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Maybe it’s not news to you, but it was to me: Human beings, scientifically speaking, are not designed to be truly happy. It has to do with evolution and the large frontal lobes in our brains — well, I’ll leave the explanation to the experts. Suffice to say, if you keep trying to be happy and can’t quite get there, it’s understandable. We’re not meant to. But why?

I think of happiness as a “whole-cloth” experience — it’s not something that one part of your life or experiences can achieve. Having money won’t do it. A good relationship won’t do it, if you are lacking in other areas. Happiness is holistic. And we really can’t get that totality here on earth; not if we have even a drop of human kindness running through us. And without that kindness, without empathy and fellow-feeling and mercy, personal happiness just doesn’t mean much. Does it?

We pluck at pieces:
this job, that pair of shoes.
It is empty in the face of want,
a bit of bread when a feast is needed.
If you can wrap yourself in happiness
and turn blind eyes to need,
you will find your coat is made of ashes
and will not keep you warm.
We rise together, a family of yeast
or we sink like a fish with a belly full of stones.

I’m a serial murderer…of plants; my thumb more black than green. My singular success has been with weeds, which grow like, well, you know. But other, more personal gardens require tending, too — the care and feeding of relationships, for instance. I haven’t been terribly successful with this form of gardening, either, but I’m getting better. I hope.

Relationships need to be nurtured. I’ve lived on the assumption that, if we were once friends, even if you don’t hear from me over long periods of time, you understand that I still consider us friends. I think of you more often than you know. My silence holds nothing but sincere good feelings. But silence can be misconstrued. People often need more “upkeep” than I’m prepared to give, so used am I to living in silence and solitariness. Rifts may result. I regret this.

My best friend Susan is a marvelous caretaker of relationships. She is the queen of thank-you notes. She remembers to send you recipes for food you’ve enjoyed that she prepared. She writes letters — actual, bona fide letters — in a lovely, artistic hand. (When we both worked together in the Art Department of an educational company, Susan was the go-to gal for any photograph that required beautiful handwriting.) When you are sick, she will make you soup. Or an apple pie, artfully decorated with leaf cutouts.

Knowing Susan has made me a better caretaker of my own garden of relationships. (E-mail has been a boon, too, I’ll admit.) She is going through a difficult time right now, so difficult, in fact, that she has no time to write or call. We pepper one another with brief e-mails, mine mostly discussing how I’ve been praying for her, but we’ve not had time for one of our marathon long-distance chats. (She lives in California; I now live in Kansas.) Still, I feel her with me every time I remember to ask after another person’s welfare, or pray for their intentions. Susan is thoughtful. What a beautiful gift to bring to the world!

How is your social garden faring? Is it weed-choked from long neglect? Bursting with color and life? Take some time today to reach out to someone you’ve not been able to keep in close touch with, just to remind them that you treasure them, that their place in your garden is a permanent one, one that you cherish.

People need people. That’s why God made us in such abundance and multiplicity. And I’m betting that they who tend their relationships sit in good stead with The Creator. With God’s grace, perhaps one day I might count myself in their number.

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Have a Mary Little Christmas

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