It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us, …
— Opening passage of “A Tale of Two Cities”
Charles Dickens’s famous first sentence — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … " — described the era of the French Revolution. The sentiment also fits perfectly to America’s holiday season, from Thanksgiving through the first days of the new year.
While most of us are filled with joy and gratitude as we unite with our families and friends, this is also the time when many persons experience dark thoughts, depression, and profound loneliness.
If you need help of any kind, do not hesitate to tell someone: a family member, a friend, or a neighbor. You are loved and cared about far more than you imagine.
If you cannot think of anyone who can help you, you can call your local Suicide Prevention and Crisis hotline. In Ithaca, their web page says: “Are you confused, overwhelmed, upset, or need someone to listen? Call the Crisisline at 607-272-1616 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).” They offer free, confidential crisis counseling available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Pay attention to the people around you: your family, friends, students, co-workers. People are skilled at hiding their true feelings. The poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, titled “We Wear The Mask”, explains the problem of seeing into other persons.
WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
Watching the 1946 film “It’s A Wonderful Life” always fills me with strange and remarkable ideas. The remainder of this message is for those of us who are reasonably happy and are able to provide help.
I was wondering what might happen during these holidays if each one of us reached out to someone — someone who we suspect may need a friend, or need someone to talk with. Suppose we reach out to someone by saying: “Do you need anything?”; or “How can I help you?”; or “Some time soon, let’s sit down with some coffee and let’s talk.”
Ithaca has been ranked as the USA’s best place to live, largely due to economic factors. Yet what matters — more than the quantifiable and measurable — is the invisible and unmeasurable: the happiness and well-being of each one of us.
Some people will argue that there is not very much that one person can do to improve the happiness of another. It is equally true that we can help others by the simple acts of listening sincerely and by giving them words of encouragement.
And it is a remarkable fact of human existence that “No drop of kindness is ever wasted.”
2010 December 08
Ithaca, New York