On Christmas Eve, my neighbor was headed out to the downtown hospital where she works the evening shift as a nurse, and where she studies to become a nurse practitioner. She and I waved our friendly greetings as she drove out of the neighborhood, and Winky and I continued our early evening walk.

I thought about her as we walked, and I admired her tenacity, and her determination.  She is kind, soft-spoken and gentle in our interactions.  I imagine these qualities make her patient care a welcome experience, one that people remember for its kindness and competence.

Earlier in the day, just as I was about to begin baking cookies to take to her door, my doorbell rang and there she stood bearing a wrapped gift for me and my family.  Talk about synchronicity!  We were both thinking of one another and of our families.  That spirit of kindness and caring for others is part of the Christmas message – to be our brothers’ keeper and to share what we have with kindness and generosity of spirit.

I don’t know the circumstances of my neighbor’s background or how she grew into the kind person she is, but in my own case, it was both of my grandmothers who modeled generosity and kindness to me growing up.  They were both hard-working women with large families and simple homes whose big hearts cared for many outside of their own kin.

They were part of the larger Italian immigrant community where open hearts and open doors were hallmarks of the culture.  My maternal grandmother was a midwife, and a natural herbalist, respected and appreciated for her caring competence as well as for her warm and welcoming hospitality. My paternal grandmother was often sickly and struggled to cope with various physical conditions, yet her flower gardens produced large white roses, and colorful zinnias, in abundance, and many neighbors were recipients of her fragrant bouquets that appeared when someone became ill, was grieving, or in need of encouragement.  And both women could always set one more place at the table and somehow find ways to stretch the family meal.

They  each lived long lives, into their mid-eighties.  When they died, I attended their funerals.  Both women were remembered for their goodness and kindness toward others; they were respected members of their community and considered wise elders.  When I recently read this Kahlil Gibran quote, it reminded me of their legacy: “Kindness is like snow, it beautifies everything it covers.“ That’s the philosophy that my grandmothers lived and the gift that they passed on to me.

May you be blessed with the kindness of others this holiday season, and may you pass it on to others.  In this way, we will each help heal the world and make life better for all.