“Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” ~ Albert Schweitzer.
For my mother, sending cards at Christmas was a serious affair. With her organizational and secretarial skills, the task received the best of her talents. Each year her list would be carefully reviewed. Who had she received from last year that needed to receive one this year? Who had not been heard from in years? As she received cards, she had to cross reference their return addresses with her address book to make sure that nothing had changed. Her address books themselves were detailed, much used resources that had to be changed and updated every ten years or so. And she did not discard the old, even after she had transcribed all current names and addresses, just in case.
By the time she replaced an old book, it would be torn and taped, held together with elastic bands and probably adorned with stickers and ribbons. She loved to ‘prettify’ objects, could not abide to have anything dull and unattractive. After she died, she left behind a historic record, an archeological layer of her correspondence in the form of old address books placed in an envelope. On the outside she gave us written permission to ‘throw them away, you don’t have to go through them.’
I don’t know how many people maintain the tradition of sending cards at Christmas. It used to be a great way to keep in touch with those who were far away. Often a group letter would be included, giving a rundown of the family’s news over the past twelve months: births, marriages, illnesses, accomplishments. My mother could not do the group thing. Her letters had to personalized to the recipient, which was why her marathon card writing sessions would have to start way in advance of the Christmas season. Her efforts were reciprocated. Her living room would be decorated with a wide variety of cards from all over the world. In her latter years she sent very few if any cards – she preferred not to send any than to send a hastily scrawled ‘To:’ and ‘From:’.
In the dying days of 2019 I found myself doing something new. I visited one of the old historic homes of Fort Lauderdale learning a little of the ‘settlement’ of the area. Historic representation can be very opaque. One poster described the number of Native Americans (Seminoles, Cree and others) being ‘reduced’ from 20,000 to 200 inhabitants and I wondered at the audacity of the wording. They were downsized? So much of history is lost in the telling. The photographs from the late 19th century were revealing in the absence of people of color. To know the history and contributions of the African and the Native Americans do we have to go to a different museum?
Up on the third floor of the old house, there were ‘artists in residence’. Six local artists have been allowed to work and display their art there. Some of these artists are semi-professional, working or retired from other full-time jobs. We saw paintings that looked like Jamaica, the countryside scenes resonated. The artist (Brian Fitzgerald) is a local art teacher who had vacationed in Jamaica. He also creates quilts, amazing ‘narrative’ quilts where the images tell a story. In one pair of large wall hangings the characters were obviously African American, the cloth surrounding the picture seemed to come straight from Africa, vibrant images of warriors. Could this Fitzgerald be a Jamaican? From what we could find he seems to be a White American, his work showing respect and love for the history and culture of the same people omitted from the photographs in the museum below.
Before the year ended I allowed myself to do something I had only read about before. And although it was not a risky or daring adventure, it required me to lose any inhibitions and self-consciousness. As I ended a nature walk in my local park, I came across a group of about a dozen people in a circle, laughing like crazy! I remembered I had seen a sign advertising ‘Laughter Yoga’ and here they were! Should I respectfully observe them and then get in my car and go home? I decided I had to put my money where my mouth is, after all, I had been so impressed upon reading about this some years ago that I had recommended it to a family member with health issues! And so I entered the circle, and did my best to imitate the leaders, and release endorphins along with hoots of laughter and yoga breathing.
As the group of activities came to an end, we were invited to place in the circle a word, something we wished to leave behind in 2019. We then named something we wished to embody in 2020. We each named a person, place or thing that needed healing, and placed them in the circle also. It was empowering to spend a few moments in the presence of a diverse group of people I may never see again, yet see such respect and acceptance demonstrated. And give a great big belly laugh. Laughter truly is contagious, and as the Reader’s Digest used to tell us, Laughter is the Best Medicine.
I believe one of the biggest challenges for us in this year of perfect vision is first to look inward to see what we need to fix. Then, when we look outward, we need to see what we can do to make a difference in this world. It is not enough to be, we need to do, to actively bring about the change we wish to see. We are reminded in memes and images that we don’t need to do a million things to bring about change, we just need a million people doing one thing each. Another quote that I saw said: “I cannot do all the good that the world needs but the world needs all the good that I can do.” (Jana Stanfield).
On this first Friday in 2020, I hope you can see clearly what your purpose is, and live it fully. I hope you can help to make a difference in this world. And if you see a Laughter Yoga class in session, join in! It has health benefits along with a great excuse to have a good laugh. Have a great weekend, Family!