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My View: Reach out to others, lend a helping hand

By Ron Gawel

With Christmas almost upon us, I hope that giving and forgiving will be abundant in many lives during this festive season. It all comes down to getting involved. Christmas is about love. It’s about helping and understanding, reaching out and spreading the wealth of peace, joy and good cheer.

“It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death,” author Thomas Mann once wrote.

The ability to experience and express love by caring and sharing is the greatest of all our God-given gifts next to that of our creation itself. This holiday I’ve decided to make a difference in as many lives as I’m able to touch, firmly believing it could help improve or even save a life.

I’ve made a point to put aside differences of opinions and misunderstandings and stepped up to the plate to make a true holiday contribution to help repair some lives, including my own. I visited a person I found was desperately in need of a friend, fixed a relationship or two and offered some unsolicited, but accepted, soothing and well-meaning words to someone who needed to hear them.

I’ve come to realize there is so much masked hurt, sorrow and fear among friends, family members, neighbors and strangers. But even with all our differences, we’re all connected. A warm, friendly smile from a stranger passing on the street goes a long way and speaks volumes when you are secretly living in the pit of a private war zone known as despair.

I experienced a sad awakening, an epiphany of sorts, earlier this year when a friend took his own life for misunderstood reasons. Though I knew he had some issues, as do we all, I never saw it coming, nor did anyone close to him. It made me realize that all too often we mistakenly take for granted that those we know are necessarily OK when they really aren’t at all. There are a lot of sad, lonely folks in this world. Some are ill – mentally, emotionally or physically. Others are out of work. They hide their feelings all too well.

Some of these people desperately need help. They legitimately fall under that psychiatric disease we call depression. They may include our American service members a world away, some of whom suffer from depression with the realization that they won’t make it home to be with loved ones during the holidays, or might not ever make it home. It is easy for me to imagine what they are going through.

I know. I’ve lived with depression – the real thing – for 40 years. It’s not just a mere word that defines feeling forever sad or sorry for yourself, all-around lousy, completely unmotivated to do anything and totally immobilized. It’s an authentic psychiatric disease.

It wasn’t an easy road to travel and my journey to recovery has never been fully complete. There were, and still are, some rough patches, but I thank God I never went so far as to think about harming myself.

Thanks to the love, support and encouragement of family members, friends and even strangers, as well as a knowledgeable psychiatrist in conjunction with prescribed drug therapy, I am able to see that life isn’t all that bad.

It’s all about giving of oneself. I’ve been on both sides of the fence – feeling bad and feeling good – and I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of reaching out. I think love is the guiding light of our daily existence – showing it, giving it, expressing it. Given freely, it keeps us going in a forward direction.

Making a difference this Christmas season has been a rewarding experience. May everyone find friendship, love and peace in their private worlds this holiday and throughout the year.

Ron Gawel is a retired high school English teacher and a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls, where he lives with his wife, Eileen.
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