Someone needs you; will you be there for them?

March 2, 2015

“We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”  (Erik Erikson)

There was a long story in the Sunday Detroit Free Press about a local woman, whom repairmen discovered dead in her garage a while back. She had been dead for five years and no one had missed her! The story went into great detail about this woman’s background and how something like that could happen. It wasn’t as if the women had no relatives. She had brothers and sisters living in different parts of the country. And this didn’t happen in some out of the way place; but, rather in a nice neighborhood up in Pontiac, Michigan where homes are fairly close together – she had neighbors. The story recounted that she wasn’t really what we might call a hermit, just a very private person, with no friends locally and with a history of not communicating with her family members, sometimes for years. Sadly, her mummified body was found in her own garage, sitting in her own car. The body was so badly deteriorated that the coroner may never be able to determine the cause of her death. One might classify it as death by isolation. It certainly was death in isolation and that is sad.

In the paper’s recounting of this woman’s back story It is documented that she did have friends and co-workers at one time and even showed up for family events on occasion (rare, but it did happen). She was always recognized by everyone who knew her as someone who kept to herself and that in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But she took her need for privacy to the extreme and got to the point where she apparently needed no one. She established this image so firmly in everyone’s mind that there was no one that saw it as unusual that they had not seen her or heard from her in years. She had set her bills up on an auto-payment schedule, so they just kept getting paid after her death until such time as the funds ran out. Eventually her house was repossessed through foreclosure and it was when workmen showed up to repair a hole in the roof that they discovered her body.

Had she taken to heart the little saying from today by Erik Erikson she might still have died, but she would have been missed a lot sooner. We’ll never know if she perhaps could have even been saved by someone who cared and became concerned about her when she didn’t show up somewhere or wasn’t seen for a while.

Gristly stories like this account aside, there is more to Erik’s statement than just watching out for each other. While humans aren’t classified as “pack animals”, we are normally social beings. We depend upon social interactions for reinforcement, feedback and self-assurance. It is important that we learn to like ourselves, but it is also critical thatfriends holdi hands we have the interactions with other humans that confirm who we think we are or help us to become the person that we would like to be. At its most intense and important level this human interaction is with our life-mate. I can no longer even imagine life without the one in my life who completes me. Perhaps that is why the loss of a husband or wife can be so devastating and really why those left behind often seek that level of companionship again.

Another obvious reason that we need each other is that we are all dependent upon the work and contributions of others to supply almost everything that we need. I haven’t seen anything but the trailers for the movie about “The Last Man on Earth”, but I can imagine that initially one could run around breaking into stores for whatever is needed; however, that supply is finite and since no one else was around, there would be no new supplies of anything. Systems such as the power grid that are fairly highly automated might run for some time, but event hey would faultier and quit after a while if there was no one around. So the things that everyone else is out there doing is important to me and what I do somehow is important to them, too.

From time to time we may be in situations where it feels like we’re alone. Maybe we are away from home, maybe even in a fairly isolated location. It is important in time like that to savor our memories of loved ones and friends and woman workingperhaps even to take advantage of modern technologies like Skype to reach out and touch them, if only for a moment. Texting also has a feel of immediacy that is somehow comforting; at least you know that the person on the other end of a texting exchange is there and aware of you. There’s nothing wrong with feeling that sense of loneliness and reaching out to someone for relief. There’s no great honor in being known as a loner and it is no proof of your independence to shun friends and family when you could use help.

On the flip-side of this coin, it is not the right thing to do to allow this to happen with someone that you know. Being concerned about them is not being nosy. Taking steps to communicate with them, even if they have not made thecaring effort with you is reaching out, not reaching in to their lives. It’s not snooping when it’s driven by love or concern, so don’t let your friends or relatives become hermits. Sometimes, if the secrecy and withdrawal of a loved one is caused by factors like drugs or alcohol it is only through your aggressive actions to communicate that you might be able to save them from themselves.  Make them see you and then help them see themselves. Remember that we need each other. Help them see that and we’ll all be better off.

Be a good traveler, enjoy the journey…

February 9, 2015

“It’s good to have an end to journey towards, but it is the journey that matters in the end.”  (Ursala Le Guin), as seen on the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

At the micro-level of a week, we often start out each week with some goals, some end that we will be journeying towards that week, or at least with a calendar of known and planned events that we intend to participate in that week.  At the end of the week, we might be able to look back with some satisfaction at having accomplished those goals or we might look back and be thankful that we survived the twists and turns that life moral compassthrew at us during that short time period. In either event what we are then looking back upon is the journey that took place during the week.

We might look back on things and, with the luxury of time to more clearly see the decision points on the journey, engage in “Monday morning quarterbacking.” We should have run the ball and not attempted the pass that was intercepted has been a favorite lament lately. That is engaging in the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” syndrome, which is largely a waste of time.

Rather, it is better to look back, if you must, and try to learn from what just transpired. What choices did you have and why did you make the ones that you ended up making? Did those choices end up playing out the way that you envisioned? Would you have made a different choice had you the time to think about it more or maybe thinking hardhave had more information upon which to base a decision? Reflecting on things is one of the more basic ways of learning and increasing your ability to deal with things in the future. It also increases your ability to lay out more clear and realistic goals for the rest of the journey ahead.

Another important point to be more aware of is that all of our journeys have the same endpoint. They all start the same way and end the same way. Some take longer than others to reach the end point, but none  (with one exception) have ever found a way beyond that endpoint.  Having said that, perhaps the goal businessman looking at watchshould be to enjoy the journey as much as possible. Enjoying the journey requires that we take the time to “stop and smell the roses” – to enjoy the people that we meet and the places that we go and the experiences that we have as we go.

Enjoying the journey means waking up each morning and being thankful for the opportunity for another day’s travel. Enjoying the journey means taking the time to stop and really listen to those that we meet, getting to know them, and sharing some stories of each other’s journeys.  Enjoying the journey means looking up from your labors to see the things around you and to appreciate the wonders that are there. Enjoying the journey means reflecting upon the experiences that we have each day, rather than rushing onto the next experience.

So, if you were thankful for the chance for another day’s journey at the start of the day; perhaps you should pause at the end of the day to savior the memories of that day. If man relaxingyou started the day thanking God for giving you another chance to travel on; perhaps you should double back and thank Him for making it memorable. You might also reflect on what you did during the day to make that day better and more memorable for those that you met along the way. Remember that, no matter what you do, the end will be the same. The differences will be found in what you do along the journey.

Did you stop and hold a door open for the next person, or just rush through the door to see what was on the other side? Did you reach into your pocket for some change to give helping handto the poor man sitting on the sidewalk or just shove your hands in your pockets and hurry by him to get to your next appointment? Did you use some of your time to help build or repair a house for another in need or were you too intent on buying more stuff for your own house? At the end of the day, is this how you would want to end your journey?

It’s Monday and you have a whole week’s worth of life’s journey ahead of you. Set some goals for yourself that don’t involve just getting ahead and making more money. Set some goals that have to do with enjoying the journey more and making a positive difference in the lives of those that you meet along the way. Then when Saturday comes along you’ll be able to look back and fondly remember the people, the places and the events of this week’s journey. Have a great week ahead!

See a need, Fill a need…

November 29, 2014

“See a need, fill a need.” – Story headline from a recent Realtor magazine. Every year Realtor Magazine runs a special contest and story about the Realtor who has contributed the most to their community. They call their chosen Realtor the Good Neighbor of the year. This year’s winner is Jane Locke of South Carolina who saw a need for financial help for families with children with disabilities and diseases that wasn’t being filled by existing charities; so she and a group of like-minded people in her area started Carolina Children’s Charity to fill that need. Find out more about that charity at

caringWe often have the tendency to think that we can’t make a difference through just our own small local efforts; but such is not the case. It is also not the case that every effort has to be a large one in and of itself. Lots and lots of little efforts eventually accumulate and make a difference. Even a small, seemingly insignificant effort may make the difference in someone else’s life. If they go on to also make a difference by doing something the whole thing can snowball into a huge difference.

I think a key to filling a need that you may see is to be happy within yourself that you did the deed or filled the need and not to be disappointed if no one else noticed or praised you for having done it. Sometimes you will get a “thank you” if you do something for someone else that they see; however, many times the good works that you do are not such that they would be recognized by giving moneywhomever you helped. You must also feel good about your contribution, no matter how small when compared to others; so long as your effort was sincere and honest. That is especially true if you are just doing things to raise money for a worthy cause. So what, if you managed to give or collect $20 and someone else gave $200 or even $2,000? If your $20 represented your honest effort to help and was given without expectations of any reward, it is as important as the larger amounts.

Much of the time the needs that you might see are not about money; rather they are about the need for services – drivers to deliver Meals on Wheels, for instance; or people to visit shut-ins. volunteer builderSometimes the need s are well behind the scenes and out of the spotlight, such as packing the meals that will be delivered or putting together gift boxes to be sent overseas to our troops. Sometimes it involves joining a groups to accomplish a big task, like building a house for someone in need. Sometimes the needs are very personal – providing someone to listen and talk with for a person who has gone through a loss or who may be suffering through an illness. Maybe it’s just being there in programs such as Big Brother or Big Sister to provide role models and companionship.

We actually “see” needs around us all the time; it’s just that we‘re too busy to stop and help, to fill the need; or we think we are too busy.  All too often the things that we are “busy with” are superficial or contrived and have little actual meaning or consequence. We have created the illusion of being busy out of things like checking our email or texting or playing a game on our helping elderly
phones. Our distractions and amusements have morphed into our “busy.” In the meantime, the needs are still there unfulfilled; we just don’t have the time to look for them or see them because we are “busy.” Take the time out of your busy lifestyle to look around and recognize the needs that are all around you. Fill just a few of those needs and you will feel so much better about yourself and about life. You may even find that you didn’t miss checking your phone or texting while you were actually helping get something meaningful accomplished.

So, today, resolve to See a need, Fill a need.  You likely won’t be in the headlines in tomorrow’s paper, but you will feel really great about yourself as you drift off to sleep tonight. If the need you filled happened to involve direct contact and help for another person that will make two happy people at the end of the day. Have a great and meaningful weekend.

Put on your slippers…

August 6, 2014

From the Jack’s Winning Words blog – “It’s easier to put on slippers than to carpet the whole world.”  (Al Franken)  Jack went on to write – It’s interesting to note that there’s an actual comedian in Congress.  In thisslippewrs instance, Al’s humor makes sense.  We can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can do something about some of them.  Foster-parenting is one.  Collecting school clothing for needy kids is another.  Are there people you know who are wearing slippers today?

An inverse or negative way to make the same statement might be – “It’s easier to put on a pair of boots than to clean up the mess that you’ve got to walk through.” Many people seem happy to just put on a pair of boots and wade through the mess, rather than working to clean things up. Still others would prefer to stand on one side and complain about the mess that is preventing them from progressing; again, rather than do anything to clean it up. Do you know people like that, too?

bucket and scoopSo, which are you? Do you put on your sippers and do what you can now, without waiting for the floor to be carpeted; for everything to be perfect? Do you avoid the work of cleaning things up by putting on a pair of boots and wading through the mess; or, do you grab a bucket and shovel or mop and start making things right?

What’s the common thread between those two views of the world? It’s taking action to do something, rather than finding excuses to wait and not act just because the conditions aren’t perfect. I’ve know people who spend inordinate amounts of time making excuses about why they aren’t doing something and what they have to wait for, rather than jumping in and helping or righting a wrong. They convince themselves and then try to convince those around them that they can’t takeboots action until some other thing is corrected first. In their minds, the act of making the excuse is action and they claim to be ready to act, just as soon as the imagined obstacles in their way are removed. By the time that happens the job has been done or the need has passed, usually not with good results. Of course then they convince themselves that the need wasn’t really all that important in the first place.

So, today, put on your slippers, or get out your shovel, and starting doing something that needs to be done, rather than finding more excuses for doing nothing. Sure the world isn’t perfect and it won’t be no matter how long you wait, but someone will be happier in your little corner of the world because you reached out and helped or did what needed to be done. World hunger will not be solved; but some little, old lonely person will be happy tonight because you brought them a Meals –on-Wheels meal and stayed to chat for w few moments. Some at-risk child will go to bed tonight with a smile on his or her face because you took the time through Big Brothers or Big Sisters to reach out to them and help. Some soldier helping childin a far off land will feel more connected to home because you took the time to write a note and send some treats.

You may not have solved the worlds issues with hunger and loneliness in the elderly or resolve the issues with at risk children or cause world peace and bring all of the soldier everywhere home; but your single act of caring or kindness made one little part of that bigger problem better, at least for today. And tonight, when you take your slippers off, you will feel a whole lot better about yourself.

Three little words that can change your life… Can I help? (3 of ?)

March 23, 2014

Sometimes the simplest little things can have big impact on our lives. In this series of posts I examine very short sentences (each just three words long) that can make a difference in your life. If you have a three word sentence that changed your life somehow, share it with me and I will share it with the world.

In yesterday’s post I discussed how hard it is for some, especially men, to admit that they need help and to ask for it. Today let’s look at a simple little sentence that seems is equally hard for many, if not most. Can I help? It probably is used in sentence contexts of more than three words, like “Can I help you?” or “Can I help with that?”, but they all start the same way, with a conscious effort t reach out and offer your help.

caringThat sounds so easy to say, much easier than the sentence “I need help”; however, offering your help, volunteering or rushing to someone’s aid in a time of need is something that we all hesitate on to some degree. We see stories on the news all the time about local “heroes” who run into burning buildings to rescue someone or pull people from burning cars at an accident scene. One thing that is fairly common when they are interviewed afterwards is the statement, “I didn’t even think about it I just acted.” That’s sort of the nature of emergency situations and how we as humans react to them.

But what about all of those times when it isn’t an emergency, it isn’t a burning building or a car crash; maybe it’s just seeing someone with a flat tire along the highway or seeing an older person having trouble getting across the street or loading her car at the grocery store. We’re actually pretty good about those things, too; but all too often we are too busy, in too big of a hurry and we avert our eyes or turn away.

Now, take the case of the neighbor that you see crying on her front porch or the fellow office worker that you see has had too much to drink at the office party. What then? Or how about the call from the church asking if you can visit some shut-in congregation members or maybe asking if you can drive to deliver Easter Baskets of food to several needy families. Is it getting tougher to say yes to those situations?

dissapointed ladyHow about that co-worker that just got the layoff notice, the woman next door who seems to always have a bruise on her face or the neighbor who just lost his wife to cancer. Can you help them?  Of course you can, but will you. After all you’ve got a life, too; and, you have things to do. You have work and golf on the weekends and kids games to go to and on and on. You just don’t have time, do you? Or do you and you just don’t want to take the time to offer that help?

“Never underestimate the difference YOU can make in the lives of others. Step forward, reach out and help. This week reach to someone that might need a lift” ― Pablo

You may not know what you can do to help. Don’t worry; just being there for that person is a great start. Being a good listener is probably the best way to help initially and you can go from there. Obviously there is only so much that you have the skills to help with, but maybe you are there for the purpose of helping that person seek the professional counseling that they need. Don’t try to be a psychologist yourself, but try to get that person to see one if things are really that bad. Sometimes just letting them talk things out is all that they needed; but sometimes they need that final push to seek more help than you can give them – perhaps a shelter for battered helping handwomen or a professional grief counselor. Take their hand and lead them to that help.

“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.” ― Charles de Lint

All of us can do our little bit to help.

Maybe it gets down to a choice that you make because you “don’t want to get involved.” I would submit that you’re already involved. You are a fellow human being and one of the things that defines us as humans is our ability to have compassion for others.

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another. – Thomas Merton

So you see that you are already involved, you just haven’t committed to play your role in things yet.

If all of the above is not enough to convince you to reach out and help someone, then do it for yourself; to bring purpose to your life. I discussed the end game in life in the 11th post of my Eleven Hints for Life series.

When you get to the end, the things that you will remember and bring that smile to your face are the times that you didn’t turn your back on the opportunity to help someone, the times that you weren’t too busy to reach out; the times that you made a difference in someone’s life just by being there and offering to help. Some of those you’ve helped will probably show up at your funeral and some may even know that they are there because you stopped to help. You’ll know, too!

“It’s not enough to have lived. We should be determined to live for something. May I suggest that it be creating joy for others, sharing what we have for the betterment of personkind, bringing hope to the lost and love to the lonely.” ― Leo Buscaglia

Can you help? Yes, you can.

Listen for the cry for help that is unspoken…

February 14, 2014

“There’s always a little truth behind ‘just kidding,’ a little emotion behind ‘I don’t care,’ a little pain behind ‘I’m OK,’ a little need behind ‘Leave me alone.’”  (Truth Quotes), which I picked up at the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Wow, is that little saying powerful! We all tend to hide behind words like “just kidding” or “I’m OK” or “Leave me alone”, when we should be asking for help or at least letting those who are trying to help into our lives. Why is that? I suppose it all comes down to trust and letting your defenses down enough so that someone can understand the pain or the loneliness or the sorrow that you are feeling and offer their help.

dispairA key thing to understand is that most people really do want to help, but you may be so effective at masking your pain or blocking out everyone that they can’t get through your defenses to be able to help. Now, I’m not suggesting that you walk up to a perfect stranger and begin pouring your heart out about your issues or problems; but, we all have someone or a few people that we know well enough to share a problem and ask for help. Many times that is a family member, but it could just be a best friend from school or work or maybe a pastor or minister.

That last group – clergymen – is full of people who are usually both well trained and experienced at listening to people’s problems and finding ways to suggest fixes or at least to offer comfort. It’s true that they will probably give you advice that includes getting back in touch with your own religious beliefs; but those beliefs are really the foundation from which you can find the strength to make it through anything.

So, the next time you hear phrases like “just kidding” or “Leave me alone” or “Really, I don’t care”; little red flags should go up in your mind and your goal should be to understand “How can I help this person?”. Sometimes it is not just a defense mechanism on their part; sometimes it indicates that they are still in denial about whatever it was that they are claiming just doesn’t matter. Whether it’s a defensive move or they are still in denial, the first step to helping them is always to get them to talk about it with you.

Many times what they relate to you may bring up a memory of a similar incident in your life that you can usecatch a falling shild with them to show them how you dealt with it and how they might approach the problem and you did. Sometimes what they lay out may just have you saying, “Wow, I can’t even begin to understand what you must be going through.” Those are probably issues or problems that need the help of trained professionals or clergy and your help will be to try to get them to visit with someone like that that can help. That is especially true if what you are hearing sounds like a person contemplating suicide. There are trained people manning hotlines to help with that and you should try to hook them up with someone like that, rather than try to talk them off the ledge yourself. It might help if you volunteer to go with them or to make the call with them, but you should not try to act as if you are a suicide counselor.

For other issues there are also community-based programs that offer help to troubled youth or youth from troubled homes. In Oakland County, Michigan, those programs operate under the umbrella of the Youth Assistance Program. I recently wrote about a fund raising event for YA in our community on this blog. Click here to read that post, which also explained some of what the program offers.

elderly womanMany times, at the opposite end of life’s journey, it is the elderly that need someone to share some time with. They may be lonely or feel trapped in their homes because of failing health or safety concerns. Taking the time to stop by, “just to see how you’re dong” can make their day. Unlike youth, these are also people who are full of fascinating life stories sometimes gathered over impressive spans of time. They may also surprise you with their insights into issues in your life and perhaps shine a light of perspective on them that you have not seen before. In most cases, you’ll be surprised how sharp and alert those old folks are. For most of us the body starts giving out to age, but the mind never really ages.

So, keep an ear open for the catch-phrases that are really calls for help and be ready to respond. You might even listen for them in your own life; and, if you hear them, ask yourself – “What am I denying? Who can I go to for help?”

Be the thermostat in someone’s life…

December 19, 2013

“You’ve got to be a thermostat rather than a thermometer.”  (Cornel West) – from the Jack’s Winning Words blog.

Jack went on to say a little about being the agent that helps cool down heated situations or warm up chilled relationships. I suspect that this is also what Cornel West had in mind when he coined that phrase.

thermometerWe all act much of the time in the role of the thermometer, reflecting the heat of the moment or reacting to a cold shoulder or chilled relationship. It’s human nature to sense and react to things in our surroundings; however, it is an act of conscientious human concern to act more like the thermostat and adjust what is going on in the environment to bring it more in line with the normal.

Things can get heated quickly, whether it’s an argument that gets out of hand or perhaps just a misunderstanding that is carried too far. One can move from slightly miffed to angry all too quickly if there is nothing to moderate the situation. That’s where the person acting like a thermostat comes into play. Someone who can step in and bring the cooling voice of reason to a situation is often the only thing that prevents anger from boiling over into actions or words that would be long regretted by all involved. In many cases the words have already been uttered and neither side can find a way to apologize or take them back.

In situations of chilly or cold relationships, the thermostat provides that spark of warmth to thaw the situation out and allow love back into the equation. People don’t naturally dislike or hate others; they may getthermostat into situations where something – an act or maybe a perceived snub (real or imagined) – puts a chilly barrier between them and someone that they love(d). Sometimes people get trapped by those icy barriers and can’t find their way back. A third party, acting as a thermostat, can provide the initial warmth to melt the barrier and perhaps provide the spark to rekindle the love that was there at one time.

There’s another way to look at this role and that is one that is well defined in a recent series of ads for HAP (Health Alliance Plan) on TV in which a lady who is a HAP Customer Services Rep defines her role in talking to HAP customers as a problem solver – “a human aspirin” as she puts it. She takes away their headaches over healthcare issue. The thermostat role is sort of like a human aspirin role in pained human relationships.

I suspect that the biggest roadblock for most is a reluctance to get involved. It is easier to say, “That’s their problem, let them work it out. I don’t want to seem to be a busybody.” You are willing to just observe the heat or the cold between the parties (or between yourself and someone else, but not to take any action to help).  That’s taking the thermometer approach.

At that moment when you are ready to just take the temperature of things in a situation, but not act; maybe you should ask yourself, “If it were me in this situation, would I want someone to help? If I was in danger of losing the loving relationship with a friend, a wife, a bother or mother or father over this issue or misunderstanding; would I want someone to intercede and help work this out?” You’re not being a busybody; you’re being a true friend – a thermostat in this person’s life. So, be the thermostat and not just the thermometer.