#christmas (Photo credit: Isselmuden)
The holiday seasons bring ample opportunity for social activities. Family and friends plan more gatherings than during the rest of the year. Grandmas revel in the opportunity to bring together their children and grandchildren. Cousins may delight in seeing their family friends of relatively the same generation. Brothers and sisters will put aside differences as they gather around the Christmas tree. It is a great time for families.
Friends find time for gatherings with their “extended families” and friends. They may rent a bus and take all of their friends carolling to the houses of family and those they feel need a little cheer. Favorite sports bars will decorate with great delight and the increased business their holiday parties will bring adds smiles to everyone. School choirs will delight churches filled with people, while some choirs will visit hospitals and nursing homes. There is so much to fill our hearts and souls as well as the hearts and souls of others. Why then do so many people fight loneliness at the holidays?
Of course we may think it is only the homeless, the elderly, the poor and destitute that feel lonely at the holidays. This is why social agencies and churches of all denominations try to reach out to those in need. There will be Christmas dinners at local parishes. People will volunteer to take hams and turkeys and other groceries to those in need. Night ministries and local volunteers will try to find shelter and warmth for those in need. People will drop extra coins into kettles or mail checks in response to charity pleas for assistance. The efforts extended at the holidays can be greater than at any other time, but for many it is not enough. The helping hand is not the answer. A free turkey will not heal the soul.
Many poor and elderly are lonely all year round. A hand at the holidays may lift the spirit for a few hours or even a few days. It does not speak to the loneliness that creeps into the hearts of those who are truly alone. Of course, the elderly person living alone and in poverty will smile when you ring the doorbell with a Christmas basket. It is nearing the end of the month and his or her meager resources may be depleted. Such a gift may help them get to the next month. They know, however, that you will not be there with a gift next month, or the month after. Their moment of happiness may indeed be darkened by the stark reality that can be held in a deep winter night. A special meal helps, and for some it may help a lot, but it is not enough.
Even in these hard times we live in a land of plenty. Some people with a few extra dollars to spend may feel delighted to drop it on a charity when they hear the Christmas bells ringing. Snowflakes may put a twinkle in their eyes and a few dollars in the collection plate. And next week? Next month? Charity is a necessity in this bleak economy, but so is faith and hope. Without hope, charity is only a temporary salve on the wounds of the heart. Without hope, we can lose faith.
While we lament the truly lamentable, our leaders, the ones to whom we entrusted our government, are busy figuring out at what levels we can preserve tax breaks for the rich. They are considering how they can cut back on entitlement programs, you know, social security and medicare, while preserving their own better than outstanding retirement plans. No congressman is saying, “Let us cut back our own retirements if we are going to trim or eliminate the increases for others.” While Congress continues to wage war on the poor and middle class, the president is getting ready to compromise on “entitlements” and tax cuts. While Speaker Boehner is ready to compromise on tax cuts for the super rich, the president is getting ready to compromise on the meager funds given to poor and elderly. They will all tell us if we avert going over the “fiscal cliff”, that compromise is good government. Good for whom?
For the New Year, we may consider adding desperate to the situations of those who are already poor and lonely. Since we spent recklessly in good times and entered into wars of questionable merit, we must now punish those whose only reprieve from lonely and desperate, is the meager Social Security check they receive. While the Speaker of the House sleeps a little uneasily for a night or two at the thought that a rich friend or two may have to pitch in an extra few bucks next year, he will undoubtedly not lose any sleep over the desperate situations of the poor and lonely.
The Salvation Army realizes that most of their funds come through Christmas season bell ringing at shopping centers and malls. The Little Brothers of the Poor will find more volunteers now to visit elderly and bring gifts. Local parishes will receive more donations of food so they can hold Christmas dinners. Charities everywhere will be expected to fill the gap left by government cutbacks. While our Republican and Tea Party friends enjoy their Christmas dinners and expensive wines, they have no idea what they are doing to the lonely in order to preserve lower taxes for the rich.
Note: I realize I have painted Republicans with a broad stroke of greed. Reports at present show that some are prepared to break ranks with their leaders in support of their constituents, but only a few. I think the rest are saying something like, “bah, humbug.” Perhaps they are not, maybe it is just “Thank you, Mr. President.”