In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us. -- Flora Edwards
Jan. 1 comes but once a year. And scores of people the world over celebrate the milestone of a new year with resolutions. But this year, for the first time, I made no New Year's resolutions. I spend the entire year affirming and fine-tuning my goals and intentions and maintaining good habits. But coming up with and keeping those proverbial New Year's "declarations" is getting harder, and if you're like me, somehow they "evaporate."
Let's look at the process: We choose a problematic, mostly ill-defined behavior that's bothered us (e.g., eat healthier, exercise more, practice relaxation) and which doesn't serve much as a guiding force in our year. There have been years when these honorable pledges have nothing to do with a happy new year. They become chores rather than goals.
So, this year I'm attempting a more streamlined approach. I've replaced full-sized New Year's resolutions with a one-word goal or intention. It's removed the pressure of the "resolution struggle" and created a more do-able approach to behavior modification. I believe that it's more realistic to commit to a few syllables than to fulfill the promises contained in whole sentences. Rather than announcing things I'd like to change, start or stop doing this year, I've shifted my approach to consider what kind of person I want to be or what I can achieve by focusing inward and discovering who I already am; what I already can do; and where I need to put my energies and my attention. Therefore, my "resolution" has evolved into a one-word goal: generosity. I want to be a more generous person, extend my boundaries of caring, and give more of myself and my time to make a significant difference in the lives of others. Beginning this month, generosity will be my guiding principle for the coming year: a single focus that will center on my character and become a vision for my future. This is the beginning of a year-long exploration of giving, and discovering the active meaning of sharing whatever it is -- my ideas, my time, my skills, my shoulder -- with others.
But Jan. 1 arrived, and I had no idea where to begin.
And then it hit me, literally and figuratively. Searching in my closet for my suitcase, something suddenly toppled forward. The item, hidden behind a vacuum and luggage pieces, whacked me, almost forcing me off balance. That something was my guitar. Cue the lightbulb that appears over your head. It was a moment of clarity -- out of the shadows and into the spotlight -- the key to kick-starting my campaign of generosity. With music. That was how I was going to get my "generosity juices" flowing again.
Music has always been a major thread in my life. It was part of our home as I grew up and still plays a huge role in my life. As a youngster in New Jersey, I recall the day I plopped myself down at a piano, and, much to my parent's surprise, just started to play; I had never had a lesson. I played the guitar constantly and carried it with me wherever I traveled. In my high school band, I played the clarinet and was chosen for All-State Orchestra, performed in several high-school musical productions and began my college years prepared to study music. Music helped define my childhood, youth and adulthood. In my teens, I'd go to local elementary schools and play guitar and sing to the students. After moving to a new city post-college, I donated my time to entertain kids in hospitals. I pursued that passion in major medical centers for many years. Then, to my dismay, life got in the way. Work demanded long hours and frequent travel, and other commitments took over -- and that "extracurricular" activity swiftly and sadly fell by the wayside. It's been decades since I've made the rounds of these medical facilities, bringing the gift of music to children. Sure, since then I'd pick up my guitar on occasion for my own enjoyment, but that beloved instrument remained mostly out of sight. Until now.
Fast forward to a new year. Seeing that guitar again brought me right back to those days of entertaining the little ones and the countless hours of joy it brought me -- and them. The playlists of those songs were still tucked away in my guitar case! I remember how good I felt walking through those hospital doors and spending musical time with the kids. Now, quite spontaneously, I had another chance to add goodness back into my life and make it not just about me but about others. With no time to waste, I got back in touch with the hospitals.
That first day back, trusty wooden companion draped over my shoulder, I began my room-to-room rounds. Strumming and strolling, seeing the youngsters perk up when the music began (as did family or medical staff within earshot), their faces brightening as they listened, sang or clapped along, I remember why I pursued this joyful activity all those many years ago -- adding a dose of joy to life to those in need with the healing power of music. I lost track of how many hours I was there and the number of kids I visited, but the time flew by. For the children, this entertainment brought a welcome distraction, a way to pass the endless hours in a hospital bed and a chance to focus on something else other than their individual medical challenges, even if only for a little while. For some, this musical diversion was a highpoint of the day. I felt like I had been a healing hand for them to hold while there. I also realized I was doing myself a real service by engaging in an activity that will improve the lives of others as well as my own. So far, I've engaged my guitar as "musical medicine" several times, and, despite the unhappiness of seeing sick children, there is joy in the experience -- for the giver and the getter. I want to turn this hobby into a habit.