(photo Lorie Sheffer)
Sometimes we can get so caught up in trying to advocate with the intent to make positive change that we miss the larger picture.
I think this comes into especially sharp focus during the holiday season.
I recently made what I thought was a lighthearted joke about the latest bandwagon cause, The Great Thanksgiving Day Retail Debate. I commented that I would gladly go work behind a register if someone would come clean my house, spend days planning, shopping for and cooking the meal and then spend another day cleaning the aftermath, all while trying to keep the family waters calm for all to sail upon. The backlash was swift and furious. I “should” enjoy cooking for my family. I “should” not be tired, as making a holiday meal for 20 “should” be something I treasure. I “should” care more about my family and my job “should” be to make wonderful memories for them. I would know all of these things if my apparently lazy, ungrateful behind had ever worked in retail!
Phew! I wasn’t insulted by these words and assumptions, but I will say I was rather intrigued. How quickly people are to judge a total stranger instead of stepping back to look at what may be a much more complicated issue.
I spent several years working in retail, helping my friend with her rather busy small business. And yes, I worked both Black Friday and Christmas Eve. After being a stay at home mom, it was fun to get out into the adult world and have some extra money to spend on little treats outside of our normal budget. All that ended when my husband had a massive brain hemorrhage. For the past 20 years, my life has gone from one caretaking role to another, ranging from physical and speech therapy, to 10 years of full time care giving for our grandson, to several years of assisting my elderly parents. I have changed infected surgical wounds and colostomy bags, and I have loaded my car with full holiday meals and transported them across town. I’ve attending funerals and settled estates and cleaned out a hoarded house. I’m fine, and things are good, and I am grateful, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t have days where I am exhausted, both mentally and physically. And yes, I have days where I think back to the simple pleasure of working in that retail shop. I haven’t had even a weekend vacation in almost 10 years, so mental vacations have been an indulgence of mine. Using humor to deal with stress has been incredibly helpful.
I’m not telling my own story for any purpose other than to make a simple point. If I was judged and the rude comments flew at me for what I said, then I know for certain I am not the only one who has been verbally beaten. I am fine, but someone else may not be so strong. The holiday season isn’t always the warm and fuzzy time of boundless cheer for all. There are folks who may be mourning loss, dealing with financial strain, or carrying heavy burdens they choose to keep private. Handing them a list of “shoulds” is probably not the gift they had been hoping for. In fact, the absence of kindness and abundance of judgment may well end up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.