Over the last couple of weeks, much of the country has seen frigid temperatures and fierce winter weather. When news begins to spread that Jack Frost is planning a visit, prudence prompts us to prepare. Bread, milk, and tissue become hot commodities. Those who are especially vigilant take it a step further, purchasing cat litter for automobile traction and ice melt for slippery sidewalks. At some point during the latest arctic blast, you probably heard a great piece of advice: "Bring your pets inside." For most of us, our pets are like family. Thus, ensuring their safety is paramount.
While we rightly have concern about the welfare of pets, something often overlooked in the litany of storm preparedness advice is perhaps the most noble: checking in on your neighbors. Even as the snow is melting and clouds give way to sunnier skies, the advice is still timely. Checking in on your neighbors doesn’t merely mean making sure they have the essentials for surviving a snowstorm.
We’ve arrived at the time of the year that is sometimes referred to as “the bleak midwinter.” These are often the coldest months with the harshest weather. Though the winter solstice has passed and the sunsets are slowly beginning to arrive later, our hearts are growing restless awaiting spring’s awakening. This is the time of year when even the most optimistic people sometimes find themselves weighed down by the cold void of the season.
There’s an old Japanese proverb that says, “One kind word can warm three winter months.” As luck would have it, there are roughly three months of winter remaining.
Lebanese-American writer Kahlil Gibran once noted, “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.”
Kindness is not the same as unconditional acceptance. It's a step above tolerance and a step below love. It has been proven remarkably beneficial for the health and well-being of your body, mind, and soul. Kindness can be exuded by anyone, to anyone. You can demonstrate it to friends and strangers alike. You can even extend kindness to your enemies. Likewise, it can be given to those with whom you don't agree with politically, who profess different creeds, hail from a different background, and even those who are from a different social status.
In this age of putting forth a tough guise, often for the sake of perceived self-preservation, we tend to regard kindness as weakness. President Franklin Roosevelt echoed Gibran’s wisdom when he said, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.”
Just as there is a broad definition of kindness, it’s similarly worth noting that the term neighbor doesn’t exclusively apply to the people on your block. Perhaps a more fitting word would be community. Neighbors include the people who are often overlooked: the shut-ins, the sick, the single mom, the widow or widower, the homesick college student, the veteran, the first responder. Nobody is immune to the seasonal effects on the heart and mind that tend to accompany winter — especially in particularly polarizing times.
Consider carving out a little time to make a phone call, sending a handwritten letter or card, or a little thoughtful item to someone in your community. If you’re a bit more extroverted, ask somebody out for a cup of coffee or invite an overlooked friend to dinner. Even the simplest act can make a meaningful impact. For example, if you see somebody in the grocery store, go out of your way to say hello and genuinely inquire how that person is doing. Smile and say hello to the stranger you pass on the street. Just as the definitions of kindness and neighbor are broad, so too are the ways you can, as the proverb says, warm the winter months for someone.
Take advantage of these remaining winter months to master the art of giving someone a portion of your heart rather than a piece of your mind. There’s plenty of noise in the world. As the classic song goes, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. No, not just for some, but for every one of us.”
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