Shine Bright

by Susannah Cowley

My favorite part of the holiday season is the lights.  I love how the whole world seems to light up even when it’s night.  Streets and rooms that once seemed to be dark all of the sudden radiate and shine for all to see.  However, I not only love the visible lights that are hung, but I also especially love the way these lights encourage each of us to be a little more cheery, a little more giving, and to shine a little brighter.
This year was a little different of a holiday season for me as it was my first year being away from home for the holiday season.  I anxiously awaited reunion with my family and the opportunity to celebrate with them, but I found myself spending the month of December in a dorm room with finals looming overhead and seemingly no holiday cheer in the air.  Growing up in Phoenix, I always thought that snow would make Christmas even better, that not living in a climate where snow fell detracted from the magic of Christmas.  However, snow fell on campus and it still didn’t feel quite like Christmas.  I was confused–why wasn’t Christmas showing up at my door and bringing me cheer? Soon I realized that my perspective was totally skewed.  The holiday spirit is an attitude, and it can be so easy to find if you look for it.  Without the distraction of the TV commercials and endless ads for gifts, and without as many programmed opportunities to celebrate the holidays as there were at home, I was left with a more raw visibility of the joy that is spread and felt during this special season.  I knew that I needed to stop being sad about not being home for the holidays and start to shine for others who were probably feeling the same way.  Some friends and I went Christmas caroling at a couple of rest homes, we made snowflakes together and decorated our dorm rooms, and each day we would try to find ways to bring the holiday spirit to someone who needed it.  I started to notice the little things that people did for each other, and the big things too (like when an angel woman gave me a free Snickerdoodle hot chocolate on a really hard day–what a blessing!) Every time I witnessed an act of holiday cheer, it made me want to do more.
The one thing that I have noticed is the way that this holiday spirit should really last throughout the year.  We shouldn’t need a holiday to encourage us to love a little more and be a little kinder.  My mom has a sign in our home in Arizona that reads “Kindness Matters” and I really think that the key to a happy life and a better world is truly simple acts of kindness.  I know that the people who read this blog already live very “distinguished” lives of service and kindness or are striving to, but when I think about all of the turmoil and hardship going on in the world, I can only think of how much of a difference it would make if more people just heard the simple message of “kindness matters.”  Kindness lifts you and others up together, it doesn’t make you weaker.  It brings compassion, respect, and empathy and will light up the world all through the year, not just during December.  So, I challenge each of you to make a conscious effort to brighten someone’s day each day this week.  It can be as small as a smile or as big as volunteering with the Salvation Army.  You can light up someone’s day.  It doesn’t matter who you are or how capable you think you are.  One of my favorite quotes says “to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world.” Let us change the world one person at a time throughout this holiday season and the whole year.

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