Depending on where you are in the country, you may have a colorful view of changing leaves, or grey cloudy skies. Usually most all the leaves here have fallen by now, but this year we are looking at trees so red they look like they’re on fire, and yellow leaves so bright it’s as if they’re beaming sunlight. It’s been glorious. But soon enough, we’ll be tucking in to stay warm. Not everyone is looking forward to winter, or the holidays. November reminds me of the days when I was a single mom with a very small income and no room for extras. With the added expense of heating a drafty old farmhouse, finding the money to splurge on festive holiday meals was a challenge.
I remember some of the meaningful things people did for me in those days. A friend bought a movie for my daughter that she’d been wanting to see. Someone bought my groceries for me. Another invited me out for coffee, and another always brought designer java over and we’d chat for an hour. I man I never knew fixed my flat tire and filled it with air. The invitations to meals at the houses of old and new friends was the most coveted of all. There, I felt like I was part of something bigger, a type of heavenly family. The food never disappointed and the conversations were always interesting.
At our congregation this year, we’re being challenged to do a daily mitzvah for others. They don’t have to be expensive, in fact, many of them cost nothing but time. But it does require being observant and looking for opportunities.
So what does this mean for you?
A few simple mitzvot might be holding the door for an elderly person, carrying your neighbor’s groceries inside, or taking their trashcan to the street (and bringing it back!) It could be buying coffee for the person in line ahead of you or returning the cart to the coral, or even picking up trash. Offer a smile or a kind word to someone wherever you find yourself. That mom with small children needs to hear that she’s doing a good job. Your local store clerk could use a few affirming words to let them know how appreciated he or she is. The widow will feel surprised and special if someone sends them flowers–even anonymously! It’s a guaranteed day brightener.
We are in a unique period of time. Each one of us probably knows at least one person, or even one family who isn’t doing as well as in previous years.
Maybe a neighbor experienced a downturn in health. You might know someone who lost a parent, spouse, a sibling, or child. How can you encourage them? You can provide a meal or set up a meal train https://www.mealtrain.com. You can deliver a bag of groceries if you know what they eat, and if you don’t, grocery cards for the local market are a great option especially if home delivery is offered in your area.
This year with the tremendous number of job losses more people than ever may not know how they will provide for their family. Our neighborhood is sponsoring a food drive to collect canned goods. It reminds me of the time I stood in line at a grocery store buying my lunch and a man at the head of the line paid for my food and the items of the man ahead of me. For a stranger to show such compassion is an unexpected kindness that will never be forgotten. You will be helping to restore hope in the human race and possibly even YHVH/God. Caring about others is one of the things that made our country great. You will be sharing in the rich tradition of benevolence that our country has been known for, for generations. If you pay for the groceries of the person in line with you—don’t be surprised if they break into tears!
How about that single person who has no local family? Invite them over for dinner, or to be a part of your holiday celebration. I was invited to the home of friends I hadn’t seen in years, and it was a wonderful way to catch up, enjoy their company and create special memories. Setting the table let me feel part of the family and sharing that meal with them was a precious memory that I still cherish twelve years later.
The best way to encourage yourself is to encourage others. You not only make the world a better place for yourself, you make it better for that person. And one random act of kindness inspires more random kindnesses.
Gestures of inclusion are deeply meaningful to the invited and send the message that their presence is valuable and they’re worth spending time with. Two women I knew used to invite HIV affected people to their home for elaborate Thanksgiving meals. Afterward, they packed the leftovers to go with each person. There is a lot of truth in the more the merrier! It will make your celebration more meaningful to you, and they will always hold you in a special place in their heart for remembering them.
What is the best thing a stranger has ever done for you?