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Paying It Forward

By Kirsten Valle

Posted: Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009

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Photo by Critsey Rowe

Kirsten Valle is a business reporter for the Observer. She can be reached at kvalle@charlotteobserver.com.

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Christmas feels a little different this year, and it’s not just because of all the bittersweet new traditions that come with being engaged.

To start with the obvious, there’s more shopping. For the fiance himself (Is it just me, or are guys incredibly difficult to shop for? I seem to learn this again every year…) and his family. But, to me, there are few things more fun than picking out Christmas gifts, wrapping them in rich reds and greens and golds and doling them out around a lighted tree.

With the shopping has come some interesting lessons, mainly about shopping styles. Growing up, I shopped just like my father: go in with a plan, choose something and get the heck out of there. My mom, on the other hand, is a contemplative shopper, carefully examining the items and then leaving the store to think about it before coming back to buy them.

Reese, as I learned on a recent trip to SouthPark, is more of a wanderer, browsing until he finds the perfect gift. As I darted down the mall corridors, swerving around slow walkers and dodging overloaded shopping bags, Reese was calm as ever. I couldn’t believe that a few days before Christmas he still didn’t know what he wanted to get for half the people on his list. He assured me, though, that this is just his style. He always gets it done, and he always chooses good gifts. It’s true, although no less baffling.

Aside from these ever-important shopping lessons, something else has changed this year: I’ve felt more sentimental and far more concerned about what I’m getting others and how I’m helping the less fortunate. Maybe this is because of the economy, which has a funny way of bringing us down to earth and helping us realize the importance of simplicity and the people we love most. Maybe it’s the season, which is always drenched in the spirit of giving. Or maybe it’s finally being old enough to really understand it.

But I think a large part, too, is the engagement – that feeling of being blissfully in love, mixed with my own irrational fear that no one deserves to be this happy. I’m a worrier by nature, and sometimes I catch myself in the midst of a carefree moment wondering how long it can possibly last before something terrible happens. This is a little silly, and probably unhealthy, I know. But it’s also made me reflect on how lucky I am, how important it is to savor those happy moments and how important it is to pay the feeling forward.

For me, paying it forward has been a series of small efforts this year: donating warm winter gear to a church clothing drive, for instance, or throwing a few extra dollars in the charity gift baskets. Not much, I know, especially compared to the countless others who are more generous all year round. But maybe these small efforts – whether it’s a dollar here and there, or a smile to a stranger on the street – are bigger and more significant than we realize.

In a few days, as I gather for Christmas dinner with my family and Reese’s, I’ll try to adopt a little more of Reese’s calm, easy-going style and try to better express the way I feel about the ones I love. Mostly, I’ll try to simply revel in the moments – handing out those shiny wrapped gifts, feasting on ridiculous amounts of turkey and green bean casserole, laughing with family and friends – without worrying so much about the future.

Happy holidays and safe travels to all!

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