Little things are big enough to hold and celebrate.
As the northern hemisphere shifted further from the sun and we approached the solstice, I wrestled with many aspects of this winter. I didn’t relate to the religious or consumer aspect of the season. I was saddened as two holiday get-togethers ended with conversations about our village splitting in two — whether to develop it into more housing and big box stores or leave it as a natural space with a conversion to community activities. And I was disappointed in our national politics, as I saw hate headline all aspects of our country’s governance with no way for the individual to participate comfortably, let alone kindly or happily.
I looked for points of brightness in this part of the year with its longest nights and darkest days. For sometime, I searched for a breakthrough. Where’s the place of happiness and laughter? Haiti, where we often visited in the winter months from 2007 to 2014, always managed to get me out of my dreary self. With the local staff, we donned shower caps, played musical chairs, and danced to the tomba drum. We used basic sign language to communicate as we didn’t share a common language, and then we laughed together at our silliness. Nights in Haiti ended happily, uplifted, positively.
Why not happiness here, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin?
On the eve of the solstice, I drove by Geneva Lake — a stretch of road I passed along on foot or car two or three times daily. I was always taken by the view — it’s breath-taking, regardless of season, independent of weather. Once again, the vista of the moment stopped me in my tracks. I braked the car, parked akimbo to the diagonal lines, and jumped out, leaving the car running. I crossed the ice-clad grass to the water’s edge. The dark clouds held the sunset in two parts. I snapped a photo of the left and one of the right. And then decided the sum of the two parts were greater than the whole and shot a third. Stunning, I thought.
Later that night, I ventured into the basement to find something to help fix a loose doorknob. Instead I found myself rummaging in a box of holiday trappings. I unwrapped a few ornaments, managing the flow of memories each brought forth. Finally, one of those little things made me laugh out loud — a glittery miniature VW bus. The ornament was given to my partner and me a few years ago in commemoration of the two years we owned a camper van. That unique vehicle initiated one-of-a-kind trips across the US with all sorts of responses from unknown people — questions, waves, photos. For the older people we passed, it brought memories; for the younger, amazement. Each looked up from the midst of an activity — raking, walking the dog, fixing a roof, playing on a swing, reading on the porch — and responded. Somehow that old Westphalia with the Lexus-pearl-white paint job brought a new thought and a smile to their faces.
It was on one of those trips we survived a tire blow-out on the flatlands of Nebraska, just after the Colorado border. We owed a huge thanks to the generosity of two farmers and their tractor-oriented barn, filled to the brim with tools and widgets appropriate to a tire change and more. We spent an hour as they futzed with our tire. They were good, generous, human beings, with whom we giggled as it became obvious how politics had placed us in opposite camps. And, yet, there we were, together, on a hot midwestern summer’s night, in the glow of the barn, thankful for their kindness.
Today was the real illuminator. I am reading The New Odyssey, the story of the 21st-century refugee crisis, which has probably contributed to my holiday malaise. However sad or difficult its subject matter, it’s a superbly written summary of “a world we too often choose not to know,” by Patrick Kingsley, The Guardian’s inaugural migration correspondent. I often think about those refugees I met in Chios, Greece, and the difficulties they endured fleeing from the death and cruelties of war. I am pleased when I hear from them on Facebook or What’sApp sharing something that suggests they are closer to “normal” in their lives.
This morning I received the news about a Syrian couple and their two children, who we met last Spring in Chios, Greece. They stayed with us after they fled violence in the refugee camp, near which I volunteered. They wrote they received asylum and moved to the mainland of Greece. Now they live in an apartment — not a 10-foot by 20-foot container with another family. The children attend school with a teacher, who says, “I teach from the heart.” The father, who became good friends with a local Greek shop owner, translates and labels the retail stock in Arabic, to encourage the purchases of other immigrants.
They are not alone in their success. Others who I met in the refugee camps have gained asylum and are working or sending their children to school as they learn a new language. They are even trying some parts of Christmas — it’s part of the Greek culture which they’re assimilating into.
Finally, light amidst the darkness.
So there, finally, three pinpoints of light — three little things — the happiness I needed. Instead of finding another problem (mine, or the city’s, or the world’s) to solve, I found joy instead.
It may seem obvious to some that the extent of anyone’s effect in the world really happens within the two feet each of us can physically reach. I can photograph the incredible sunset, pick up an ornament to remember the delightful times spent driving in a VW van, key a post on Facebook to connect to those I shared a dinner with on the other side of the world. And what pleases me most is not an argument I won about an issue, but rather the connection made in a barn on the Nebraska prairie.
It’s those little things that make me laugh and feel good, that show me I did well as a human, that leave me feeling positive and special. It’s those little things that brighten the dark days and long nights.
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Judy O Haselhoef, a social artist who writes and travels and author of “GIVE & TAKE: Doing Our Damnedest NOT to be Another Charity in Haiti,” blogs regularly at her website,www.JOHaselhoef.com.
Copyright @2017: If you’d like to use any part of it (up to 200 words), please give full attribution and this website, www.JOHaselhoef.com.