Lately, my blog posts have become pretty heavy and deep, that depth reflecting the happenings in our world and in my own small corner. This week I’d like to make things quite a bit lighter and bring you some stories that might make you laugh and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There are a lot of hard things we are all going through and I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard or read variations of, or said sarcastically myself, the statement: “Well why not, it’s 2020 after all.” Let’s all give a loud 3 knocks on wood right now, because we all know we don’t need any more shit to happen this year. For some reason, this is the one superstitious thing I just can’t not do – I always have to knock. Maybe doing so makes me feel like I’m balancing out the universe a little by adding a funny thing to the negativity just spoken. And maybe I take it a tiny bit seriously too.
Earlier this week, a memory popped up in the Facebook Memories from Thanksgiving 4 years ago. It was a video of my children and our conversation at the table with the 4 of us having a (relatively) quiet Thanksgiving dinner. My kids were 2 and 4 at the time. My daughter was sitting in the high chair at the end of the table and while encouraging her to eat her dinner, my husband or I had just informed her that if she did good eating her dinner, there’s pumpkin pie waiting for her. Her face lit up and exploded in joy and excitement at the thought. Picture little round cheeks with soft light brown curls surrounding her tiny face, her mouth opening as large as she can make it go in a huge “Oh” moment of surprised and thrilled reaction. Her eyes were so big and shiny and filled with joy. Then her eyes shifted as she remembered her birthday cake from the week before and how much she loved her cake. She said, “But my cake!” and proceeded to attempt to convince us she should most definitely have cake. Now. We tried to explain to her that she ate all the cake but we do have pumpkin pie and whipped cream. Her sweet, adorable face turned downward and her eyebrows crinkled in thought as she took this terrible news in and said, “noooo” and started to whine a little. We tried to reassure her but she was pretty disappointed by the thought of no cake and only pumpkin pie. (I’m guessing some of you could relate to this.) Enter her 4-year-old brother doing a sing-song-y kind of “dum, da, mug, ma, da, da da,” and I shifted the camera his direction to find him leaning his face on the table next to his plate with his tongue sticking out as he explored just what shapes his tongue could make. This is what Thanksgiving dinner with toddlers is like. Hilarious, adorable, frustrating, mind-boggling, and full of love. I am thankful for all of this memory, especially since I’m still laughing at it 4 years later. And I’m very thankful for my children’s natural abilities to remind me to keep things simple and joyful - to be satisfied with the small happy things in our daily lives.
This past week I have been working furiously to put on the event Light Up Rutland for the entire Rutland region. It was an idea I had based on a previous community I lived in, where the holiday lights brought my family and so many others much warmth and joy. My idea was also inspired by Vermont resident Nancy Greenwood’s idea to create a Facebook group called “Light up Rutland” earlier this year. Her idea was based on the local hospital putting up a large, lighted holiday star up to inspire “hope and thanks to humanity in this time of our fight against the coronavirus.” The group Nancy created grew to hundreds and thousands of people practically overnight, and spread all over the country and even internationally, so she quickly renamed it “Help Vermont Light Up the World”. (I didn’t know it was originally named Light Up Rutland, but was aware of the name resemblance when I created this event. Nancy and I have since been messaging and she told me this. Pretty cool!)
Light Up Rutland was created so that, especially this year, we can literally see each other’s shared warmth and joy. During this year of social distancing, when we cannot physically be together, at least we can physically see that we are not alone in all of this hard stuff because our neighbors have left their light on for us. So, we will Light Up the Rutland region together, one house at a time, one vote at a time, and one donation at a time. We will brighten each other’s hearts and do simple but incredibly meaningful things to support each other and show our love for our community at a time when we are torn apart by important issues that threaten to negatively define us. At the end of the day, the issues we’re dealing with on the surface are not the true problem, they’re just symptoms of a greater problem. We cannot even begin to solve those issues until we understand, clearly and fully, that it is our foundation that is weakening, that needs our support. Our community’s foundation is about loving and caring about each other – if we can remember to keep that foundation solid and feed that and make it strong, then all these other issues that trouble us will ultimately be solved with our hard work.
This week, I received a message from a resident of Rutland who wanted to play Secret Santa. She had the idea that perhaps some people would like to put out lights for others to see and spread joy to their neighbors, but that maybe they can’t afford to right now. She offered to buy lights and decorations for someone who needed help to decorate. Upon putting the offer out there on the event page, I received 3 different requests for the Secret Santa’s assistance. Each of these people had struggled this year. One moved here a year ago and upon moving into her new home, discovered that multiple major appliances were failing drastically, which unexpectedly emptied her savings. Another woman sent me a message the day I forwarded her gift card to her, and told me that her mother had a heart attack that same day. She shared that after that awful day, her mother was going to be so happy to learn that they could now decorate their home for the holidays. The third recipient sent me a message explaining that they were so happy and excited that they were able to purchase so many decorations and still had a little money left over on the gift card. They decided to buy themselves a Christmas tree because up until that point, they weren’t going to be able to have a tree in their home this year. She was so happy their family was going to have a Christmas tree this year because of the kindness of this stranger, this Secret Santa.
Our Secret Santa is a wonderful, kind, human being who works very hard for our community every moment of her days. This was a simple gesture she made, a way that she felt she could contribute to brightening Rutland and elevating our connections this holiday season. She originally saw it as a simple thing to do to help out, but these 3 families see it as so much more and these stories that were written this week will affect many people to come as the stories are retold to friends and family and neighbors. What some may consider small gestures, can make all the difference to those on the receiving end. Many of us can become disheartened as we strive to make a difference in the world in big ways, but we have to remember that perhaps every day we are having an impact on the world around us and we may not ever know it.
When I started Light Up Rutland, I just wanted to do something to brighten people’s lives after this hard year. I knew it would show people that we’re all still here, together, and that we have to support each other and help brighten each other’s days. But this event has given me something I hadn’t planned on. At the end of last week, I had little hope people were going to participate and was thinking that maybe it was all for nothing and I shouldn’t have bothered creating this event. But this week, experiencing these stories and seeing everyone sharing and “liking” the event on Facebook, seeing the articles come out and the emails of support, I am buoyed by all of our residents’ sense of community, sense of place, and the sharing and love for each other. Light Up Rutland is doing exactly what I have hoped Social Tinkering will achieve. The mission of Social Tinkering: A Human Connection Project is to empower connection and grow happiness. It sounds so over-simplified, but just look at how these simple stories of connection have impacted these people’s lives in such positive ways this week. Look at how one woman’s simple act of kindness, of giving, has created such joy between all of us. With Social Tinkering, I hope to use my own experiences and lessons learned to help provide a bridge that could then provide an opportunity for people to see each other more clearly and create meaningful connections. And yes, to grow happiness.
I hope that all of you see what’s really happening with these kinds of events and fundraisers our community hosts and never take that for granted. We have Stuff-A-Bus and the Gift of Life Marathon and numerous other community fundraisers and activities that receive overwhelming support and loving energy on almost a weekly basis here in the Rutland region. THIS is who this community is and I hope that you hold that in your hearts stronger than any of the issues we are facing. We all know very well now that we are not alone in dealing with the hardships of this year, and we must also realize that the only way to rise out of the dark depths is to do so together. We have set our own example through the incredible response these community events receive. We must work together to follow that example, listening to each other and really hearing each other, and we must remember that we care about each other. We must set aside our differences temporarily and care about each other enough to work through our difficult issues and come out on the other side to a place where we can see how connected we are. Our connection is what makes our humanity good.
Reflecting on all of this, I am thankful for my own personal connections to the people in my life, small or large. I am thankful for my children’s ability to keep me laughing and hoping for cake, because let’s face it, pumpkin pie is okay, but it’s got nothing on cake. And I am thankful for the experiences in my life that have brought me thus far, to where I am able to see things more clearly and where I might use my lessons learned to do good for others. After all, what’s life about if we’re not leaving this place better than when we arrived, in our own small ways?
“I think it’s important we all realize we can offer something to each other (and it’s ok to receive) even when it’s not a dire straits situation. Just for fun, or just to include someone else that may not have otherwise participated, or just because!”
~ Our Secret Santa, Light Up Rutland 2020