Grateful on the Winter Solstice

I'm crazy about the fall, but I don't mind winter as much as most. True, it gets a little bleak come February, but the snow is my friend - it gets me out of work (if I'm lucky), offers me an opportunity to wear scarves and bundles of clothing, and it reminds me of childhood snow days filled with crazy outdoor gear, sledding, and hot chocolate.

The hazy months of summer, characterized by nothing other then indomitable humidity and high heat, are insufferable to me as the last weeks of a pregnancy, heavy with discomfort and the anticipation of an imminent release, but so accustomed to the conditions that it becomes hard to believe change is imminent. And then all of a sudden, I find that fall is upon me. The humidity has broken, the temperatures have lowered (sometimes only to rise again), the leaves are putting on a brilliant and colorful display, pumpkin chai is back in season, and the holidays are very nearly here.

I try to soak up as much of the delicious fall season as I can, however it always seems to slip by me so quickly. I anxiously await the changing of the leaves and then one day find the trees adorned in radiant reds and yellows, but completely naked the next. As much as I want to embrace everything about this most favorite of seasons, it rushes out from under me, the days slipping through my fingers once my October birthday and Halloween have passed. Then I immerse myself in holiday cheer, which people are so eager to celebrate months ahead in anticipatory pleasure and unbelievably quick to put to an abrupt end come December 26th.

I guess I just wish the seasons were spread a bit more. Winter would be so much more warm and bright were Christmas set back a month. People wouldn't be complaining about retail stores setting up holiday displays before Halloween is over, because it really would be ludicrous to set up for a holiday four months in advance (as opposed to two or three). And Thanksgiving would get the full spotlight it truly deserves, rather than being overshadowed by it's closest neighbor. Then winter wouldn't be so unbearable, a good one-third of it spent in preparations and good cheer, rather than a mere four days. Oh, the world would be a more just place if I controlled the calendar.

But I don't, so we find ourselves in a deluge of holidays, thrust upon us by time and commercial interests, leaving us empty and cold for the remainder of the winter season.

This meditation on the seasons isn't meant to downplay the one which is upon us or to make winter feel bad for itself. I would rather like to celebrate the coming of winter today and shine a light upon something a bit more serious than the humorous prospect of me as arranger of the world's calendar. This season is one brought in with a sweep of generosity and joy, later marked by bleakness, darkness, and bitter cold. Lucky for us, we have warm homes to return to, filled with things to distract ourselves from the harsh season raging outside our window (yes, I'm assuming all of these things about my readers but, as I've said in previous posts, I think it's a safe assumption that anyone with internet access who takes the time to read a silly blog like my own it probably relatively secure in their ability to provide themselves with shelter.) But for plenty of people without homes, this is the time of year most dreaded, the one when people are more scarce, their generosity as bleak as the weather, and the nights infinitely more harsh to spend outside.

Since December 21st is the first day of this most difficult season for the homeless, as well as the longest night of the year, many communities across the nation take the opportunity today to remember those homeless who we have lost because of lack of shelter, food, medical care, and a whole host of other disadvantages. Further, these memorial events serve to increase awareness, sympathy, knowledge, and concern about our less-fortunate counterparts in the cities and towns where we live.

For anyone local to the Baltimore area, the SHARP (Stopping Homelessness and Reducing Poverty) Coalition will be hosting a public memorial tonight from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater. For those of you in other areas, please visit the National Health Care for the Homeless Council's resource page to learn more about Homeless Memorial Day and to find an event in your community.

One of my favorite things about fall is Thanksgiving because it is a holiday purely devoted to generosity, gratitude, and kindness. Unfortunately I think that most people look upon it as a day of gluttony, but there are a wonderful few who display unparalleled generosity on this day, serving dinners for the homeless, instead of gathering around a table with their family in their own warm home, or participating in charity events at soup kitchens and the like. Part of the reason I wish to re-arrange the holiday season is because I fear that Christmas is so heavy and full upon us come mid-November that we are more concerned about getting to bed at a decent hour so we can awake at an ungodly one to go shopping for Christmas presents the day after Thanksgiving. I'm guilty as anyone of rushing the holiday season, but I also absolutely love the very premise of Thanksgiving, not so much the history but the legacy the holiday holds of giving thanks, appreciating the gifts you have, and demonstrating gratitude. Most of all, I love how this message manifests itself in the charity and kindness of many people who have not allowed black Friday or 3,000 calorie dinners to cloud their view of November's largest holiday.

But Thanksgiving has passed and Christmas is almost upon us, so instead, I'll put it to you this way. Embody some of the holiday spirit, especially now when people are gathering to memorialize those who lost their lives because they did not have shelter, but also after Christmas is over. Allow yourself to be taken with benevolence and extend the season in both your thoughts and actions. Even if you don't make it to a memorial tonight, take a moment or two to think about the issue, to share it with others, to give some thought to those that no one else thought of before it was too late. And when you find yourself complaining of the cold, worried about your heating bills, or saddened by the short winter days, think about how very fortunate you are to have respite from the chill, to be in a position to heat your home, to be able to alleviate that darkness with the warmth and love of friends and family.

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