One year ago
I was living in Maine and working closely with a stigmatized, marginalized subset of our society. In a short time I learned more about respect, strength, humanity, humor, perspective and power than I had in many years working and being with people in other capacities. I was honored to be a part of it and valued the lessons and gifts I received.

At Christmastime, with the help of a creative friend, I made homemade postcards to give to as many people as I could. I knew I would be living in Austin soon and I wanted to wish them joy…more than anything, I wanted them to experience and have joy. I wanted to give them a small token of the gratitude I felt for them. I wrote a lot of cards and I admit, I thought about each one, each person, each message. However, it never occurred to me the influence one of these cards held.

John (I’ve changed his name) and I had formed a comfortable, professional bond. We were similar in age and he was a lifelong alcoholic. He had survived an abusive, traumatic childhood and that set the foundation for adulthood. John trusted me. Most everyone in John’s life had given up on the thought that he could or would ever stop drinking. He was homeless and his story broke my heart. And frankly, I liked him and I saw his potential. I liked that he still had humor, I liked that despite some terrible choices, he still knew right from wrong, he honored the code of ‘do unto others…’; he started drinking to cope with his painful life and like so many, the alcohol took over.  I believed he could get better and he saw that I did. The more we talked, the more we both believed there was hope.

 Through concerted effort from both of us in the form of calls, letters and months of patience while John lived on the freezing streets of Portland, we waited for a chance to get him the help he so desperately needed and deserved. Christmas came and I gave John the card. I recognized that the card meant a lot to him when I gave it to him, he was moved by the message of a simple card. I had no idea how much.

Fast forward almost one year later
I now live in Austin and haven’t seen John or any of those resilient people in a long time yet they are still alive and well in my heart. My phone rang recently and I recognized the Maine area code but not the number. It was John. Sober, employed and living in a safe, supportive place and he wanted to tell me about it. He explained how well he was doing, he commented that I was the person who helped him tap into the courage it takes to fight his disease.  And he then asked for a favor.

He explained that the card I had given him one year ago was tattered, torn, stained and the ink had worn off. He said he could barely read my name and he keeps it protected in a plastic baggie. John asked if I would mail him a new Christmas card and gave me his address. We laughed and rejoiced that he had an address because a year before he did not. 

A new card went in the mail to John the following morning full of good wishes and hope and interestingly enough – my cards this year convey the same message: Joy.

I’m neither claiming to have changed the world nor am I asking for acknowledgment, but I wanted to share that our words and actions have the potential to carry much more weight than we may realize.

                        With every deed you are sowing a seed
                              
although you may not see the harvest. 
                                                
Ella Wheeler Wilcox

 In this coming year, my wish is that all of us remember that the slightest action, good or bad, the smallest word, compliment or insult, leaves a wake behind which will affect others. My wish is that we always remember that everything we do leaves behind a wake: every word, every action and every thought. The wake we leave behind is up to us.

Thanks for reading and wishing you Joy,
~ Haven

Source: New feed

                                               “CHRISTMAS TREE!”

I still find myself smiling, oftentimes laughing and sometimes yelling, just like we used to.

                                              “CHRISTMAS TREE!”

It is impossible for me to forget the memories of those conversation-interrupting, semi-competitive, laughter-inducing and top o’ the lungs screaming of the words “CHRISTMAS TREE!” , each time we saw a Christmas tree. It was one of many silly things we did. To have fun because we could. Because we wanted to. Because he deserved to experience uninhibited laughter. Because he deserved more. And why not. Why would you not create a reason to have fun, a reason to laugh?

I’ve never written about Justin. It’s not that I don’t think about him. I do. He is alive and well in my memory and surviving his untimely death at age 23 has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never written about him; he’s close to my heart which is something I protect with a vengeance.

Yet, something has changed this Christmas season. I’m living in a new city. It’s a different culture, a different lifestyle and a different landscape. It’s ok to say Merry Christmas, we’re still politically correct but we can openly wish people a Merry Christmas.  As silly as it may seem, Christmas seems more alive now and I know Justin would approve. There are Christmas trees everywhere. I don’t mean the lit trees seen through picture windows…this is different. These trees are everywhere and Justin would, without a doubt, love it. And it cracks me up. I smile, I laugh and I yell just like we used to. My fellow commuters probably think I’ve lost my mind and I don’t care.

He didn’t have a lot of things to smile and laugh about. Justin’s life was defined by poverty and all if its side effects but through it all his demeanor seldom changed. The kid was positive and fun and full of potential. He came into my life, I came into his. Each year at Christmas we were silly, me creating reasons for him to laugh and he being completely open to the opportunity. We began saying “Christmas tree”  each time we saw a lit or decorated tree. Any tree counted…a tree in a window, a tree in a town square, a real tree, a fake tree…and like so many little things that turned into big things, a small game that became an annual tradition…seeing one tree and another and another would quickly escalate into unbridled excitement. It didn’t take long for us to yell,“Christmas tree!” at the top of our lungs.

And now, Justin is gone and I live a world away yet that memory is alive and well. I see the tree’s that live alongside the route I take to work and I have watched with utter amazement these past few weeks as Austinites have decorated the trees on the side of the road. It is the custom for people to decorate them and if you can think of a theme, odds are you’ll find it on a tree. Hundreds and hundreds of trees. Christmas trees.

“CHRISTMAS TREE!” And that makes it wonderful and beautiful and inspiring and fun…and for me…really hard, in an ‘I ought to be mature’ way. But that also becomes impossible which is completely ok. I’ll start off seeing a few dozen trees and then more and more and more…hundreds of trees. And I can’t help myself. And I don’t want to. I think of Justin, I remember our drives, I remember our tradition and before long I’m smiling, I’m laughing and sure enough a few times, I’ve let out a really loud, “CHRISTMAS TREE!”…in honor of him, in honor of our time spent and remembering that just because we’ve lost someone we love doesn’t mean their spirit is gone. It doesn’t mean the memory has to die.

                        So Kiddo…you oughta see this place…I’m not sure how
we’d ever keep track
of who had the most tree’s but you’d win…
you always won…and just so you know…
I haven’t forgotten and I never will.

                                               “CHRISTMAS TREE!”

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven

Source: New feed