I spent some time at St. Mary's Hospital in Decatur this fall, and it really made me feel good.

No, they didn't give me any meds to make me say that. And my lobotomy's been postponed until after the first of the year.

Someone I know was there a couple of days -- I'll forego the details -- so I had a chance to check out the gift shop, cafeteria and the hospital in general.

One of the things that really struck me was that every employee I met in the hallways, waiting rooms, etc., offered me a friendly smile and cordial greeting.

These folks didn't know me. They didn't know why I was there. They smiled anyway. That was so nice.

Don't misunderstand me -- this isn't to take anything away from our local hospital. Folks are friendly there, too, in my experience. I just haven't been out to Sarah Bush Lincoln for a while, which is fine, because that usually means I have an appointment for myself, and I'd just as soon not need any extra "maintenance" on this ol' body.

But I digress.

With Christmas almost here, I was thinking about this experience at St. Mary's, and wondering why we all don't act that way all the time.

This is a great time of year, when everyone's focused on the magic of the holiday -- or, at least, the joy of an extra day or two off work -- and most of us are a little kinder to each other.

People buy a meal for a military service member in a restaurant. They pay for someone else's order in line at a fast food place. They say, "No, please, you go ahead," in line at the store, and they leave an extra tip for that hard-working waitress at their favorite eatery.

Drivers seem to chill out a little and hold on to their patience longer. Family and friends get in touch and share good tidings (definition of "tidings": news, information).

A friend of mine was just telling me about a conversation she had with co-workers, and some of them had made kind gestures such as inviting an elderly person eating alone in a restaurant to join their group. They guessed -- and probably rightly so -- that the person might be lonely and away from family and friends, and enjoy the companionship of others.

That is a really sweet idea.

I often eat meals alone in this restaurant or that, but I don't mind. I'm usually mulling something over in my brain and need the peace and quiet to concentrate. But then that's me, and perhaps I'm one of a kind (to which the world heaves a collective sigh of relief).

But it's so nice that more and more people are looking around and seeing what good they can do for others in this world.

That's what Christmas is about -- giving, and love, as our Savior loves us.

What we all ought to make as our New Year's resolution is to keep that trend going all year, not just at Christmas. It seems like they do that at St. Mary's, so it's not like it can't happen. We all just need to think about it more.

The poorest among us can give one of the most valuable things in the world to another human being: a smile, or a kind word, or some other courtesy. It's free, and just think how such a simple gesture can make your day.

Before the time passes us, I'd like to encourage folks to give some pocket change and more to good causes, specifically the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign. Dec. 23 is the last day to support this specific effort of the season, so you've got time.

The Salvation Army of Coles and Cumberland Counties' annual Red Kettle fundraising campaign helps the Salvation Army provide assistance and programs for families in financial need, including an after-school program, as the JG-TC has reported this month.

The goal this year is $70,000 locally, so when you hear that bell and see that red kettle, find some cash to add to the cause. More information about the Red Kettle campaign is available by calling the Salvation Army at 217-234-3915.

Personally, I've had a lot of fun over the years when giving to others at Thanksgiving, Christmas and any time of year. I've known families down on their luck and left bags of groceries anonymously at their doorsteps. I never knew the "results" of my act of kindness, and that was OK. I just love doing nice things for other people -- but if you look at it this way, it's actually just me being selfish. It makes me feel good, so giving is good for me, too.

But I'll tell you, that's the most fun shopping that I've ever had -- picking out gifts for others.

My nieces and nephews are at the age now that they prefer cash, so some of the gift-giving fun is gone. But I take advantage of holiday sales and specials to buy myself new clothes, for example. If I can't buy material goods for others, by golly I'll treat myself.

Seriously, though, truly the best feeling is giving to others. Start with a smile every day, and if you're able, offer some necessary material things and money to people in need. Find some time to volunteer -- almost all of us can give the gift of our time, even if we aren't able to help others monetarily.

My usual gift to everyone is a hug or a handshake -- receiver's choice -- for Christmas. Our office is open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, and I'm typically in by 9, so you've got some time before the holiday to pick up your gift from me. Just remember: As my psychologist friend Dianne says, a person needs three to four hugs a day for good mental health. So be sure you give out some hugs, too, to help your fellow man.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all lots of gifts and money and material goods to brag about to your friends.

Oops. I'm sure to get coal in my stocking for saying that.

Well, there's always next year.

***

Folks at the Charleston Area Dog Club were kind enough to point out an error in my column last week. I certainly don't want to give you incorrect information.

The community's dog park is located behind the Masonic Temple on Lincoln Avenue. The area I had mentioned by the Rotary pool is the exercise area that is part of the club's training facility with access limited to class participants and club members.

My bad for getting the two confused.

Penny Weaver is the associate publisher and editor of the JG-TC. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of the JG-TC. Contact her at pweaver@jg-tc.com or 217-238-6863, and follow her on Twitter @PennyWeaver.

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