Friday, November 27, 2015

The Black Friday Blues

I used to go out shopping every Black Friday(what we in the States call the shopping day the day after Thanksgiving). On Thanksgiving day my family and I would lay out the advertisements and put together a plan of action, then we would get up at the crack of dawn and tackle the sales together before celebrating our frugal finds with a lunch together. It was a fun was to spend time together and get a jump start on the many chores that come with the Christmas season.

I began to notice years ago that the tradition was losing its shine. Black Friday was no longer fun to me when being pushed around by other shoppers and standing in line for hours on end just to save a couple of bucks. Then came September 11, 2001. That day- the tragedy itself, the senseless loss of life and the newfound fear for our home country and all who lived in it seemed to change our thoughts in this country. We became softer, kinder and wiser to what was more important. I ventured out that first Black Friday after September 11th determined to provide a great first Christmas to my firstborn child and also wanting to give to those less fortunate while thriving on a very tight budget. I cannot remember what I bought that year. Our purchases rarely matter in the way that we hope for them too. What I do remember from that post-September 11th Black Friday was the kindness and compassion that abounded. I remember standing in line in the cold while a woman with a shaky voice began to sing Silent Night and we all joined in, most of us crying at the same time. When the doors to the store opened, we finished the song before stepping into the store- the rush for the deals not nearly as important as coming together in the cold night to sing a song that bolstered our hearts and reminded us of our togetherness. That shopping day was full of politeness and joy. My love for Black Friday was back en force.

The next year I ventured out again on Black Friday, sure of the wondrous experience that awaited me. Unfortunately, in that year we had forgotten what we had learned and back again was the rudeness, the pushing, the anger and the frustration that permeated everything. There was no Christmas joy to be found in the gluttonous consumerism that year- or any of the next few that followed. After a time, I chose to forgo Black Friday altogether, no longer deriving any joy from the unconscious need to consume or the sales that continued to bleed further and further into my sacred Thanksgiving holiday.

I'm certainly not discouraging those that derive joy from their Black Friday traditions. I think that if it brings you joy, you should do it! After all, joy is not always easy to find.

For me- I choose to spend the day after Thanksgiving with my family- in my home with Christmas music playing and a joy hangover in our hearts from the day before. We will venture out on Small Business Saturday with some conscious consumerism to benefit our small town shops and will find time to buy a present or two over the weekend for ourselves and the children whom we "adopt" to spoil each holiday season. I'm well over Black Friday for now, however. Until that day when I can again feel the joy of a society coming together again in celebration and gratitude. I believe that day will come again, and I hope it does not take another national tragedy on our own soil to remind us all of what is important.

Wherever you are in the world, and whatever holidays you do(or don't) celebrate, I wish you the joy and love of the season. It cannot be found inside any package that we can buy in any store. It's right inside each of us. May you never forget that. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Lesson in Giving

I work in low-income areas and am surrounded by poverty during my workday. It is humbling, to say the least.

 Today a disheveled and dirty man approached my car and asked me if I had money to give him for the bus. He held up a single bag of food and explained that he'd come to the food pantry to get food for his family and did not have enough money take the bus home. I reached for my purse and realized that the only cash inside was the money that I had been given for my birthday. I'm ashamed to say that I paused for a moment because, as a mother, I rarely buy myself frivolous things and had plans for that $25. However, I could see this man, shivering in the cold next to me as a sat in my heated car, and I decided to give him all of it. This man, a grown man that has seen the troubles of this world firsthand and had possibly the saddest and most tired eyes that I have ever seen, saw the amount of money that I had placed in this hands and he cried. He cried breathless tears while simultaneously grinning a gap-toothed smile and thanked me a dozen times. I cried along with him as a accepted his thanks and watched him literally skip away in joy. Happiness was swimming around us as fervently and true as if happiness was a person itself. Joy was rising. I could almost hear the heavens open up and sing, so joyful was my heart. 

Then I watched him walk past the bus stop that was just a block from where I sat. And, my joy came crashing back to Earth. I wondered if his story about needing a bus token had ever been true. I felt duped. I felt as though the gift that I had wanted to buy myself had just been stolen out of my hands. I felt shame at being taken advantage of. It was not my finest moment. 

As I watched him continue to walk, I saw the joy in his steps and felt my own happiness return. I had just had a moment of absolute beauty, a moment of purity in a cruel world. I would not allow my mind to imagine ways out of the joy. 

The truth is that the joy in that moment of connection was beyond worthy of giving up what was a small amount of cash for me and likely a large amount to him to receive. In that moment of joy rising, we experienced a minute of divine human connection that transcended the dirty, urban street that surrounded us. Here's the other truth- once I had given the gift, what that man did with the money was none of my business. That's right- none. My karma, my joy, my role was as the giver and as such I do not get to quantify what the recipient does with the gift. To do so is like giving your child a Christmas present and demanding that they play with it how and when you tell them to. There would be no joy in that gift. It really isn't a gift at all of we choose how the recipient enjoys the gift. Now, I believe that this man likely did take a bus from another stop or was so thrilled with the money that he bought more food before getting on the bus...but no matter, it's none of my business.  It's not my karma what that man did with the money. 

I'm sitting here tonight allowing myself to replay, over and over again, the joy of that moment of humanity- the pure joy of being able to give something that was desperately needed by another human being. It was a sublime moment. I am grateful to have experienced it, no matter how the gift was spent.