Lately I have been listening to the audiobook 'If This Isn't Nice, What is?- Advice to the Young: The Graduation Speeches' by Kurt Vonnegut. In his speeches he touches on many subjects from global warming, adulthood, relationships, politics, education, divorce and family. As he dispenses advice, I find his sarcasm and crankiness somewhat endearing. Ironically, for a self-proclaimed atheist, he seems to be very enamored with the 'Sermon on the Mount' and other teaching of Jesus Christ, and how more people should apply these ideas in their lives. It was a surprisingly perfect selection for the holiday season.
In multiple of his speeches Vonnegut describes his Uncle Alex, who urged him to enjoy the good moments in his life, thus the title phrase 'If this isn't nice, what is?' Sometimes we are so busy with our goals, and how great things are going to be 'once our kids are potty-trained', or 'once graduate school is over' or fill in whatever good thing you are waiting for, that we forget to appreciate how really fantastic things are now. If we can't enjoy what we have now, will we ever really enjoy what we have later? We need to look around and make sure that we are enjoying the journey.
As a mother during the Christmas season, it is easy to get wrapped up in my to-do list: finish finals, exercise, find all the perfect gifts for my kids, take them to the dentist, decorate, get ready for guests, attend a Christmas party, etc. And it is easy for me to stress about the things that didn't get done. I didn't make Christmas cards or neighbor gifts. I didn't make cookies with my kids and I slacked off on a few other Christmas traditions. There is a Christmas present I bought for my daughter that has disappeared. No clue where it went. I had hoped to help my kids do a service activity as a teaching moment, but that didn't really happen. There are dozens of people that deserve signs of my thanks, love and appreciation, that I didn't have the time to reach out to. I think that not having enough time and/or energy in December is a common feeling. Christmas sometimes brings a lot of stress, because in addition to our ordinary lives and responsibilities, there are so many activities that we are trying to squeeze into the same 24 hour sized day.
This morning I learned of an event that highlighted the urgency of relishing the moment. A couple friends from high school unexpectedly and tragically lost their small child. Although I haven't seen them in years, I cried for them and their loss. As a pediatric nurse, I have had many occasions to be privy to a family's pain for the loss or suffering of their child, and my heart always aches for them. It always makes me want to hug my own kids and be so grateful that they continue to breathe. At home, with me, blissfully unaware of things like cancer or infection. It reminds me that life is fragile and I am so fortunate to have the chance to enjoy these moments with them. So this afternoon, instead of cleaning my guest bathroom, (sorry Mom and Dad) I snuggled with my kids while we watched 'The Muppet Christmas Carol' and I cried more tears of gratitude, that I had that beautiful opportunity to wrap my arms around the two youngest, while my husband had his arms around our oldest. It makes my day to day stresses seem insignificant.
For many there will be pain and heartache this season, as well as in the year to come, but as Vonnegut said "There will be a lot of happiness, don't forget to notice it". I think my old friends are an awesome example of this, although they are coping with a very painful loss they chose to donate their child's organs to give life, health and happiness to other children. Serious props to them. As heart-breaking as this is, they are sharing a precious gift with many others this holiday season. I'm certain that the families of those children will also cry tears of gratitude. Another Vonnegut quote "The purpose of life is to love whoever is around us and be loved."
If I could give everyone one thing this holiday season, it is to remind everyone to let go of the little things that don't matter. In the long run, it's okay if you don't finish everything on your Christmas to do list. Appreciate the moment. Smile more. Hug the people that you love. Be grateful for this beautiful chance you have to be alive and to make the world around you a better place.