All of us carry within us an internal calendar with days and years marked out in different ways: gold for the days of greatest happiness, black for the days of greatest grief. Occasionally, we are able to share these moments of deepest feeling with others; but, for the most part, they are private, locked away in the inmost recesses of mind and heart. It can be hard when a day of mourning coincides with a festival. How to explain that Christmas Day is not all joy and gladness when it is also the anniversary of the death of someone closer than life itself? It is hard in a different way when one is bubbling with happiness on a day when the rest of the world is wearing a sad and solemn face, subdued by the knowledge of some terrible tragedy.
We try to adjust: smile a little when we are sad, sometimes look grave when we are happy. That is not to do violence to our feelings (though it may seem like it) nor to feign or dissimulate (though it may feel like it), it is to accept what it means to be human; and that is nobler and more generous than we may realise. The trouble comes when those around us do not allow us to grieve or censure us for being happy when they are not. It strikes a discordant note, makes us feel we have somehow done something ‘wrong’, and leaves us feeling helpless and out of sorts. We did not choose to feel like this.
The chances are that today you will come across someone whose internal calendar is at odds with your own. Before you rush to criticize (why is he so surly this morning?) or try to hector them into sharing your mood (why doesn’t she wipe that smile off her face?), reflect a moment. Kindness is the one thing that can lift a mood or cope with another’s joy when one’s own feelings are quite different. It doesn’t need to be effortful. A quick smile, a considerate word is all that is necessary — a form of blessing we can practise every day.