Are you racking your brain wondering what to give the strangers in your life this holiday season? It is a conundrum. You don’t want to appear cheap or make them feel as if they have to honor you with a gift (although wouldn’t that be nice). So here are a few ideas that won’t break your budget. In fact, many of them are free:
Be kind. It costs nothing to be nice to harried store clerks, tired baristas and servers, parking place thieves (you know who you are; don’t pretend you didn’t see my signal), and the shivering woman ringing that incessant bell for the Salvation Army.
Be aware. Instead of glaring at the mother with a drooling baby on one hip, a toddler tugging at her coat, and a noisy four-year-old playing a carrot like a trumpet in the vegetable aisle, look around you. Take a peek at the number she is clutching in her hand at the meat counter. Is it higher than yours? Offer to switch. “I’ve got all day,” you say. “Go ahead and take the last beef kabob (the very one you were eyeing for dinner). Children and trumpet players need their protein.”
Give a tree a hug. In his poem, “Things I Didn’t Know I Loved,” Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet lists things he had let pass by without honoring them with the proper attention: clouds, river, rain, the sky, the stars, trees. Nature needs a bit of love every once in awhile too. Maybe your greatest gift to Nature could be simply noticing her. Sure, she gets our attention when she throws a hurricane at us or knocks the ground out from under us with an earthquake. But what about the everyday moment of awe and gratitude for putting up with us thoughtless creatures?
Be patient. With everyone. With the rushers, the malingerers, the dawdlers, the inept, the slow, the fast, the rude. During this season, the clocks tick faster than at any other time of the year. I’m sure that has been scientifically proven by someone familiar with equations and formulas. Anyway, people feel this quirk in time, and some simply do not respond well.
Throw people a bone. Compliments, even ones that aren’t entirely true, are an inexpensive present. Tell a stranger on the bus how lovely she looks today or that you like his smile. Tell the guy putting up those horrible inflatable Christmas decorations on every square inch of his yard and projecting those revolving, dizzy-making snowflakes on the side of his house that he “certainly is in the spirit.”
Open your pocketbook. For those with a little extra change, there are so many ways to give monetarily to strangers. Go to Charity Navigator to get ideas, contact information, and assessments of charities. (Do they spend a big chunk of their money on “administration” and not enough on those who need it?) Find a group and a mission that resonate with you. Buy a llama for a farmer in a far-off land. Feed children in war-torn countries. Help women who walk miles a day carrying water for their families.
Share love. Recently at the zoo, while watching the sharks circle below us in the discovery pool, my 1-year-old granddaughter reached over to the little girl beside her—a complete stranger—and tapped her on the nose. “Boop,” my granddaughter said with a smile. The adult stranger and the child stranger gave me a puzzled look. “She just said I love you,” I explained. The adult stranger said, “Ahhh” and laughed. So go ahead and boop a stranger, if you think they won’t mind, but I would not boop the sharks.
Tis the season. And if you can think of ways to stretch this time of giving into the rest of the year, please do so. The world is full of strangers, and every one of them needs the occasional gift or boop.