What givesThis time of year is always one of the most reflective for me. Having spent a few weeks before Thanksgiving thinking about all the things I am grateful for, I spend the beginning of December watching the world prepare for Christmas.

Just like when I was their age, the kids in my life are making their lists full of the latest gadgets and toys that they would like to call their own, and reminding their parents that they have been good all year. And because they are kids, Christmas is at least somewhat about what Santa is going to bring them and remembering to leave a carrot out for Rudolf along with the cookies and milk.

Many friends and relatives are searching cookbooks and the internet, planning the menu to prepare the perfect holiday meal, while also trying to coordinate how they are going to see every relative this season. And everyone is busy, trying to get it all done. Last minute presents to buy. One more card to write.

I know myself well enough to know that I don’t do well with stress like that, and for my own sanity, I try not to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, even though people who can manage to pull off all the details like that have my utmost respect.

There is an ongoing struggle in my life that has been with me since I was very young. I haven’t yet figured out how to feel okay about it. Because I am so dependent on other people to meet some of my day to day needs, I worry that all I do is “take” and that none of my relationships are equal. Since that is the case, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about what I can give.

If I was a billionaire, the list might be different. Giving a whole lot of stuff to the people in my life isn’t really an option for me, at least at this point. But I know the value of a smile when I am having a less than stellar day. I know how much I appreciate it when someone looks me in the eye and takes the time to acknowledge what I am saying. I try to do the same. Often, I share with my caregivers specific ways that I feel respected so they hopefully can do those things as they work with people with disabilities in the future. And if a friend happens to be going through a hard time, I do my best to check in and offer to listen. I’ve been known to send lots of emails and messages to people I care about wishing them a good day or saying something that allows them to chuckle. It’s also important to me to say thank you when I have received some help that I have asked for.

The last time I went inside to get food at McDonald’s, I took a few dollars from my purse and bought lunch for a guy who was there. Who knows if he was homeless? I didn’t ask. But he certainly appreciated the gesture. And even though I didn’t know his story, I felt better knowing that whatever he was going through, he wouldn’t be hungry for a few hours. All of that may not be much, but I hope the effort makes a difference to some people.

One of my favorite quotes is from Edward Everett Hale, and I have mentioned it on this blog before. from Edward Everest Hale is an American poet and historian.

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.

Typically, the first few weeks of December are stressful for most of the people in my world. For my caregivers, classes are winding down and finals are just around the corner. I wouldn’t go through that again even if someone paid me. Other friends of mine have little kids in Christmas pageants and who have classroom Christmas parties at school, as well as the endless baking and wrapping of gifts they do at home. And in years past, all of that stress has meant that sometimes people are harried and a bit short with me. This year, I will slow down and I will have as much patience with them as I can muster. I will do my best not to react negatively.

And as I ask them how I might be able to help I will also ask myself one important question.

What gives?