Tis the season to be jolly?
Not if you're one of the three quarters of a million Americans who lost their jobs after September 11th. And certainly not if you’re in the manufacturing sector that had already experienced fifteen straight shrinking months prior to September.
No doubt times are challenging. Amidst uncertainty and fear, people are struggling to regain a needed sense of balance in their lives.
The upcoming holidays unfortunately have a tendency to increase the already overwhelming perception of stress and pressure for many people. While joyous for many, this season often serves to emphasize loss, isolation and despondency for others.
In troubling times extra vigilance is warranted. I'm not referring to terrorist threats, but rather to an awareness of the feelings of those around us - our loved-ones, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Subtle hints are often overlooked. Withdrawal is especially worrisome - sometimes frightening.
Over the years, working with patients at the Mind-Body Wellness Center has provided many unique learning experiences. Our staff has witnessed phenomenal transformations in individuals who have taught us many valuable lessons. Their examples have demonstrated the true healing power of nurturing, support, camaraderie and friendship.
I'll never forget one particular example that occurred during a Pulmonary Rehabilitation session. The group was actively engaged in discussing personal strategies for promoting happiness and well-being. One gentleman in particular seemed rather despondent to the point of appearing annoyed. Actually his pent up frustration was about to explode.
Lashing out, he declared, "You don't know what it's like. Life hasn't been easy for me. I've struggled my entire life - two or more jobs at a time. I've raised a family and never expected much. I really looked forward to retiring someday and fishing. Now I’m too old and sick to fish, and (referring to his oxygen tank) I'm chained to an anchor. How can any of you expect me to be positive when I can’t do what I've always wanted to do?"
His point was well-taken. It was heartfelt and painful.
Yet before we could even venture to answer his question, another statement took us by surprise. It wasn't a complex existentialist analysis of his problem, nor was it an attempt to reframe his challenge on a higher level. Rather it was simple and to the point. It didn't come from our staff either.
Another patient simply leaned over, tapped him on the shoulder, smiled and whispered, "get your stuff together. I'll pick you up tomorrow morning at 7:00 am. We're going fishing."
Our down-trodden patient was speechless - so was our team of health professionals. The answer was a gift of friendship, and a lesson for all of us. It was also precisely what BOTH gentlemen and our staff needed.
So perhaps it's time to learn from this example and to develop a healing perspective for this holiday season. Let's begin by asking ourselves how we can best serve those in need.
A meaningful starting point is no longer failing to respond to that look of despondency and frustration that’s so prevalent these days. It clearly signals distress and potentially more.
Take a few extra minutes to be a friend to someone in need. Offer a listening ear and discover common ground. Realize a life-line may be only one phone call away.
If you know someone who's been laid off, consider spending time with them or inviting their family to dinner or an evening get-together. Supportive words and a meal nourish far more than you might expect. Encouragement is a time-tested healing elixir.
If you're aware of an opportunity for even part-time employment, share that information with a person in need. If there's anything to be done around your house, consider hiring someone who can benefit from the extra funds.
And instead of filling that long Christmas list with items soon to be forgotten, why not send a card indicating a charitable contribution to an organization you trust?
Finally reflect on the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The only way to have a friend is to be one." These are the times that can bring out the best in us. Tis the season to share joy, Thanksgiving and friendship with those in need - Mind Over Matter!
©2001 Barry Bittman,
MD all rights reserved