State of Maine: Give time, not stuff

By Jill Goldthwait

Thanksgiving is upon us. The guest beds are made, the shopping list ready for the weekend, and the holiday decorations are going up around Hancock County. We are going through the paces but come on; do we not feel a little “meh” about it all?

The incessant drumbeat of rancor and division emanating from Washington doth not a festive mood create. At least there was one moment of hilarity when Republicans claimed the only thing standing between us and major domestic progress was the Democrats’ obsession with impeachment. Ha! Action in the Capitol has been nonexistent since well before the current set-to.

So let us try to cheer ourselves up, because we do have things for which we can give thanks. Good health, for those who have it, and shelter from the cold, for those who have it, and food. For those who have it. And for those who have all of that, there is the opportunity to do something for those who don’t.

There is an abundance of ways to help thy neighbor. You can help build a snug house for someone who needs one or make an older home cozier. You can lend a hand at a community meal, shopping or cooking or cleaning up. You can help out at an animal care center, a fitness class or your local library.

Volunteer for hospice. Be a driver for medical appointments or grocery shopping. Serve coffee at a senior center. Raise a seeing-eye dog. Host a foreign exchange student. Repair cars or bicycles. Plant a vegetable garden and give away the food.

There are jobs big and small, and they are all essential to the myriad volunteer activities that bring help and comfort to those who need it. Can’t get out and about? There is plenty you can do at home. Knit hats and donate them. Help with a “call your neighbor” program to check in on others who are homebound. Foster a cat that is waiting for a permanent home.

“Cabin fever” is not a myth. Cold, darkness and social isolation are not our friends. Not that some of us do not relish occasional solitude, maybe even more than occasionally. A cup of tea and a good book in a sunny window is not a bad way to spend a winter day. But getting out regularly is important too, and a commitment to help at a food pantry, the secondhand clothing store or your local homeless shelter is a good motivator.

“Social isolation” has been called an “unseen epidemic” in Maine. Studies have linked it to “increased mortality, mobility loss, functional decline and clinical dementia.” We’re living longer these days. Home chores and even personal care that we once did without a thought become a challenge, and eventually beyond reach.

The people who populated our lives move to where their children live, or into care facilities, or die. Even those who remain nearby may be out of reach of those who cannot drive or walk any distance. For visitors, the homebound have much to give. Physical abilities may be failing but within those aging vessels are fascinating stories of times gone by, skills and talents that can be passed on and maybe a delicious sense of humor. Visiting the homebound is good for both the visitor as well as the visited.

Once upon a time Thanksgiving was the kickoff for December holidays. Now it all begins before Halloween and if you are sick of hearing about politics, wait until we’ve had a few more weeks of buy, buy, buy.

The advertisements are nauseating. The pressure to make loved ones happy with gifts, preferably expensive and beautifully wrapped, is incessant. Happy kids shout with joy, women get dreamy-eyed over be-ribboned jewelry boxes, dads fondle new slippers or rev chainsaws. There are passing references to “home for the holidays,” “the best gift of all” (your kid arriving at the door) and snapshots of families around the table.

But there is no doubt about what really matters: stuff. Kids screaming and running in circles, grown-ups gasping and crying — over stuff. We all know the cliché about what we really want for Christmas, especially as we grow older. It is the gift of time with those we love. But how many of us have the confidence to show up at grandma’s house with empty hands but open arms, ready to listen with a smile to the story about Aunt Marge and the ducklings for the 12th time?

Holiday traditions are important so trim a tree, deck the halls and bake the cookies, but do it together. Take a bowl of paper whites or a plate of cookies to your second-grade teacher or the grandparent whose kids live away. And give thanks for any opportunity to give time, not stuff.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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