The Kindness of Strangers

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January: a month of new beginnings, new hopes, new resolutions. All things are possible as we look ahead to the promise of a new year. Or so it seems.

Most of us start the year with a list of pledges to ourselves (and sometimes others) about what we are going to do differently.

Top of the agenda may involve a determination to lose weight, drink less and perhaps even keep a closer eye on our finances than in recent times.

It’s easy to understand why all that’s at the front of our minds.

We’ve just been through an orgy of self-indulgence. What started off as a two-day feast has extended for at least a fortnight, if not a month.

We’ve most likely spent more than we’ve earned as we’ve shopped and shopped and shopped. No dropping for us at this time.

There were the present purchases – one present per person to start with and then gradually increasing “in case the first looked a bit mean”. I have a friend who works on the “buy one for them, buy one for me principal”. Double the cost there.

And that was before we moved on to food and drink.

We’re told we’re in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. Oh really? Yes, I know, some people are truly facing a dire financial situation and I’m hoping there are organisations that can help them. But the crowds I saw buying up most of their groceries in the biggest city centre stores did not look like they were cutting back.nathan dumlao l86vy42tb w unsplash

An early morning trip to my favourite supermarket had me holding my breath in alarm as I tried to navigate the crush and squeeze through in the opposite direction to my fiendish trolley-pushing competitors. It’s never usually like that and I wondered where all the pre-Christmas spirit had gone.

Apart from the bottles in those trolleys, the shoppers seemed far more jaded and frazzled than usual. Less Ho! Ho! Ho! and more Bah Humbug than even a cynic would enjoy. Remember those days of #BeKind during the pandemic? They are long gone.

Oh well, never mind, you might say. That’s all over until next December and we can let go of it until then. It’s past.

True. But how, I wonder, would it be if we reflected briefly on what this season has meant to us and how maybe we could take it forward to help us with any resolutions we may have for this year?

The first rule of resolution is whatever you decide to do, do it with your whole self.

That means any reflection needs to include recalling what we were hoping for and what actually took place. How was our anticipation before the event, how did we manage the event, and what were we left feeling afterwards?

I thought I’d try out the experiment. Where better to start than with the festive season fresh in my mind. Sorry if you want to put it behind you for a few months, but please bear with me.

First, a bit of background. I haven’t had a “traditional” Christmas since I was a child. As much as I’d like to, my family is scattered and there have been some fallouts too so, instead, I’ve relied on the kindness of friends to help me through can be a tricky emotional time.

I feared this year’s was going to be harder than usual because I planned on staying at home. I have been lucky enough to enjoy time with friends in other years but am finding it increasingly hard to go into their space. No matter how kind and generous they are, they are still not my family and I feel the loss.

Trying to cut those losses, I made a loose plan. I invited a long-term friend to join me in my solo bubble (who ever thought I might miss lockdown?) and did warn him it was going to be minimal festivities but there would be plenty of food and drink to make up for it. He agreed, to my relief. I have managed being all alone, but I didn’t really fancy it. We prepared to hunker down, ready for a dull but tasty time with plenty of repeats to watch on TV if our spirits sagged.

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The one proviso from my friend came with the explanation he needed to distribute presents to his family members. We agreed to do that on Christmas Eve. I was a bit reluctant to intrude but felt it was the least I could do. So off we went.

Reader, I had fun! People seemed pleased to see me and wanting me to be part of the group. Children of various ages – pre-10, teens and young adult – were charming and entertaining. I had a genuine sense of being included and it gave me a surprising boost. I made a mental note to remember that in my darker moments.

We returned home and at 6pm the doorbell went. It was my neighbour and a friend dropping by after I’d suggested he come for a drink. I’m always a bit wary of entertaining as I have childhood memories of having to tidy up and I’d not done anything like that for my drop-in guests. The clue, I suppose, is in the unexpected.

For the second time in a day, I experienced full-on joy. My neighbour and his friend came ready to enjoy themselves. They were good company and told some hilarious stories of famous people and their exploits that were more than good enough to print. I shan’t, of course.

And on it went. Christmas Day, another imagined quiet, reflective day, was interrupted with a Facetime call from a five-year-old who gave me an online viewing of her home, including tree and presents, due to be opened after the “feast”. I wasn’t there and I felt the pain of being excluded but the video call was miraculous. I’m grateful such technology exists.

And so it went on. Another surprise guest on Boxing Day – with dog – and a Wednesday visit to a lady of advanced years who lives down the road in a residential home. I think I gain more from the visits than she does.

So, to recap on the experiment:

How did I feel ahead of the event? Pretty gloomy if I’m honest.

How did I feel during the event itself? Surprisingly elated with a real sense of enjoyment and a genuine desire to let go of my most basic inner fears about people’s behaviour.

How did I feel after the event? Supremely happy – a feeling which stayed with me over those next few days and one that I can recapture when I look back on it.

My lesson from this is to try to remember that my gloomy imaginings for the future and what is likely to happen may not necessarily come to pass.

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I was expecting an emotional famine over my festive period with the dearth of relatives and those with whom I should be close. Instead, what I experienced was a feast of unexpected events and friendship, good enough to lift my soul.

My vague resolution for this coming year is to remember (and paraphrase): While past experience may be a fairly good predictor of future experience, it ain’t necessarily so.

I just need to keep the faith. Good luck to me, and good luck to you too. Happy New Year!



Photo 1: Madison Oren on Unsplash
Photo 2: Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Photo 3: Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash
Photo 4: Sandy Millar on Unsplash