I’m no stranger to cynicism about many aspects of life, and I don’t mind making light of matters folks consider sacred. What keeps me from being completely jaded about living, however, is being conscious of and receptive to the notion of goodness. For me, goodness is defined by selfless acts of kindness and decency, intentional efforts to renew the human element and re-create the human connection.
I firmly believe that no one has to do anything they’d rather not do. Sure, life offers incentives for folks to make this choice or that choice, but altruism is never really a given. You can’t rest comfortably at night assured that someone would help pull you up if you ever needed it. You can hope, but there’s no guarantee. I know people who make an active choice every day to not give one solitary fuck about their neighbor. You’re lucky and/or blessed if said reality isn’t one to which you can relate. Be grateful if you know more than one person who’ll answer your call in the wee hours of a random night. Because you got yourself something special.
It is true that no man is an island, but that fact has never stopped one from believing he is the exception to the rule. See Exhibit A below:
Tony Montana was a beast, wasn’t he!?
…And I suspect that not too deep down, many of us want to feel this grandiose just once in our lifetimes — living so large and so insulated that we buy allllll the way into our own hype.
But Tony was wrong, and his bellicose celebration of “me” ended badly, if you’ll recall. It’s hard to navigate this minefield known as life without trusting, depending on, and loving another person. People need people; we need each other.
Goodness acknowledges that fact — that we aren’t alone in this world. It bridges disparate interests, personal problems, issues, and biases. It allows me to see you, to see the dignity in you, the light in you, the hope in you. It allows us to connect.
One of my best friends is moving out of her home this week. When she moved in six years ago, she found that the previous tenants had given her her first housewarming gift — a bottle of Stoli chillin in the fridge. She plans to pay the gesture forward, leaving a bottle of something nice and a note to welcome in the new energy. Hopefully, whoever takes her place will carry the torch of Morocco by engaging in reckless intellectual debauchery, and enjoying great times with great company. Hopefully, whoever got next will continue the tradition, lengthening the chain of human connection one link and one bottle of liquor at time.
I flew to St. Louis last week to celebrate Thanksgiving with my girlfriend’s family who, I’m grateful to say, have also become my own. On my first flight, there was a little boy, Liam, whose first birthday happened to be that day. Because the family had to travel, his parents provided Rice Krispy treats for everyone on board, so that all of us could share in celebrating their son’s first year of life.
Liam ‘s parents didn’t know us, and we didn’t know him. But we clapped and cheered for him nonetheless as he deplaned. And he smiled for us. At this early stage, Liam knows little about the difficulties of life, and that’s cool. What’s cooler though, is that he now knows the feeling of collective goodwill. Liam may be only 1, but even he got how good the spirit of human connection felt.
Goodness is about being selfless for a moment. It doesn’t require that you give over every dime in your pocket, or every morsel in your fridge, or every second of your time. Rather, it is reflected in the effort you make to remember someone’s name, or the details of your friends’ stories. It is reflected in opening the door for someone, or sharing your umbrella in the rain, or looking a stranger in the eye and acknowledging her presence. It’s reflected in calling your Granny regularly, despite your “busy” schedule. And it’s reciprocal too — the law of humanity, the universe, your God, your Creator — will see to it that the goodness you give also gets back to you.
As I’ve gotten older, the holidays have become less about gifts** and Black Friday sales (I don’t yet have little ones so I’m sure that has a lot to do with it). I’ve grown to love the holiday season because this is the one time of year when folks seem to reflect on how good life can be. You look around and you’re surrounded by people you love, and who love you for no other reason than the nurtured connection among you. The concept of “family” gains new meaning and new significance because you’re blessed to have the one you were born with, and also, the one you chose.
While in St. Louis, the family got a visit from a Godmama that they hadn’t seen in two decades. The air in the house was thick with anxiety and emotion, but whatever had caused the initial separation had no place in the reunion. Misty eyes and warm smiles spoke life to everyone’s appreciation for the opportunity before them — to simply share with each other moments so special. Although I was an outsider to this history, it was easy to get caught up by the goodness that brought an extended family back together.
In that spirit this holiday season, give a gift that lasts long after the “season of giving” is gone. Give love, man. Give respect, sincerity, and genuineness. Give trust and honor. Give happiness and joy, and make yourself available for them too. Give you, man — the authentic you. Do it for Christmas, and then do it everyday.
It might hurt you Scrooges a little at first, but it gets better as you get better.
…and if you’re really good, you might get to be bad. In all the right ways.
**However: Blair, if you’re listening, that Mercedes Benz G Class would be dope with a lil purple ribbon on it, and a fresh new pocket square in the glove compartment… I’ll take it in black, please.