Dear Friends, While I was out walking the dogs in the cold this morning, I noticed all of the empty flowerbeds in my neighbors' front yards. They were rather barren -- snow covered and filled with shriveled dreary looking stalks.
The beds definitely looked depressing, but, strangely, they made me think about something quite happy. These particular flower beds were all oriented toward the street. In a neighborhood where a lot of people park in the alley, I realized that these flower beds are meant for "the public." This isn't unique to my neighborhood, I have seen front yard flower beds all over the world. A lot of work (and time and money) goes into beautifying the front of someone's house that is seen much more often by passersby like me, than by the person doing or paying for the work.
In the past I hadn't thought much about these public beds, and when I did I assumed that people were just trying to "look good." But this morning, I thought about another possibility. Perhaps these beds, and the lovely plants and flowers that would someday be blooming there, are a freely given offering to the random people walking by. People don't normally stand outside their homes handing out free money or even flowers, but a front yard flower bed is just that - a gift for strangers. Even holiday lights are a kind of gift for the rest of us too.
We just came out of the season of giving (I almost put "giving" in quotes, but that seemed too cynical.) In the past I have complained about the amount of buying we are supposed to do during Christmas, and our over-focus on the quantity of gifts that need to be under the tree. This year, I found solace in the quality of giving rather than the quantity. Each of our four kids, newly out of the nest, came home this year with very thoughtfully selected gifts for each other member of the family. They were so excited to be giving to each other, that there was fighting over whose gifts could be opened first. Not who gets to open gifts first, but whose gifts get opened first.
My holiday cynicism melts a little when I remember their excitement to give-- not so different from my neighbors' flower bed offerings. The poet Hafiz so beautifully describes our deep desire to connect in this way:
Admit something: Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me." -- Hafiz
I read an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about a 2014 study which found that when we connect with strangers (the Dalai Lama says he never meets anyone he considers a stranger) on the train or in waiting rooms, rather than ignoring everyone (as I usually do) it actually increases our sense of well-being. The Buddha already knew this:
“If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way.” -- The Buddha
So maybe that's what it's all about -- connection. We are already giving freely to others. It may be as simple as a smile or wave to a neighbor as you pass her house or offering to bring someone at the office a cup of coffee. And maybe it's just me, but I was a little bit inspired by remembering this... It made me want to plant a front yard garden.