While our American friends and cousins are finishing up their celebration of Thanksgiving, and the Holiday season is approaching, it might be a good time to think about what holidays like these mean to those who do not have enough, or who are alone and do not have family to share these occasions with. We also know that there are many people who find holiday occasions particularly difficult times to deal with, since they have had, for example, significant losses around the time of year.
We are told, either directly or by implication, from the time we are children, that the Holidays are a time of unqualified happiness. We hear, for example, on the radio, old favourite Christmas songs that suggest that “... from now on our troubles will be out of sight...” We are told that our loved ones will stay with us or return each year, “... through the years we all will be together,” and we even conveniently neglect the qualification “if the fates allow.” Yet the years do pass, and fate demands that our loved ones do leave us. Grandparents, parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins and friends are lost at all times of the year, including during the holidays.
And there are other losses and difficulties, too, that cannot be lost sight of. We need to think about people with mental health challenges and disabilities and how we need to be aware of their needs and offer even small kindnesses to help them. We talk a great deal about disabilities these days, about making places physically accessible, for one example, about the need to be sensitive to those with autism, for another. The question remains, however, how much we actually do. It is a good start, of course, to raise our own awareness about mental health challenges. We take things to the next level, however, when we take even the smallest action to acknowledge, greet, understand and respectfully offer a small assistance to an individual who has a challenge. Even the smallest of kindnesses can make a large difference for an individual and even the people around them. Recently, a middle-aged man crossing a street in Collingwood stopped, turned around and looked to an elderly lady making her way with a walker to see if she needed help to the sidewalk. She never even realized the kindness that hovered around her. But that act of kindness, admittedly potential kindness, is now recorded here.
There are many different kinds of need and corresponding opportunities to help. There are others, for example, who, dealing with severe illness, are couch surfing from the home of one friend to another, without a stable place to call home. It seems a little difficult even to write these words ... There are some among these in need of accommodation at a hospice.
Another group to think about is not necessarily one with a disability to speak of at all. There are elderly ones who are for numerous reasons find themselves alone in the world. Some have lost everyone: there are elderly ones in homes who have no family but are completely alone in the world.
With this latter group in mind, it is heartening to hear of the “Be a Santa to a Senior” program, initiated by “Home Instead Senior Care,” which seeks to make individuals such as these feel included and loved by a program which collects and distributes gifts to isolated seniors. A gift at Christmas to a senior who is isolated is a grand thing. Gifts of kindness, however small, can make a significant difference in everyone’s life irrespective of the day of the year. Small gifts, small kindnesses, have the capacity to fill both receiver and giver with joy. There is a reflective effect of giving, isn’t there?
Community has multiple meanings. But one of them surely is to look out for those in need. It is not really too difficult to find them. They might be living just next door. We recently heard of the kindness of one lady, for example. This lady, who was elderly herself and had her own set of challenges, always shovelled the pathway of her disabled neighbour next door. This is, of course, a beautiful thing in and of itself. What is even more inspiring, however, is that when she went to sell her home to move, she included a clause in the Sale Agreement that required the new owners of her house to continue to care for her neighbour.
It is, in spite of all of the challenges described above, a time to remember all that is good in the world and a time to extend that good to all. It is a time to remember all, including those who may need a helping hand, a smile, a small gift, or even a small bowl of soup, a cup of coffee. And, what is more, such joy can be found in such connected moments throughout the year.