibilities. This time it’s different. In fact, I’ve only recently learned the basics of the journey, including the names of towns and villages where we’ll be staying and working. I’ve appreciated that other people I trust are in control and have done this before — so I’m going on faith.
I do know that the weather should be considerably warmer than here, and several people have simply said the word, “bugs” to me in terms of my preparing for the trip. I believe I’ll take some bug spray and ointment. I’ve been advised to bring minimal clothes and gear — shoes and towels that I plan to leave there and three changes of clothes. This point of this trip is not about looking good. I understand that in the villages where we’ll stay for the majority of the trip, electricity is intermittent and hot water is relative.
All the more to appreciate once I get back home.
Last week, I asked friends to send a single word for column inspiration. They sent an amazing list of words, including joy, perspective, procrastinate, conflicted, mercy, vacation, praline, sparkle, meditate, peace, angels, laughter, serenity, kumquat, hope, serendipity, kinkajou, penultimate, obstreperous, Africa, blessed and bucolic.
The words and their origins are as varied as my friends! The sheer variety of words and people who sent them my way was enough to inspire another Long Story Short — and I am always grateful for inspiration. Having had the privilege to share my thoughts, stories and life with so many of you for another year (topping more than 600 columns since I began back in early 2002) is something I don’t take for granted.
One of my friends suggested the word transpontine, a word I had never heard. It’s an adjective that means across or beyond a bridge. The teacher in me is ashamed I didn’t figure out its meaning — trans for cross and the French pont for bridge should have been all the clues I needed. It’s a great word that is appropriate for this time of year. To me, it sounds like a word filled with possibility, of opportunity, of the unknown.
Learning new and useful words brings me inexplicable joy. One of the best things about using an electronic reader is the being able to look up and mark words on the spot. I find myself checking the definition of a lot more words when I use an electronic reader than when reading traditional books — even words whose meaning I know or can surmise. I like the ease of checking to get the full story and giving my brain a little nudge.
In an attempt expand my vocabulary, I’ve taken to highlighting words I’d like to use more — some are new and unfamiliar and some I learned long ago and have simply forgotten to use through the years.
We do that, don’t we? Sometimes we overuse the familiar. Incorporating new in our lives takes energy and effort, but the new year provides the perfect jumping off point to do so — and lists help.
During 2013, my words-to-use list has grown. I’ve decided to have some fun and share a portion of my list with you. Throughout the coming year, I’ll do my best to use each of the following words in a column. If you spot one, email me and I’ll send you an original poem, probably one dedicated to that word — or maybe to you. Truthfully, I’d rather have you keep me accountable regarding my diet and exercise, but we’ll start the play-along-at-home segment appropriately with a list of words to be used in an upcoming column:
Galahad-like: meaning one who is pure, noble and unselfish
accede: to express approval or give consent
Rubicon: a bounding or limiting line, especially when crossed, commits a person irrevocably
aesthete: one having sensitivity to the beautiful, especially an art
rivulet: a small stream
jingoism: extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy
Sisyphean: endless and futile
djinn: a genie
trenchant: incisive, vigorous, effective, energetic
byword: saying or a proverb
anneal: to strengthen or toughen
acme: the highest point or summit
bonhomie: good-natured, easy friendliness
recondite: difficult for one of ordinary understanding to comprehend
prolix: marked by an excess of words
vulpine: foxy or crafty
For practice: Tis the transpontine season. As we say goodbye to 2013 and hello to 2014, I wish you much bonhomie in your adventures. Here’s to a wonderful 2014!
Tomorrow, my baby girl turns 12.
The days leading to her birthday are full of emotion for both of us. Even though Piper’s big day is in the midst of Christmas hullabaloo, we do our best to do it up right and she is excited. On the other hand, and unlike most children her age, she approaches her birthday with a tinge of melancholy.
While every birth is grounded in some degree of mystery and faith, hers has more mystery than most — though she is one of thousands who share a similar story.
We adopted our daughter 11 years ago from a “small town” of about 5 million in Southeast China. From the moment we laid eyes on her, we were smitten. The convoluted and complicated path her short life had followed until that point brought her into our arms — and for that we will always be grateful.
We had little energy for the lack of certainties in her life — pre-us. For example, the Chinese adoption agency told us they believed her birthday to be accurate with a great degree of confidence, but she and I can’t help but wonder. Yet, as a friend and adoptive mother of Chinese daughters told me, “Their birthdates are one of the few ‘facts’ we were given. So we never question them and just celebrate.”
Like our friends, we celebrate her birthday with gusto, but unlike them, Piper has plenty of questions. Her focus on the circumstances of her birth seems to be the exception rather than the rule in the world of international adoption. As her mom, I do my best to honor what she needs and keep the focus healthy.
For example, one day, when she was about four, she was feeling especially sad about having so little information about the circumstances that led her birth family to place her, bundled in pink clothes, in a small box on a busy sidewalk in a lovely part of her hometown. Sitting in my lap going over the possibilities, Piper began to weep about her birth mom and said, “I didn’t even get to tell her goodbye.”
Those words stay with you. That feeling of incompleteness stays with you. There is so much we’d both like her birth mom to know. Mainly, I wish she could know that even though moments of genuine grief peek through in this little girl’s world, at her core, she is a child of joy and light. Her dad and I will be eternally grateful for the comfortable bliss that abides in this child — and it’s something we recognize we have little to nothing to do with.
Often, Piper and I wish there wasn’t a world between her birth mom and us. We would like this stranger in another land to know that sometimes, we feel her presence. We believe she did her best by her baby girl. And in that, I want her to know that I do my best to do right by her sacrifice.
And there are little things sprinkled through our days that I wish this unknown woman could witness — I wish she could see Piper skip. I wish she could hear her sing or watch her play the piano. I wish she could admire one of her drawings or share her obsession with pens. I wish she could watch her giggle, dance and run with the wind.
Sometimes I wish Piper’s birthday were during a time when we could focus more attention on her day, rather than the holiday frenzy. The reality is though that the whole Christmas celebration is about a birthday — of another child born in less than ideal circumstances who came to represent love, peace, hope and grace. It’s also about adoption — adoption by an earthly father of an earthly son and adoption through grace for so many.
Happy birthday, Piper, and Merry Christmas to all.
This is a story with two simple points:
Five years ago, on Christmas Eve, I found myself working in a retail store — a bookstore, in fact. I had not worked in retail since high school and had never worked in a store on Christmas Eve. Books and people who were in a gift-finding frenzy surrounded me — so it was kind of fun. The customers were trying to get their last-minute gifts as quickly as possible — and get to the place they really wanted to be.
The day was part madness and part joy. I love books and helping people find the perfect book for their friend or loved one was a rush for me. I decided early in the day to make a game out of how many customers I could help find just such the perfect book for the person still waiting to be checked off the list. After all, the clock was ticking. To make it even more fun, I solicited a few other fun-spirited associates to join my game. We had an informal competition, going so far as to keep score as to how many gifts we helped customers find. Sometimes, to get an extra point, I would literally run toward customers. My philosophy was, “We are here whether we like it or not. We might as well find a way to make it fun.”
And we did.
At some point early in the afternoon, I was working at the cash register. I was in a jolly mood, filled with Christmas cheer. A lady came to the register with four books to check out. We chitchatted as I scanned the items she was purchasing and completed the transaction. As I placed her books in a bag, I handed her her purchases, smiled and said, “Happy holidays!”
I meant it.
And then I looked up. The look on her face told me something was very wrong. She was not pleased. She huffed and puffed and scowled at me and said, “No thank you!” Then she snatched the bag I was handing her. “You may wish me ‘Merry Christmas’ if you’d like, but do not wish me ‘Happy holidays!’”
Stunned, I mumbled, “Merry Christmas,” and she headed for the door, leaving me staring after her in disbelief. So much for the Christmas spirit.
Five years later, I remember the moment with the same incredulity. How could anyone with a good conscience or heart support this type of behavior? I genuinely wished her happiness — not just for that day, but also for the coming week, when many people take the whole time off between Christmas and New Year’s. I would go before any court arguing that saying “Happy holidays,” does not necessarily imply a politically correct agenda. If her implication was that I was trying to acknowledge Hanukkah, that celebration had been over several weeks by then. Even so, to scowl, scorn and scoff at a person working on Christmas Eve who just offered positive, peaceful wishes to you, seems to negate any spirit of the Christ in Christmas a person could call herself supporting.
A friend of mine said, “I just don’t get it. I’m a devout, practicing Christian, but I really resent being vilified for saying, ‘Happy holidays.’”
Point no. 1: To be certain, there are people out there persecuting others, but the persecutors are not the ones saying, “Happy holidays.” Be nice to them; they’re wishing you well.
Point no. 2: The people working retail are not making a load of money. They have usually been standing on their feet for a long time. With a few exceptions, most of them are good people trying to make ends meet by providing a service to others. They celebrate holidays too. Even if you’re tired and grumpy, this shopping season, go out of your way to be nice to the people who work in retail.
A long time ago, I realized that one of the best ways to understand the true character of a person is to observe how he or she treats those in service positions. Use this season of celebration to show the world the good stuff.