As I was driving down the street very early the other morning, I saw a man, covered with a blanket, sleeping on a bench outside. I thought, wow, it’s cold out there. The outside thermometer on the dash of my car read: 41 degrees. After all, it’s now December and we’ve just had our first winter storm warning of the season. With my car heater blasting away and the seat warmers switched on, I drove to the Plaza past the gaily decorated downtown shops, their festive window displays warmly beckoning holiday shoppers inside.
During this busy time of year, it can be easy to forget or overlook those among us who are much less fortunate; those for whom a hard metal bench is a cold substitute for a soft, warm bed. There are many folks in our midst just like that man sleeping on the bench, people we see daily lugging heavy, soiled backpacks and wearing ill-fitting clothes and worn-out shoes. Fortunately, we have many concerned community members who are seeking solutions, and that is wonderful. But we know there is much to be done, and Ashland has more possibilities, and perhaps far more means, than many towns the same size.
The holidays can be a precious time for us to pause and reflect on what we have, compared to those who have so much less. It can be a time to think about how we can act, and what we can do, to spread a sense of caring and generosity toward others. As in Charles Dickens’ classic, “A Christmas Carol,” we can take this opportunity to look at our own Scrooge-ish tendencies to grasp and cling to what we have, rather than giving with an open heart — giving not because we feel we “should,” but because it makes us genuinely happy to do so.
There are numerous ways to give, from donating to the food bank, helping to serve meals, giving to a favorite charity, or volunteering our time and skills. We can begin by simply opening our eyes and seeing a person in need as a fellow human being, rather than someone who “didn’t work hard enough” or who is “just some druggie.” After all, does anyone “deserve” to be without shelter, warmth and food on a cold winter’s night? I daresay those hardhearted enough to suggest such a thing have never been in such need themselves. Is it our business to judge why someone has landed on the wrong side of good fortune, or is perhaps choosing a lifestyle that we cannot comprehend?
When the Ghost of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s deceased business partner, arrives draped in heavy chains (chains connected to “cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel”), Scrooge protests, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
Jacob Marley rattles his heavy chains and cries, “Business!...Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
As we, hopefully, shop local (after a long, difficult summer of smoke) and enjoy our holidays, may we be mindful of those who have so much less and remember Marley’s words of charity, mercy, and benevolence as we go about our own “business” during this season of warmth and good cheer.
Author, TV presenter and world traveler Susanne Severeid is an Ashland resident who enjoys making time for the important things in life — including mocha. Read more of her columns at dailytidings.com/lifestyle/mocha-musings. For more, go to www.susannesevereid.com. Email her at email@example.com.