I live and play in Canada’s natural paradise. The Okanagan Valley of British Columbia is overflowing with orchards and vineyards. The summer air smells of ripe peaches, apples, and the minerals of lake water. The winter covers us in a duvet of snow, and the mountains call out to skiers, snowshoers, and hikers to come and play in the epic powder. It truly is a corner of heaven on earth.
When I moved to this magical place, I lived in a bliss-tinted bubble for a full year and experienced the excitement of new shiny things day in and day out. I was a bit like a dog with its head stuck out the window of the car, tongue lolling, and eyes pushed back. Everything made me salivate.
And then I began to immerse myself in the community. I was no longer a looky-loo. I commenced work as a yoga teacher and physical rehabilitation specialist. Nothing expands the nearsighted experience of a new place faster than getting involved with individuals who are struggling.
My journey to and from work took me through the less cheerful parts of the city and away from the natural playgrounds. As is the case with most urban centers, the less desirable aspects of society are white-washed and hidden from the tourist traffic. In these areas, there are shelters, soup kitchens, and lines of bedraggled humans huddled in clumps. My chest often ached while driving through this particular section of the city, especially in the biting cold of our winter. My heart attempted to split itself between the desire to alleviate all the suffering and the helplessness of it all being too much for one person.
I will admit, I looked down. I felt sorry. I avoided social contact. The division between them and me was palpable and sticky. I felt sorry for their menial existence. I pitied their simplistic needs. I was frightened of how little they desired in life. The lesser part of me breathed a sigh of relief as I exited that part of the city and drove on to my high-paying job.
As is always the case, anything which creates a discomfort of the soul within me is bound to crack me open and bring with it, a new awareness.
It was the week before Christmas. There was snow. The streets of the city were crowded, slushy, and vibrant. I was on my way to teach a free yoga class and believed I was about to perform my karmic duty for the week. Among the rushing bodies, a young man sat on the sidewalk just outside the busiest Starbucks. He was a drab human speed bump, and I ached when I saw white puffs of air rolling out of him as he breathed into his cupped hands.
“Coffee,” I thought to myself. “I will get him a coffee. Surely he’ll like that.”
I squeezed the yoga mat under my other arm, checking my watch to make sure I had time. I approached him and stooped down. “Hey brother, can I grab you a coffee?” I asked. He breathed into his hands, looked up at me and nodded. “Sure, thanks,” he told me.
As I pushed through the door into the stylish coffee shop I heard him call out, “Hey, miss!”
I turned back and knelt in front of him again. “What is it?” I asked.
“Can you make that a large caramel macchiato with whip?”
I blinked, dropped to my knee, and finally saw him for who he was -- a human with preferences and the right to ask for nice things in this world. And at that moment, I saw the part of myself I try hard to ignore. The part of me that often does not feel deserving. The part that is scared to ask for what I want.
Through tears of laughter, I told the young man, “Hell yeah! Would you like cinnamon on that too?”
“No, I don’t like cinnamon, but thanks,” he told me with a warm smile.
I was still laughing when I ordered two large caramel macchiatos with whip-cream. One with cinnamon, the other without.
This time of year, as Christmas approaches and the gap between the haves and the have-nots becomes broader, we attempt to bridge the divide by performing random acts of kindness and giving to charities, keeping those in need at arm's length. However, when we take the time to see the recipient of our charity, we might find ourselves drawn closer to one another.
This year, consider taking the time to know someone beyond their circumstances and look past your assumptions. This act of kindness might be the most extraordinary generosity you can offer to another, and yourself, this holiday season.
Melanie Maure is a writer and therapist living in B.C. who tries to live life by doing good in the world. Sometimes it works out exactly how she envisions it. Her writing appears in the Huffington Post, Elephant Journal and now in Huntsville Life Magazine. Her upcoming book Sweet Oranges and Soap will be making the rounds to publishers in the spring.