FAITHFUL LIVING: Avoid hassles and everyone will enjoy holidays more

When I was 15 and a ninth grader at Balboa Junior High, I served as a yearbook editor. I enjoyed the creative process and hanging out with my staff. I liked the yearbook advisor as well.

While we privately giggled about our faculty sponsor due to his short, almost elf-like appearance — appropriately complemented by a head of flaming red hair and matching beard — we defended him against any unkind comments we heard out in the halls because he was filled with the enthusiasm and energy of a first-year teacher and he liked us in return.

Mr. Lehman was also a newlywed. One particular afternoon, as we typed and pasted and horsed around, the office secretary alerted Mr. Lehman over the intercom that his wife wished to speak to him. Although we had never met her, we knew she was a teacher at another school in the district, and we sent him on his way that afternoon dashing out the door amid catcalls and whistles.

Minutes later our faithful leader returned with a furrowed brow and a look of concern washed across his face. In silence we listened as he reacted to his conversation with a brief monologue of his own.

“Kids,” he announced, “if there’s one thing I want you to take away from me it’s this: It’s rarely the big things that’ll cause you the greatest amount of frustration in your life. I’ll be the small things. So don’t sweat the small stuff. And when you’re the most irritated, choose a good attitude, instead. You’ll be a lot happier for it and so will everyone else!”

With that Mr. Lehman headed into the back room to think it through while we continued with our yearbook page designing.

Nearly three decades later I am reminded of that simple childhood experience as I contemplate the short 2002 holiday season. There are, in fact, 6 fewer days than we enjoyed last year and I can already feel the intensity in the air when I shop. I see people buried in their lists and annoyed by the narrow aisles. They tire of the crowds and frustrate even further when progress at a check out line stalls because the computer will not scan a price code.

Now is the time, perhaps above all other times during the year, to choose gentleness, care, and cheer. To do so may mean we will need to adjust some of our natural expectations of ourselves as well as those who play a role in our holiday experiences. After all, who wants to get everything crossed off the list but spend the entire time feeling impatient, stressed, and unhappy?

Americans like speedy transactions and when things do not happen quickly it causes great irritation. Not only that, but we set ourselves up for a blow-up because we do not pace ourselves. How easy it is to over-commit and over-spend while underestimating the time and energy necessary to accomplish all we think we must do to have a good holiday.

While magnificently decorated trees, snow-covered mountains, a hot bath and a cup of tea can soothe even the most uptight among us, we often forget to pace ourselves and enjoy the moment. We decide we simply have no time to drive through nearby neighborhoods to look at Christmas decorations. Instead we push when we are hungry and tired. We do not want to miss a thing so we schedule back-to-back activities that allow for no down time. Then when we feel irritated, we are far more inclined to unload — especially over those we love and care for the most.

As we approach what is sure to be a hectic holiday season, let’s make a serious and private vow here and now; let’s go with the flow and choose to be respectful and kind in the face of sudden, irritating, unpredictable inconveniences. Let’s take a chance and experience what it feels like to reach out and soothe the hurt feelings of wait staff members, checkers, receptionists and the host of others tasked to deal with holiday- crazed crowds.

Let’s record holiday specials for later viewing and go to bed earlier. Let’s set aside quiet time for planning and budgeting. Let’s eat regularly, bring a book when all we can do is wait and listen to our favorite holiday music. Let’s not bring the kids when they are tired and hungry. Instead, let’s trade babysitting services with friends and shop by ourselves. Let’s avoid waiting to the last minute and stay clear of situations we know will cause stress, choosing to live faithfully and well this holiday season.

Freelance writer Joan Bay Klope’s e-mail address is

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