How often do we find ourselves discussing how we could extend the Christmas spirit all year-long — artificially create an environment that allows people to be more civil, more generous, and kinder in every way? It is a question that Dr. Seuss, aka Theodore Geisel, certainly tackled in his classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I have loved this holiday special since I was old enough to snuggle into my father’s lap to watch it on the black and white console in our living room… back when the television had so much wood it qualified as furniture. But, it was not until recently, that I think I fully understood the miracle that expanded the Grinch’s heart three times its original size.
It seems obvious that it wasn’t just the magic of Christmas Day — at least, not Christmas as defined as a date on the calendar or all the trappings — the paper, the packages, the slab of Roast Beast — that made him put that sleigh down and head back to Whoville. I don’t even think it was all the Whos gathered in the town square — singing and celebrating — despite the fact that everything had just been stripped from them.
But it occurs to me…in a weird and wonderful way… the Grinch did the Whos a favor by taking their presents, their feast, even the tinsel-laden trees — because it made it easier for them and us — to understand what it is that allows us to transcend the more negative expression of human nature for at least one day of the year.
Perhaps, the essential ingredient that creates that “holiday feeling” — that inspires us to be those people who exemplify the Christmas spirit, like the Whos — is found in the hand clasps themselves as each individual Who took their place in the circle. It is in the simplicity and the brilliance of the human relationship to give of oneself that caused the Grinch’s heart to expand and his will to be bent toward love and away from intolerance and hate.
After all, Mother Teresa once said, “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” And that undoubtedly is true.
But if we focus only on the giver — we overlook that the transformation, the miracle, really happens — in the receiving.
My recent gift of cancer has helped me to see this in a very real and concrete way. When a friend arrives with a platter of cookies or kettle of soup, as the receiver of that bounty, I can assure you that it is not the gift of food that really matters; rather, it the gift of time, effort, and labor that the cookies merely represent that touches my heart. When my neighbor arrives with his plow and his daughter takes the iron shovel to my steps, the enduring gift that will linger long after the snow has evaporated into the spring mist, is that they have left the security of their hearth and taken time from their family to unselfishly give to mine. When someone thinks to send a text, write a card, or call…the fact that they have stopped their busy lives to connect with me — to clasp my hand, if you will — is precious beyond belief.
It is humbling. And only a humble heart can be filled…and in the filling, just like the Grinch’s, it expands.
That moment of transformation — when two individuals standing in their own separate space meld into a force united in strength and resolve — begins with one solitary soul offering their hand…
But, the transaction is complete, only if the other soul is willing to accept.
The gift is not the cookies, the card, or the clean driveway…no, the real secret of giving is uncovered when we examine what all that giving does to the receiver’s heart.
For you see, the more I am given…the more I wish to give in return. And so, the relationship of giving and receiving continues…from one to the other.
“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart.”
― Brené Brown
I have not always been good at accepting help. I certainly have not always been comfortable with requesting it. However, sometimes, life presents you with situations where you have no other option. Learning to ask and accept help has been transforming for me…I certainly don’t feel deserving. It makes me ponder what I have to offer in return. It has opened my eyes and my heart in the most unexpected way.
Have you ever offered to help someone only to have them turn away? It is devastating to stand before another with an overflowing and willing heart and be denied. In the end, perhaps, the most selfless act we can perform, is when we graciously accept an outstretched hand and allow our hand to be enveloped in theirs.
In the end, the Grinch was given the gift of love — in all its manifestations — a smile, a kind gesture, and a hug when he fully expected, and to his mind “deserved,” to be pushed away. When he, and his gift-laden sleigh, careened into town…how did he expect to be received? We can only imagine. But, to all our surprise, no fingers are pointed, the police are not called; instead, the Grinch is given a seat at the head of the table.
The greatest recipient that day was not the community of Whoville…even when the Grinch tossed the presents back into their outstretched Who-arms. The title of this tale is deceiving — it wasn’t Christmas that was saved that day after all; I mean, the Whos never forgot for a minute that they were strongest when standing side by side, hand in hand, in good times and bad. It was the Grinch who was saved that day. Saved from a life of isolation filled with mistrust, anger, and envy…and welcomed into a community of generosity, trust, and love.
The Grinch is a lot like life: whether in the form of loss, sorrow, disease — even death — it can strip us down to just the wires hanging on the walls. But, maybe, just maybe…when all the trappings are ripped away and we should justifiably be utterly in despair…only then is it possible to see that all the living and the dying can be boiled down to just giving and receiving… and “standing hand in hand…” And in that realization, we transform our lives from small and pinched…to expansive and inclusive. That’s the moment that changes us forever… and its repercussions far exceed December 25.
Maybe, that’s how we can make the Christmas spirit last all year-long.
“Welcome Christmas. Bring your cheer,
Cheer to all Whos, far and near.
Christmas Day is in our grasp
So long as we have hands to grasp.
Christmas Day will always be
Just as long as we have we.
Welcome Christmas while we stand
Heart to heart and hand in hand.”