"Here we go again!" one man said to his friend as he walked into the store. "I hate this time of year!" his friend replied.
As I walked up to the pizza counter I heard a different take on this. A woman and a younger girl just picked up their food. "You get the napkins. This is important stuff. We can't waste a second, we've got some serious shopping to do!" the woman said. The young girl looked at me, smiled and said. "We live for this time of year!"
It is, without a doubt, one of the most joyful and greatly anticipated times. Beginning with Thanksgiving and concluding on New Year's Day, many look forward to spending time with family and friends, shopping, gift giving and getting, and yes, eating until they can't eat any more.
Many do not.
It is also one of the most depressing times for those who are alone or for whatever reason, are separated from those they love. It was with that in mind I set out to find what people wanted from the holidays, not what they expected.
The first answer I got was, "I want to be left alone!" One woman said, "I did my time for years raising kids and taking care of a husband. This is my time to do what I want to do, when I want to do it."
I spoke with one lady in the local mall while we were both looking at some of the latest gadgets on sale. "I guess you're shopping early, like I am. Do you look forward to the holidays?" I asked.
"Yes, I do," she replied.
"What do you want the most out of the holidays?" I asked. She went on to list a dozen things like family, food, music, etc. For the most part it went on like this throughout my conversations with perfect strangers.
Frankly, I was disappointed until I met Steve. Out of all the people I selected, I really expected this one to be pretty cut-and-dried.
He appeared to be a businessman. Clean, polished and spit-shined from his expensive suit to his sharply styled haircut, he looked like someone who would say, "I just want to get the holidays over with so we can get on with business."
Instead he offered up the most remarkable conversation. "Right now there are people facing the most difficult challenges of their lives.
"Some are losing their homes. Some are wondering where the next meal will come from. Others worked hard all of their lives, retired, and their investments dried up in the market," he said. He had my attention. "There is a quiet suctioning of hope in the world. Every night I get on my knees and pray for them. They get up every morning to negative thoughts of defeat and the feeling of being powerless. I pray that they awaken to something positive. That they can stand tall on the promise of what they see as hope fading. That's no way to begin a day. Negative steps cause destructive falls."
He then reached over and placed his hand on my shoulder. Looking at me face to face, he said, "All I ask is to be somewhere where eyes know me, hands welcome me, and hearts warm me." That's what I was looking for. What more could anyone ask? Take away the over-eating, the extravagant presentation, the high expectations for this time of year and see this truth.
If you are among those struggling with the approaching holidays, learn from this man. It is the eyes that know you, the hands that hold you and the hearts that love you that will carry you through darkness, lift you above it, or protect you from it. I wish you enough.