--"A Christmas Carol", Charles Dickens, 1843
A few weeks ago I was in a local downtown on a frenetic Friday afternoon, the first Friday of the holiday shopping season. After fifteen frustrating minutes of driving in circles, I finally spied a perfect parking spot. BOO-YAH! And it was right in front of my destination! I zipped my tiny subcompact Honda in just so, only to realize I had cut off a woman in a big huge SUV; she'd been waiting to park in the same space. I hadn't seen her. I stole her coveted place. She angrily backed her car up, really fast, to another spot.
"She's probably ready to go all road rage on me," I thought, "maybe even turn around and plow right over my diminutive little car!" I imagined newspaper headlines, leads on the 11 o'clock news. LOCAL PASTOR ASSAULTED BY IRATE DRIVER! ANNOYING CLOWN CAR CRUSHED BY LAND YACHT!
I exited my car to find her, only to see a seething visage behind a tightly closed window. She was not happy. I smiled. She lowered the barrier between us and before she could say anything, I apologized. "Oh boy, I am so sorry! I had no idea that you were waiting--I didn't see you...that was incredibly rude of me! SORRY!" Her scowl melted into a grin. She shrugged. We laughed. "Don't worry about it," she said. "No harm."
A hard outcome averted.
That's what can happen when we humans soften our hearts instead of acting hard of heart. I could have easily walked away, even done a little parking space victory dance! It all depended upon whether or not I chose to be hard or soft in the moment. Cruel or kind. Unthinking or thoughtful.
I'm no saint. I can be as quick and cutting as anyone else but lately, in seeing how hard our world has become, I want to be a softer person in 2018. Softer. Soft of heart. Quick to forgive and also accept responsibility when I am wrong. Less focused on winning; more focused on living well with others. Wiser in knowing when to just keep my mouth shut, zip it, when tempted to retort with a snarky comeback.
It's sobering to realize how much more compassionate our collective life could be on earth if we were less like Scrooge and more like Santa. Live with an open heart, and not close our hearts: all to protect egos or gain the upper hand or get our backs up or be "right", comity and community be damned.
To be soft. To be hard. How will we live in the new year?
Because we are living in hard times. When our government swiftly passes a $1.5 trillion tax cut but can't find a place in its heart to fully fund the Children's Health Insurance Program, that provides health care for 9 million kids in the United States. Couldn't find disaster relief funds either, for Puerto Rico, Texas, California or Florida. Am I the only one who sees Scrooge in this hard hearted neglect?
Hard times: as social media overflows with vitriol and vexation, political diatribes and partisan squabbling. That's life in cyberspace so often: hard. Mean. Sharp. Where kids get bullied and folks get shamed and the worst of humanity pops up on a newsfeed or is tweeted out by "adults" acting like petulant toddlers.
I'm not quite sure how we got to be so hard in our world. Fear makes us hard. Fear of "the other", of rapid social change, of the future. Fear that there isn't "enough" for me--like a parking space. Leadership matters. Hard hearted leaders inspire hard hearted followers. Greatness trumps goodness.
These days it can be hard not to be hard. But always, we choose.
So here's a resolution for 2018: soften up. Soften your heart. Open your hands. Look for the best in others. Remember we are all in this life together and when we are soft with each other, the journey is always better. God knows we all need a little mercy, even when we steal a parking spot.
Scrooge had a change of heart by the end of "A Christmas Carol". "[Scrooge] became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him."
May God bless us, everyone, in 2018: with soft hearts for a hard world.