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For those that know me, Christmas is my favorite time of year—the time I shine the most, spreading cheer in any form I can. But this Christmas above all the rest I came to appreciate something I really never did: the kindness of family and friends.
As a child it’s hard to look past the decorations and presents, but with age comes a certain amount of appreciation and understanding of what happens during the holiday season. One moment you’re anxiously awaiting the arrival of the jolly-bearded fellow, and the next you’re on the cusp of adulthood, holding on to the last bit of magic left in your heart. Before you know it, you’ve grown up, and suddenly the little boy or girl that so desperately tried to stay awake on Christmas Eve was no longer you, but rather, your own child.
If you don’t know me, then you’ve never experienced a stress-filled panic attack that often occurs at least once a day. It’s in my nature to obsess and stress over the little things in life: a test I neglected to study for or thought I did bad on, work that I left to the last minute, or a recent one, the stress over the vagueness in my future. As a senior in high school I found myself confused to what I wanted to do with my future, panicked that the time I had left to think was slowly slipping away. For a person who’s always been ahead of the curve, the realization that I didn’t know what was going to happen next basically pushed me into an obsessive worry over my future.
At the height of my obsession I found comfort in advice from people who knew me the best, my family and friends. Largely, the best advice came from one of my closest friends and biggest critics who told me, “Your whole life doesn’t have to be pre-written just because you think it does.” And though it’s a work in progress to accept all forms of criticism, he was right; life didn’t have to be pre-planned just because that was the way I wanted it. Often life doesn’t work the way we wish it does, in fact on most occasions, it leaves us hurt, broken, confused, and challenged. But the beautiful thing about life is that it always goes on, whether we want it to or not. Each day it comes and passes, and it’s our decision to look past the sorrow and pain to find the numerous forms of goodness that we are surrounded by.
As the pressure and stress engulfed me, I realized that my life was happening around me, whether I knew the direction it was heading in or not. And suddenly, I became aware of the most important things I had in this world: the people that loved me. This whole time I was so wrapped up in my own future, I neglected to appreciate all that I had around me. I was blessed with two wonderful parents who always put both me and my sister ahead of themselves, sacrificing nearly everything they’ve had for our success and happiness. I have a sister who would do just about anything for me, whether it involved a tedious task or standing in my defense when I needed it. I have extended family who though sometimes could be crazy, loved me through all of my faults. I have teachers and neighbors who constantly looked out for me and the path that I traveled along.
But this Christmas I’ve come to appreciate one of the best gifts I’ve ever received: my friends. They were the people that each day saw me for who I was and enjoyed my company (sometimes noting my faults in an effort to teach me how to accept constructive criticism). My friends were the people who both understood and taught me the most; always there for me, despite our distance apart. There’s something great about friendship that defies all other forms of relationships—it’s the one bond that once accepted, is never really destroyed. Though sometimes friends part their separate ways, they always take a piece of each other with them. This piece, whether they like it or not, becomes a part of who they are, making them that much wiser, stronger and smarter—and that, is the greatest of gifts anyone can receive.
So no matter how hard this Christmas is for you—if you’ve lost your home or belongings in Hurricane Sandy, if you’ve been fired from your job, if you’ve lost someone you’ve loved—always remember that in this hard and tragic life, there is something beautiful and remarkable waiting out there, you just have to believe in it. No matter what you celebrate this season, remember that the best gift of all cannot be found in boxes or bows, but rather in the kindness of our hearts. Our lives are too fragile to be wasted in despair and depression; there is always a friend out there, no matter how close or far they may be. Whatever toughness or pain surrounds you this time of year, be sure never to lose sight of hope for it is the one thing that keeps us all going. If you can keep Christmas in your heart, and hope in your mind, then there is nothing to fear in this world. After all, this truly is a wonderful life.