My bus passed by the river this morning, like it always does. And I accidentally sat on the wrong side of the bus, like I always do (…sorry, person-who-thinks-I’m-staring-at-them, I’m just being a daydreamy little kid over here). Inflated arms brushed against each other, with thick jackets filling the space between passengers. Canadian human contact. Winter is coming.
(I don’t like winter, just to be clear. It makes me get all cold, and pale, and poetic. Not the productive kind of poetic; the sad, useless, shitty songwriting kind.)
Despite my usual distaste for winter, looking out at that ready-to-freeze water made me feel peaceful, even happy. I marveled at how the leaves were totally just on those trees a week ago, what even. And, light snow looks really pretty. And, of course, the water is going to freeze. Soon.
I guess it’s hard to be upset when you’re “marveling” at anything. I smiled (which person-who-thinks-I’m-staring-at-them probably found all kinds of weird). I got completely caught up in the season change, how cool it was, how it affected the water and the trees and the sun. My vendetta against the chillier months was momentarily forgotten.
I think maintaining a sense of wonder is one of the healthiest things in the world. You could talk to me all day about why, why, why winter exists—scientifically, mythologically, whatever. And I could talk to you all day about how it makes me feel, the endless pros and cons of snowy weather. But none of those answers will fulfill that sudden need to just sit back and go “Woah. The world changes like crazy every single year, regardless of how we feel about it. Look at it, it’s changing right now.”
Maybe there’s a super profound lesson or two in this. Maybe. I’ll leave that up to the sermons and short stories to decide. My only lesson, if I can call it that, is that having a sense of wonder about nature can override discomfort about nature. And that being a daydreamy little kid looking out the window isn’t a half bad way to view the world.
Okay, I can’t speak for you. You’re probably great. But other people, over-sensitive, nostalgic people like me,struggle with making sense out of a personal past. We get caught up considering moments. Moments distract from patterns.
And patterns are what matter.
Now, I’m all about good ol’ reflection. When a long-term relationship falls apart, for example, doing a solid autopsy is just about the most positive response you can have. It’s constructive. It’s necessary.
But when things are fresh, when memories and emotions are running high, our autopsies tend to trace scars instead of patterns. Sometimes, when we should be looking at recurring toxic (or not-so-toxic) behaviours, we dwell on moments.
And if you focus only on moments, friends? You are in for an emotional ride.
You’ll relive and relive and relive the really intense stuff. Only the really intense stuff. The major disappointments. The I-can’t-even-breathe-right-now romantic gestures. It becomes a mental scorecard–was the whole thing horrible, the worst, or was it unbelievably amazing? Was it that time I cried all night, or the time I laughed all night? I don’t know. I don’t know.
(Neither, guys. It’s probably neither.)
Instead of looking for patterns, we pit “good times” against “dark times” in our minds, acting like our history is defined by extreme stories and emotional confrontations. We forget the day-to-day behaviour. The reactions. How communication worked (or didn’t), and how do you feel about that?
Focusing only on tear-stained memories of “good times” and “dark times,” can paint a pretty dramatic and unfair picture of all these things. Sure, mega-scars need healing, and the happy times are worth remembering…but in most cases, using only the most epic stories to illustrate how things went down might not be the best tactic.
Basically, it’s big picture time.
The relationship thing is just an example, of course. In general, we seem to have a habit of over-valuing stories drenched in perception and projection (and probably other dangerous things that end in -tion). And that’s a pretty big problem when our little-picture memories are this malleable and unreliable.
Can big-deal moments be important? Of course, of course, of course. I’m not talking about overlooking major losses, abuses, and epiphanies. Intense things can happen, and they can effect us. Fallible as they may be, our memories make us who we are.
But, when we’re trying to learn from something long term, to make sense of ourselves and our pasts, we cannot just lean on landmarks.
When we are auditing our lives, little antecdotes shouldn’t override the whole story.
On Saturday morning, I woke up to snow on the ground. My feelings about this were mixed, as always, but two things were fully certain: 1) I needed to celebrate this; 2) My Facebook friends get WAY too worked up over precipitation.
In my own overzealous logic, I decided that this snowfall called for an urgent, impromptu pre-Christmas party. Where? My place. When? NOW. The decorations are coming out, ladies and gentlemen.
This got me thinking. As crazy as the work/school side of December is, we all know that it is ultimately a friends & family time of year. We’re going to hang out. We’re going to eat, drink, and be merry. So why not do the kind of partying that makes a positive impact in the community?
Turns out, there are several incredible ways to do just that–all it takes is a little creativity and pre-planning. Here are some of my favourites:
Hosting for Hope. If Chatelaine magazine and Homesense get together to advocate something, I take note. That’s how I learned of Hosting for Hope, a program which invites people to throw beautiful seasonal get-togethers (awesome) while supporting local shelters for battered women (double awesome). If you plan on hosting a holiday party, why not sign up? A $50 donation through Hosting for Hope will get you a $25 Homesense gift card, and after asking guests to donate in lieu of a hostess gift–tada! Your party just made a huge difference in someone’s life. Triple awesome.
The Mitten Tree. The church I attend, Mackay United, has been collecting mittens and scarves for un-mittened/un-scarved folks in the community with a mitten tree. When I mentioned it to a friend of mine who knits, she suggested we get together to make some warm clothing to donate. I’ll pass her idea on as a challenge to you: if you know how to knit, and your friends know how to knit, then just skip the lame coffee date and have a knitting date instead.When you’re done, you can donate your creations to organizations that keep people warm.
Blood Donation Party. I actually know someone who did this every year, and it worked out quite nicely. Before throwing a holiday party to see old friends, he invited people to come to the blood donor clinic. This was a tradition, the same time every year, so people could count on making the appointments together (with some new faces every year, of course!). Those who were able to give blood could catch up with each other while they joined together to give the gift of life.
Christmas Hampers Project. Centretown United makes hampers to provide necessities for less fortunate families in Ottawa, “Because some holiday wish lists are more basic than others.” Apply to adopt a hamper by November 30th, or get some friends together to donate your time. The project needs volunteers for packing hampers from December 17th-20th and delivering them on the 21st. Get more information here.
Food Bank Events. The holidays are a big time of year for the Food Banks around the country. There are several different events in support of the Ottawa Food Bank that you can check out for a night out this season, like the Hintonburg Public House Holiday Fundraiser or the Santa’s Souper Singers concert. Food bank events for the city are listed here.
Spread Some Joy. One of my best Christmas memories is of visiting a local senior’s home with my girl guide troupe, armed only with homemade cookies and badly sung Christmas carol renditions. Homes like St. Patrick’s Home of Ottawa are often looking for people to come in and keep residents entertained and smiling. If you and a friend like playing board games or cards anyways, why not bring your hobby to a retirement home? Who better to include in good times than our senior citizens?
Running on Empties. December 15th marks the 25th annual Running on Empties fundraiser! The Christmas Exchange program will have volunteers posted outside of every beer store until 5:30. You can sign up to be one of these volunteers, or take a moment to bring in those empty bottles (say, the ones left over from your Hosting for Hope party!) to help them reach this year’s $20,000 goal!
Alright readers–now it’s your turn to let me know what you plan on doing to hang out/help out this year! Any of these ideas strike your interest? Anything I’ve missed? Keep the conversation going in the comments, on my page at www.facebook.com/Shaunanagins, or Follow my blog with Bloglovin. When it comes to partying hard and loving even harder, there are never too many great ideas.
Special thanks to Sam Polzin for providing the photography in this post. Look forward to seeing some more of her work in weeks to come!