We had the pleasure of spending this Christmas in a small town in Maine. We have been going there for years and are always reminded that Maine really is the perfect place to celebrate a holiday. Maine originally started out as part of the colony of Massachusetts but war debts from the American Revolution came close to bankrupting the Commonwealth. The financial cure for this was selling off grants of land to raise cash. Add to the mix that Mainers were fierce abolitionists who clashed with Massachusetts residents when it came to the topic of slavery and further friction was created by what Mainers felt was a lack of support during the war of 1812. This finally led to Maine’s becoming a separate state in 1820. Mainers are independent people. But I digress.
Christmas Eve in a town of 2600 people reminded me of what we enjoy about community. Setting out on a shopping mission with my list in hand, I was struck by the over the top friendliness of the man behind the counter at the ski shop. He went way out of his way to be incredibly accommodating at 2PM on Christmas Eve, likely one of his busier days of the year. Next came the pharmacy, with busy lines of last minute shoppers, yet everyone was truly in the Christmas spirit. A fellow on the way out the door dropped his wallet at the entrance. A customer noticed it, tried to catch the wallet owner who was just pulling out of the parking lot. The finder brought the wallet back in the store to give to the cashier, but remembered the name of the local business on the wallet owner’s jacket. At that moment, a FedEx delivery man, who was certainly in the middle of the busiest day of his year said, “I’ll swing by the business and let them them know that their employee’s wallet is here”. In a matter of seconds, everyone pitched in and secured the situation and the solution. There was no question that the wallet and its contents would be safe in the hands of the cashier, awaiting safe return to its owner.
Next, at the local supermarket, I noticed a curious thing. Though the parking lot was full, there was not a shopping cart in sight. Then I noticed customers returning carts to inside the store. They were bringing them back inside after using them! Again, on a very busy day, people were looking out for others. Inside the store, I saw a young girl with a very young puppy in her arms. I stopped to talk with her, as did any number of other customers and I was struck by how natural it seemed to have a dog inside a supermarket in Maine, and how relaxed and friendly the girl and the dog were with strangers. How very Maine!
It all underscored the very thought of Christmas. People were going out of their way to be nice to one another, regardless of their rush. It wasn’t one or two people, it was most everyone I met. People in small towns take time and make time for each other. They smile and greet people they don’t even know. They bring the cart back for the next person. They pay it forward in my number of ways. Small gestures add up.
I took away two feelings from Christmas Eve that I was determined to bring to Christmas and into the new year, 1) gratitude for all that we are fortunate to have and 2) empathy - find the way to walk in the shoes of others and not let our polarized society push us apart.
My afternoon had started to feel like any one of the Christmas movies that play this time of year, but it was an unscripted collection of genuine human interaction, sure to warm the heart of even a skeptical Scrooge. Gratitude and empathy....what better ways with which to start the New Year? I’ll take two scoops of each! Thank you!