What About Tiny Tim?
As the year begins to wind down, as the days keep getting shorter up here in the northern hemisphere, many of us pause to reflect on what the last year has been about. What have we accomplished? Did we keep any of the New Year’s resolutions? Did we make any progress? How are all those lists coming along? Where are we triumphant and joyful? Where are we feeling hopelessly mired and unable to see a clear pathway forward?
All of these are profoundly important questions to ask. And we live in a world that increasingly wants us to literally buy in to a way of measuring ourselves by our fiscal and material advances. So, asking these questions requires some intentionality around our schedules. We need to spend time with the people we love. We need to participate in whatever rituals and traditions help us honor the season. We need to have foods that remind us of the continuity of our own existence, and the ways in which we carry on making certain dishes the way mom, or dad, or grandma used to do it (as best as we can remember).
And in the midst of all of that, I think we also need to take a deep breath, and consider how well we are doing at caring for our long-term goals. Are we mending the relations that need mending? Are we honestly building a pathway forward that brings us more peace, joy, tranquility, or more actual satisfaction?
We live in a world that invitees us NOT to answer these questions, but rather to mirror an external vision of what we perceive or imagine happiness to look like. The woman in the magazine is sitting at a table with a cup of NAME BRAND coffee in her hand. She looks beautiful, joyful, and content as she wears a designer sweater that I could perhaps buy and sip that same BRAND of coffee with my friends. And then I would be happy like she is? Or maybe someone like her would go on a date with me? Or maybe I would attract the mate of my choosing if I were more like her/him/them?
Yes, happiness is for each of us to chase and find on our own. But we cannot use an external yardstick to measure it. We need to slow down and grab whatever is for each of us, an emotional or spiritual plumb-bob. Gravity, nature, physics, and our own inner voice will tell us where we will find happiness. But we have to listen very carefully sometimes. We have to turn off the external comparisons long enough to notice where we felt content and when? What does bring us the most actual rather than imagined joy? And how?
Would we really be happier wearing that sweater? Or dating someone like the person who is wearing it? Would we really be happier with one cup of coffee over another? Maybe. Maybe that is where your happiness is. But I think what most of us really want is connection with our people, whoever they are. I think we want to know we are part of a community that values us and our work and volunteerism. I think we want to know that we make a difference in the lives of other people, that our acts of service are appreciated. And that we have people we can rely on when we need help ourselves.
The holidays come with so many expectations, so many emotional hopes that go unfulfilled, and SO many people willing to sell us something that they say will make us feel better. The holidays come with so many expectations that we place upon ourselves to have our Tiny Tim moment, when all is redeemed and all is made right. There is a reason why Dickens’ Christmas Carol remains a defining part of the Christmas season and our expectations of home, family, holiday cheer, and mirth. We all want that sense of things working out better than they have been recently. We all have something unresolved, somewhere. And the idea of our Tiny Tim moment is the hook on which many of us get suckered into hanging a lot of unrealistic hope.
So, what is real hope? I think real hope is the kindness we show others. It is the gratitude we practice for the kindness other’s show to us. Real hope is the act of generosity, not the size or value of the gift. Real hope is in asking a friend who is struggling, how we can help them have a better holiday. Real hope is in taking the risk to ask someone else for help. Real hope is in learning to be incredibly grateful for the life we have, the friends we have, the family we have and choose, the communities we help build. Real hope is in the sense of wellbeing that stems from finding the ability to recognize and experience genuine gratitude, for anything at all.
Gratitude is a practice. And like yoga, meditation, exercise, diet, keeping a journal, engaging our creativity, being of service, prayer, or learning other new skills, gratitude is a practice that we get better at every time we try. Gratitude is the real Tiny Tim experience. Not the stuff, but the style. Gratitude is the way we choose to engage the world, even if only for moments at a time. And gratitude is for me, the passport into a happier holiday season with more realistic expectations of myself and of other people.
So, light the candles when the time comes, trim the tree, make the food, wrap the gifts, sing the songs and say the prayers. Celebrate with full measure, in all the ways that bring you real joy! And then practice being grateful for everything that you can honestly be grateful for. Thanksgiving isn’t a day. It is a way of being. And for me, it is a way of being that helps me be a better person in measurable ways, when I remember to practice.
Wishing you gentle, kind, and happy holidays!
~ Joe Jencks