True South

Reconciling Resolutions

Forget dropping 20 pounds. Just be nice

By Susan Kelly

My father could be depended upon for two things. One, he always, always, had a ChapStick in his pocket. At church, on a car trip, watching TV — if you’d licked your lips raw, usually in January, he had ChapStick on him. And secondly, at every opportunity, every introduction, he’d say to me, “Shake his hand hard and look him in the eye.”

Come January, you might as well look winter in the eye, too. He’s not going anywhere anytime soon. If I were still the parent of a 12-year-old, I’d say, “Deal with it.” As in:

“But the teacher hates me.”

“Deal with it.”

We’re all adults here, and it just seems uncommonly unfair to have to deal with both winter and January resolutions. The thrill of a new year (Finally! Stash that tired 2016.) feels, well, compromised. We’re slightly cowed, perhaps a bit weary, before we even get into it. What you call a resolution — finally finish Moby Dick, drop 20 pounds, no more Cheetos, ever — I call a grand catalyst for failure. This is why another grownup in my past advised “keep it private” regarding what I was giving up for Lent, another winter downer.

Still, the antidote to January blues, blahs and frostbite is to do something. When you’re feeling small, start small. “When all else fails, clean,” my mother has said to me. Let’s rule that one out. Instead, haul in the empty trashcan of the single mom or stooped gentleman who lives a few houses down, when the trash-gobbling truck has thrown it carelessly sideways on the curb. Neighbors do this for my 86-year-old mother, which eases my mind that she won’t lift up the lid and fall inside — a real possibility given the cavernous size of the city bins.

And go ahead: Let that guy in your lane. What’s it gonna cost you, 20 seconds of travel time? Motion him over, wave in the rearview. We’re Southerners with a reputation for manners and politeness, traits worth saving and using. The fellow making you crazy with constant braking is lost, and looking for a specific street. That was you in Charlotte, remember, frantically checking your GPS, and fully aware that someone behind you was also steaming with impatience.

Before it snows or, more likely, ices, you’re going to be making soup or something tomato-y and taco-y in the Crock-Pot. Scribble “Enjoy the Extra” on a note and leave a container on a friend’s stoop, a grand gesture I call the drop ’n’ dash. Even hermits can participate. But I’m not sick, she’ll think. But Christmas is past, he’ll think. And by every definition, both of you will feel warm and fed.

Then there’s that grocery bagger, trying his best to make an honest buck. The girl behind the counter at Bojangles’, the clerk at Belk, and the loader at Lowe’s. Most of us have been there at one time or another, been one of the service industry’s taken-for-granteds. You may deserve a break today, but they deserve a connection. Let them know they count. As they hand over your books/biscuits/bananas, look them in the eyes. When resolutions seem lofty, instead do something resolutely simple.

It’s January. It’s winter. American poet James Russell Lowell wrote, “Take winter as you find him and he turns out to be a thoroughly honest fellow with no nonsense in him.” Which is just another way of saying, shake his hand hard and look him in the eye. And carry ChapStick.  OH

When she isn’t performing small acts of random kindness, Susan Kelly spends her time freelancing for O.Henry, among other publications.

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