When my children were younger, we spent a few years homeschooling. Class started promptly at 7:30 am, in our pajamas, after we had gathered and scrambled some eggs from our free-range backyard chickens. I knew that the arrangement was temporary, and that these few extra years with my children at home were a gift that I did not want to waste. While I had always been their teacher, the role took on new meaning as I worked to create a curriculum that would inspire passion, kindness and creativity while imparting the skills they’d need to assimilate into a traditional classroom one day.
I considered my priorities. As an English major, I wanted them to crave beautiful language and stories the way I always had. As a lover of science, I wanted them to wonder how everything works, from the creation of the universe to the infinite reaches of their own minds. As a mother, I wanted them to understand the power they have in this world, and to use it well. I knew that the habits and values we form in our youth are often the most lasting.
I began collecting quotes, scriptures and verses of poetry that inspire kindness and courage. Each morning as we nibbled our toast we worked to memorize one. We learned about Nelson Mandela, who said, “We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.” We talked about Ghandhi, who taught, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” We read Aesop’s Fables and learned, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
Every week we talked about someone new, someone who used this one life we’re all given to make a difference in this world, and as we went about our day we looked for opportunities to “be the change”. Soon we’d made a habit of picking up stray trash at the playground, thanking our cashiers, and smiling and making eye contact with those we meet. We learned to watch out for new members of our groups and to invite them into our circles. We looked for those who were struggling and learned to ask, “How can I help?”
In first grade my daughter returned to public school. One day her teacher told me that they’d read a book about Helen Keller in class, and that London had shared from memory Keller’s famous words, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” I explained our homeschool devotional. “Well, it worked,” she said. “I’ve noticed that. She’s always watching. If someone is getting picked on or left out, she takes care of it.” All those words we’d learned were still there, in her mind as well as in her heart.
During this holiday season, we become more focused on serving others. Up to 88% of those who make charitable donations each year do so during the holidays. In addition to money, many individuals and families donate gifts and food to homeless shelters and needy neighbors. Others give of their time, serving in soup kitchens, caroling at nursing homes or collecting packages for soldiers stationed abroad. We recognize how blessed we are, and we search for ways to share those blessings with others.
On the heels of this season of giving we begin to contemplate the year to come. We imagine ourselves thinner, wealthier and more accomplished. We set goals and make resolutions and consider deeply the people we want to become. For many, giving is a cherished Christmas tradition, but imagine how powerful it would be if this tradition became a habit, a way of living that infused our lives every day of the year. How could you transform your own life, and the lives of those around you? As you write your resolutions for the new year, consider how in the accumulated small moments that are available to every one of us every day, it is in your hands to “be the change” and make a difference.