Last night while walking downtown to a friends’ birthday party at a restaurant, a man approached my girlfriend and me. He was a bit tattered, and as he put out is hand in greeting, I already knew about what he was going to say. I didn’t want to be insensitive to his well-rehearsed tale of woe, however we really didn’t have time. Well, we did, but it was cold, and I really didn’t want to hear it. The man rattled off a few explicatives, and we walked on.

It is rarely difficult for me to obtain the mythical Christmas Spirit. I try to be an optimistic person throughout the year. However, finding the good is becoming increasingly more difficult. Folks seem more detached, even afraid. I say hello and such to people all the time, and there seems some part of them that is wondering why.

But, I keep putting a few dollars in the Salvation Army coffers at the ring of the yearly bells. I hold doors and give my extra change to the jar at the gas station. And, I look for similar behaviors in others. That is where I hope to find the Christmas Spirit. The small kindnesses. Sure, it’s nice to see a news story about a business giving four million to their employees for Christmas, but the little things done to help and support others are precious.

I can’t say I felt great about my exchange with the allegedly homeless man. I wouldn’t be writing about it if I did. Maybe I should have at least shaken his hand. I could have listened to his story. It’s not like I didn’t care. I made an assumption based on previous experiences of being in downtown Gainesville. It was disrespectful, however there was a good chance he was going to tell his tale, and then ask for money. I know there’s a homeless problem in Gainesville largely because of the amount of correctional facilities in the area. Upon release, you get $20 and a bus pass if you have no one. Many ex-offenders come to the nearest city upon release. Fortunately, I have a good family who forgave me after my time was up. However, I did the work to facilitate that forgiveness. And, I’m not going back.

Christmas is a time for new beginnings. A reminder that God gave us a chance. Whether you believe or not, the message is that our lives are defined by how we treat others. There are common threads flowing through all religions and beliefs. When we celebrate these universal ideals such as kindness, non-attachment, love, honesty, and community, then we can safely discuss the differences.

The holidays give us an opportunity to be more than the daily discord and hate. They give us an excuse to be nice, to be generous. Sure, the stress of presents and parties will be there. However, please take time to notice gentle acts of kindness when they present themselves. And, be that example if there are none.

Thank you for reading.

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