Once, about 33 years ago, I spent Christmas in the dumps.
I’d been married in the midst of a blizzard. Four years later, I’d bought her rabbit-fur earmuffs for Christmas. But the marriage was failing and we didn’t make it that far. Instead, we had a big fight, and that was the end. I had realized that she was heartless and cruel and I had to get out. Even though I knew it was the right decision, I hated leaving, because I don’t like to give up on people.
She kicked me out of the apartment, then changed the locks and hired a nasty lawyer. I was homeless and sad and under legal threat, and Christmas music was playing everywhere.
My friend Dena told me I could stay at her house for a few weeks. (She didn’t set that deadline, I did, because I didn’t want to impose too much.) She had a room under her staircase with a little bed in it. The space was about six feet by ten feet with a slanted ceiling; the bed took up most of it. Now I had a place to sleep.
A day or two later, my colleague Jon invited me to spend Christmas Eve with him and his family. I had met Jon at a previous job, where we’d both worked for Dena. When I moved to a startup, I’d hired Jon to work for me as a technical writer. I had asked him to work inhuman hours to meet impossible startup deadlines. But that didn’t matter. Jon decided that if I was alone on Christmas, I should have dinner with him.
On the way to his house, I realized I shouldn’t show up empty-handed. A vendor on the street was selling warm hats and mittens. I bought a purple scarf made out of something soft, wrapped it in tissue paper, showed up at his door, and became part of someone else’s family for a little while. It felt warm and nice for a couple of hours.
I knew there were people who were worse off than me. I still had a job to go to and a paycheck, even if my wife was threatening to take most of it. I was in the dumps but I had a few friends at least. I hired my own lawyer and secured a divorce settlement that took all my savings but not all my paycheck (the divorce decree listed my location as “parts unknown”). I found an apartment, which isn’t so easy on a few weeks notice over the holidays. My parents bought me a bed.
I reconstructed my life and, after a couple of years, was no longer broken. I fell in love with the right person and that eventually worked out alright. We’ve now been married almost 30 years.
I don’t know how I could have gotten through that December and January without Dena and Jon. They reached out to me and never gave it a second thought. They reached down into the dumps and pulled me out a little, enough for me to get back on my feet. It still makes me sad to remember how sad I was, but happy to remember how what they did made a difference.
Someone near you is hurting right now. Maybe you haven’t talked to them in a while. Maybe you’re enjoying the warmth of being with your family over these holidays. Or maybe it’s you that’s down in the dumps right now.
Reach out. Reach down. Reach up. Connect. Share the warmth you have. No matter what else is happening or has happened, make that connection.
Someday you’ll be looking back on those memories, as I am now, and you’ll be grateful for that connection. So reach out now.
Thanks, Dena. Thanks, Jon. And thanks to all of you.
Talk to you tomorrow.