It had been a tough year for me, my father died and my marriage fell apart. So my thoughts were often turned inward at my own anguish. I remember standing frozen in the check-out line. The woman in front of me was paying with food stamps and didn’t have enough. The cashier was looking stressed and impatient, gazing back at the long lineup of worn out Christmas shoppers, their grocery carts brimming. The woman pulled a large ham out of the order and asked the girl to remove it from her bill, looking quite angry that she was being treated so disrespectfully. Her two children were squirming in the front of her cart. I stood paralyzed. I wanted to offer to put the ham on my bill but I was afraid I would insult her or make her angry. She left, head down, replying abruptly to her children’s questions of why they weren’t buying the ham. I stood for a moment in shame wondering what I should have done.
Then clarity came to me. I had promised myself that my new year’s resolution would be to put aside fear and start acting more on my desire for a better life. I quickly asked the girl to put the ham on my bill. Money was tight, but I was not buying food with stamps. I could afford an extra ham. I hastily threw my groceries in my cart without bagging them, desperate to get out of the store and try and catch the woman in the parking lot. I pushed my cart toward the exit hastily, willing to bear the disapproving stares; my shame at my own inaction was too great.
Suddenly there she was, standing at a payphone, calling someone for a ride. I froze, wondering if she’d be angry, then handed her the ham. “Don’t be angry with me” I said. “It’s Christmas!” my voice shook from nervousness. She laughed and thanked me for the ham and wished me a Merry Christmas. Her smile was filled with gratitude and relief.
I cried all the way home, in shock that it had taken so little to make someone else’s Christmas. I cried at my own shame in almost missing the opportunity because of my fear. Through my tears, came clarity. I had been so turned inward in my thoughts that I had been blind to those around me. I will never know what I did for that woman at Christmas, but I will treasure forever, that she put me back in touch with my own compassion.
Want to reconnect with your own compassion this Christmas, make it your goal today to only look outward. Every time you catch yourself focusing on a personal worry or frustration, stop yourself. Look outward instead and find someone who needs you in some way. It can be big or small, a momentary gesture or a commitment to volunteer. When the day is done, sit in stillness and notice what this day has done for your heart.