The dawn of a new year is upon us, and many of us will be examining our lives; deciding what should stay, what should go, and what we need to change to be happier and healthier next year. Like many of you, I’ve decided to quit the smokes – hopefully attempt number 435 will have more longevity. Additionally, I’ll be doing another dry January.
While these resolutions are certainly worthwhile, there is something far more vital you can give up that will not only boost your own health and well being, but the health and well being of others.
On Monday, I was lucky enough to be invited to help a local care organisation put on a lunch party for the elderly. The attendees were those in their care who would have spent the entire Christmas period in almost complete solitude.
I’ll freely admit to my trepidation in the days leading up to the event. After all, none of us can escape ageing and being confronted with a vision of this fate is something we strive to avoid in our society. That’s why cosmetic companies, fashion magazines, extreme travel organisations and super car manufacturers do so well out of us. It’s a distraction from our fear of ageing and the ultimate fear – fear of death (AKA fear of The Void).
Perhaps it’s this very fear that prevents the relatives of these lonely old people from spending time with them. But I’m not here to judge.
Casting my fear aside, I dove in.
After milling about and chatting with every one, I spotted a frail old lady sat by herself. Her name was Hilda. Despite being as mad as a box of frogs, having no teeth and a full beard, and apparently suffering from the kind of short term memory loss that saw her tell me the same story five or six times, there was a lucidity to her eyes. When the photographer took a shot of us, her hand grasped mine and it was warm and vital.
As it turns out, Hilda was the naughty one in the group (I’m always drawn to those who don’t play by the rules), and had apparently exercised a five-finger discount with the mince pies last year. This year she had an accomplice. We played our roles with perfect precision – Hilda innocently asking for extra helpings of the circulating cupcakes, and me wrapping them in napkins and stashing them in her bag for later.
When the final round of cakes were proffered, I was surprised when Hilda refused my offer of wrapping and stashing.
“You ‘ave that one, dear. You’ve been very good to me today”
I had thought that perhaps her mind had been resetting every twenty minutes or so, but with that simple sentence I understood that I had given her something more lasting. It almost broke my heart.
You see, with her lucid eye contact, the hand holding and our cake-conspiracy, Hilda showed me what she and others like her need: simple human connection.
I don’t think it’s much to ask.
In this breakneck society we live in, time is a precious commodity, but spending a little of it with another human soul – a soul desperately in need of a little human contact – will nourish you far more than gym membership or a new TV.
The crutches we rely on to distract us from The Void only serve to further alienate us from one another. Doing something for another human being without expecting anything in return will fill you up where consumerism has drained you.
With this thought, I humbly suggest that the most important thing you can give up in 2015 (and beyond) is your time. It’s the most precious gift you have to give.
Happy new year everyone, I’ll see you on the other side.