Written by Rahsaan Graham

The holidays are fast approaching. Soon, decorations of all colors and shapes will emblazon everything you love. You’ll soon hear the sounds of Salvation Army bells and Mariah Carey from department store speakers. You may have already noticed the humidity leaving the air, giving way to a long awaited breeze. It won’t be long until local radio stations forsake their pattern of playing the same Top 40 songs and begin playing Christmas music incessantly. And of all the holiday songs I’d been mentally preparing myself to hear over and over again, there was one that came to mind recently.

God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Savior
Was born on Christmas Day
To save us all from Satan’s pow’r
When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

Comfort and Joy. 

You see, my past experiences with Herculean discomfort and pain gave these words significant weight. I knew where I wanted my brain to go: 9-year-old me unwrapping a Nintendo 64 under the tree. But all I could picture was the unhoused man I’d seen recently at an intersection near my home. 

Five years removed from my own bout with homelessness, I had recently struck a bold new foray into the world of self care in an attempt to nurse the wounds that housing and a stable job couldn’t fix. 

For example, some consider a mimosa at Sunday morning brunch or a good book on the beach a form of self care. For me, self care in part meant reducing the amount of things I carried around with me. Back in my homeless days, I never knew where my next meal, next bed, or even the next wall outlet would be so I could charge my phone. My pockets stayed swollen with change, extra pens and a phone charger. It was a hard habit to break, but the downside of that was not having spare change when it would have been useful.

All of this came flooding to my mind as I searched my car, frantically looking for some change to give to the man in dilapidated clothing who walked up the median next to me. It wasn’t the first time I sat at a stoplight, looking at a person in the situation that I had once been.  And It was clear he had put all his hope in what was written on the cardboard he held up every time the traffic stopped.

I didn’t know this man. I didn’t know where he came from. But I knew exactly what his eyes were saying. And as it became clear that I had no change to give him, I began to feel the anxiety rise in my chest. It was the same anxiety I always felt anytime I passed a homeless person looking for help. Knowing that my current position was largely due to the kindness of strangers and friends makes it difficult for me to drive past someone I could have been if not for the generosity of others. The light turned green and I pulled away, ashamed that I didn’t have the forethought to give to a community that I was once a part of.

And suddenly, my thoughts surrounding comfort and joy became much clearer. Knowing that the situation was so dire and that my version of comfort and joy this year would be built in large part on accessing comforts he couldn’t, I began to ask what comfort and joy meant to me. I began to wonder if I had ever truly experienced either one.

Contrary to what my brain tells me, just because I’ve been homeless does not mean I am responsible for solving the entire issue of homelessness every time I sit at an intersection. But it does make me think more critically about those two forces, comfort and joy.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy

Tidings of comfort and joy. Though an archaic definition these days, the word “tidings” in the original context meant “news or information.” In other words, it meant bringing news of comfort and joy. Now, I imagine that this is a reference to the Gospel, known to Christians as the “good news.” And as I sat with those words awhile, a lightbulb went off.  It occurred to me that the burden of hope that underscored the lyric was the very same that filled my heart. 

It became clear to me that the pursuit of comfort and joy for myself meant the pursuit of comfort and joy for others.


If you are like me and want to put this sentiment into action, here are 6 easy ways to bring comfort and joy to others this holiday season:

  1. If you have spare change, spare it.
  2. Have toys to share? Donate them.
  3. Take time to connect with a friend.
  4. Doing online shopping? Select a charity on Amazon Smile.
  5. We’re all in a rush, practice radical patience. 
  6. Find new ways to put a smile on someone’s face.