Op/Ed

Lessons in listening: Create love and community

LAURA WILKINSON

The first dusting of snow signals the beginning of a special tradition in our home: the season of “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.” For those not familiar, this Jim Henson cult classic premiered in the United States on HBO in 1978 and featured a cast of delightfully engaging muppets. The main characters are Emmet and his Ma, and the story is a sweet twist on the classic “The Gift of the Magi” story. As an unabashed child of the ’70s, this treasure lodged deep in my soul at an early age. 
Thankfully, Emmet and his jug-band friends have left a similar warmth in my daughter Ellie’s heart, and she joins me annually on our couch for numerous showings and sing-a-longs until Christmas. I suspect she doesn’t even mind the knowledge that she would have been decidedly named Emmet had she been a boy. 
This season is undoubtedly a time brimming with tradition. For the next month, many of us will indulge in the attempt to merge the best moments of our contrived memories with our present day lives. We will bake our grandmother’s cookies, hang up the 30-year-old knit stockings, and hum the tunes of our childhood, experiencing the glimmers of magic we knew in our youth. 
I have been contemplating the collective state of anticipation that occurs this time of the year, as its existence teeters in close relation to the unbeloved counterpart: expectation and disappointment. As a health coach and nurse practitioner, I am acutely aware of how one can hold the seemingly contradictory emotions of both hope and dread when describing the upcoming month. My clients and patients share their promising plans as well as their trepidation. They are wistful to reenact the traditions of years past, but acknowledge the inevitable changes of time. 
In reflection, the juxtaposition of these emotions is understandable, as the underlying longing this season is about connection and love, both of which are nothing short of complicated for many of us. Our wellbeing and good health aren’t measured in merely how many apples we eat and how many miles we walk, but is overwhelming influenced by how we live in community on both celebratory and ordinary days. Here are a few offerings that have helped me navigate this time.
TUNE INTO YOURSELF
What do you truly want this next month? What do you crave most? Often our lives are so well grooved we don’t even think to ask ourselves these questions. You are not a static being and what feeds your soul this year may be very different than last year. For 20 years, I was that person who sent over 100 holiday cards every year. I took pride in not just signing them, but writing personal messages in each and every one of them. It gave me joy. It made me feel connected. And then one year I realized that I just didn’t want to do it anymore. When I asked myself what I craved most, I was honestly surprised by my own answer. I just wanted to sing that year. I was telling a friend this and he said, “I’ll sing with you” and before I knew it, there were 50 of us, singing and playing ukuleles on a bright cold morning. 
Get quiet and ask yourself what you need most. Listen to your answer. What comes forth? Take a few minutes with a cup of tea or coffee and write it down. Honor yourself and your longing. 
LEAVE ROOM FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Over-scheduling robs the joy out of even the best planned experiences. I find the most interesting moments happen to be the in-between moments of life. It’s the unexpected conversation you have in line at the post office with an acquaintance.  It’s the different route you take home, even when it takes an extra three minutes. In these moments there is an openness to the world that is all around you, allowing you to experience life exactly as it is in its grandeur and simplicity. 
Pull out your calendars. Grab your favorite color marker and give yourself at least one night of happenstance. On a smaller scale, take a different route. Park in a different spot. Make room for the impromptu.
GIVE
If the Grinch and Scrooge haven’t convinced you yet, let me try a hand at it. We are meant to be in community and giving is a critical way for us to connect and remember that we are not alone. Our offering doesn’t have to be big, just big enough for us to feel nourished. Your gift might be your smile or truly looking someone in the eye. It might be shoveling your neighbor’s walkway. It could be a kind word or card to a co-worker or possibly a cart-full of food for the food bank. 
Give and then just notice — what does it feel like physically? I think Dr. Seuss nailed it on the head when the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes.
May your souls be grounded and your hearts warm as you create love and community this season.
Laura Wilkinson is a Nurse Practitioner and Health Coach at her new practice, Village Health. Learn more about Village Health at www.villagehealthvt.com.

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