Among other famous winter birthdays we find Ludwig von Beethoven. Even if you don't love his music, it is undeniable that the man gave the world a great gift — soaring music in so many different genres that influenced the musical generation that came after him and enthralls us into the 21st century.

OK, so the man was a genius. But we all have gifts. ALL of us. And they need to be savored and relished for our own enjoyment — painting, coloring, writing, building dog houses — because enjoying our gifts brings deep joy and excitement into our lives. I’ve written about the human need for regular creative activity here in the Inner Peace column and in "101 Stress Busters for Energy, Joy & Healthy Longevity" (2017). We owe it to ourselves and to divine energy that animates the creativity within us, to let our gifts breathe, to let them come out and play in the sunshine. We were not born to work, create children, watch TV, pay bills and die.

We were born to be truly alive, and we only do that when we are aware of every tingling moment that is engulfing and challenging us, and when we are engines of creation, channels of some force much greater than ourselves. Refusing to open our hearts to our creativity, because we don’t want to be criticized for not being geniuses — forgetting that geniuses get plenty of criticism — just kills that soul within us. As Longfellow tells us in "A Psalm of Life," “the grave is not (life’s) goal/'dust thou art, to dust returnest' was not spoken of the soul.”

Beethoven was driven to create. But so are we all.

And we need to keep reminding ourselves that some of these gifts need to be shared. The yarn group I started at the Rogue Valley Unitarian (RVUUF) church has produced warm shawls and lap robes for Meals on Wheels and the local Senior Center. We have a bag, a la Santa, of 40 hats, gloves, scarves, etc. to share with the Emergency Food Bank.

If you are food-insecure, you can’t spare money for warmth. And if you can lower your thermostat because you have sweaters, you can save some more money to apply to food. I offer free classes every term at OLLI, time that I could be spending making money. I do free health talks at the Food Co-Op. I offer pro-bono reiki and other healing work as a percentage of my total work time. And I crochet a lot.

In my parents’ generation — and among working class and Southerners today, especially — community work was an integral part of life. Everyone, of every income level except the dirt-poor, knew that they had a responsibility (that means, not optional) to give back out of whatever abundance they had — money, time, prayer or all three. The shredding of our social safety net means that we have to band together as never before. As a Hindu scripture reminds us, "Do not berate or think badly of the poor, because many poor were once prosperous — and you may someday lose your prosperity as well." In other words, we are all in this together.

So inventory what you are good at and let’s spend more time sharing. Can you cook? (Free cooking classes). Can you crochet? (Sit over here by me). Can you build things? (Habitat for Humanity). Do you love animals? (FOTAS, the Animal Shelter, the Humane Society). You get the picture. If you don’t think you have any skills, call me and I’ll help you name them.

Are you thinking that little-old-you can’t possibly have an impact on the world? Consider these words from Middlemarch: "The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistorical acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."

Every year when I pay my property taxes, I feel like the hero that I am. I am taking care of my community, without fuss or complaint. There are so many unhistorical acts involved in making our world a better place.

Beethoven was a genius, but you don’t need genius to make a difference in your own small corner of the world. All you need is a good heart and commitment to take action.

—Victoria Leo’s books are available at Bloomsbury in Ashland, and wherever you buy books, including "Journey Out of SAD: Beat the Winter Blues" (second edition), "101 Healthy Meals in 5 Min or Less" (second edition) and "Red State, Blue Heart." Visit her at,, and