They show up everywhere this time of year. Like extraterrestrials, each one is strategically scattered around the Valley, as if placed there by design to soothe the soul. Their unearthly presence brings a calm blanket of warm thwarting the chill of winter cold. I like to think of them as the humans of Fresno.
In my usual state of holiday hurriedness, I had almost missed hearing the pint-sized bell ringer standing outside CVS. There she stood next to her mother, both of them bundled up Eskimo-style wearing thick parkas, scarves and gloves. If there had been a soundtrack playing, it most definitely would have been “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
Running late, I had a milelong list of to-dos, so my first inclination was to ignore the Norman Rockwell scene unfolding right before my eyes. Thankfully, a change of heart slowed my stride, prompted me to stop and approach the pair. Without saying a word, their eye contact immediately raised the outside temperature.
“Let’s see if I have any spare change,” I said. Opening my wallet, I grabbed a short stack of dollar bills.
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“How about I give you one dollar for each brother or sister you have?” I asked. Her mother chuckled.
“Well,” said the little one. “There are six of us, right Mom?” Through her gloves, I spotted wiggly fingers trying to count for the sake of honesty.
“Yes,” said her mother. “You have five brothers and sisters.”
One by one by one, I counted six singles and placed them into the Salvation Army kettle. Walking back to my car, I heard the echo of a little voice thanking me profusely, as if I had handed over the moon. Wanting to freeze-frame the moment, I made mental note of my insides thawing, shoulders relaxing, the internal frenzy subsiding.
Small gestures – the kind containing the real stuff of life. Spontaneous, unexpected run-ins with the universe. Isn’t this what we crave most right about now?
A few days later, it happened again. Bogged down with writing assignments, juggling my mother’s doctor appointments, unraveling Christmas lights and still in recovery from Thanksgiving, I heard a knock at the door.
Stalling a moment, cynical and certain it was likely to be solicitous, I opened the door only to be greeted by a cellophane-wrapped dish of freshly baked cookies. A note attached promised love as the main ingredient. My world stopped spinning.
Grabbing my husband, pressing the pause button, we sat in front of the fireplace devouring cookies, catching our breath and inhaling the generosity of spirit unexpectedly delivered to our front door.
It’s less than a week into December and I’m noticing this kindness phenomenon everywhere. In restaurants, at the checkout lines in the grocery store, in doctor’s offices and even in crowded parking lots.
People are going out of their way to be (more) human.
I realize the rule of thumb has always been not to make eye contact or talk to strangers, to be thick-skinned, turn the other cheek and mind our own business. This month I’m questioning many of life’s rules and wondering if, somehow, we’ve gotten it all wrong.
And so this morning, I use a few column inches to pay homage and say “thank you” to a sampling of ETs in my personal world. They are the humans who show up without warning to buoy my spirit – each of them delivering a unique holiday brew of happiness.
▪ To Mary, Sonya, Stephanie and Gina – for the outrageous chocolate chip cookies;
▪ To Debbie and Jean – for believing in me, and more importantly, for loving my mother;
▪ To the always-smiling waitresses at The Golden – for bringing me hot tea and never forgetting to top my chow mein with slivered almonds;
▪ To Jane, the queen of paper – for showering me with kindness and nurturing my letter-writing obsession;
▪ To Gina – for always seeing beyond the obvious and insisting on “real”;
▪ To Cynthia – a true angel amongst us;
▪ To Matt and Karen – the best neighbors ever;
▪ To Taylor and Heidi – for singing their dreams;
▪ To Anna and Aldo – for feeding my exotic Peruvian appetite;
▪ To Pat at Five – for satisfying my palate for all things Italian;
▪ To Gail, Lisa, Linda, Feleena and Traci – for reminding me that life is fragile and that a girl needs her girlfriends;
▪ To the countless strangers – who in recognizing my curls, stop to ask if I am the Bee columnist who makes them laugh and cry;
▪ To my amazing family – and all five zany, beautiful, spirited grandchildren for filling my world with joy;
▪ And, finally, to my readers: Thank you for accompanying me on life’s journey, for sharing your thoughts and wisdom, hopes and dreams, and constantly reminding me that at the end of the day, we’re all in this together.
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays called “My Name is Armen.”