The Biscayne Times

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Jan 22nd
The Season of Kindness PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
December 2019

 

’Tbigstock-Adult-Helping-Senior-In-Hospit-5324103is the season. It’s time to give thanks, take stock, look up from that smartphone, shut off the TV, and break from the news and confirmation bias. Now we try to connect with family, friends, and strangers.

Any time works, but this six-week season of thanks and giving that ends with resolution serves as a marker to fortify for the coming year.

In that spirit, we take a break from North Miami/NMB news this month -- with one exception. The November 5 story by Aaron Leibowitz in the Miami Herald about North Miami shenanigans with a city insurance contract for Tamarac Commissioner Mike Gelin is worth a read. Gelin won local preference through a 3-2 vote with a sketchy virtual office at $62.50 a month. It is a peculiar story of how the sausage is made, with an extra helping of stinky fish.

That said, one can find cause for thanks. Here in South Florida, the morning air is again clean and crisp. Tropical disturbances spared us this season, a welcome reprieve. Beaches, gardens, parks, outdoor markets, and street events beckon with the chance to meet old friends and make new ones. We’re thankful for any health, family, friends, work, colleagues, money, and time we have, all of which provide strength to connect and contribute, provided that -- to borrow from Dr. Suess -- we’re in pretty good shape for the shape we are in.

For all the gratitude, we also know that holidays get lonely.

Most of us have been there in one way or other -- awkward family gatherings or bereavement, isolation, caregiving pressures, and illness, all of which can make the season exquisitely painful. Just in time for the holiday run-up, check out New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof‘s November 9 piece: “Let’s Wage a War on Loneliness.”

Loneliness hurts. It also kills. Kristof cites data indicating that social isolation is more lethal than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. It increases inflammation, heart disease, dementia, and likelihood of earlier death.

Loneliness can lead to depression, opioid use, political extremism, often an alluring magnet for the disconnected and disenfranchised. It doubtless fuels the global politics of grievance and increases tribalism, exacerbated by media outlets that find profit hijacking brain amygdala to produce eyeballs, clicks, and revenue. Now, with the advance of “deep-fake” technologies, it is entering a new phase.

The antidote to this is community -- a living, breathing, organic assembly of diverse personalities, interests, and opinions -- starting with each individual. The British government last year appointed Baroness (Diana) Barran as minister for loneliness. Her ministry is handing out small grants to gardening clubs, bird-watching groups, dog walking clubs (dogs are great company and wonderful conversation starters), and “public benches” to encourage casual friendly chats. Any town can do the same.

We list below some resources for jump-starting such conversations.

While it might be easy to post one’s good fortune on Facebook or Instagram, there’s more to life than appearances. We can walk into a familiar or strange gathering or our workplace or our house of worship, and quietly read the room to find the lone person -- the colleague off by his or her own at the office or the stranger who just walked into your house of worship -- and throw out a line.

Whatever the case, Barran tells Kristof, it’s important to keep things upbeat. “We should focus on people’s gifts rather than people’s problems,” she says, “because most of us would prefer to talk about our gifts.”

Amen. Who wants to be known by their shortcomings -- or to be more precise, their current bout of weather?

I recently attended a milestone high school reunion. It was good to see us connect, but also striking to notice how we tended to cluster into groups or cliques. Like, after all, attracts like.

That’s the natural temptation for most of us; our social groups and connections are usually far less demographically varied than the community as a whole. Here in funky North Miami (and South Florida), it’s a privilege to reach out and break bread with people who grew up in Liberty City, Haitian villages, the South Bronx, Kyiv, Medellin, or in this very town. South Florida’s ever-shifting kaleidoscope of humanity offers revelations harder to come by in Tulsa or Indianapolis. My workplace in Brickell, for instance, includes people from Egypt, India, Poland, France, Trinidad, Honduras, California, and Pennsylvania, with connections to time zones around the world. It’s high-pressure -- most are too often busy to chat -- but there’s a certain welcome fizz.

Away from the gleaming towers, our community has terrific needs, too, with a yawning prosperity gap, lack of affordable housing, and communities riven by gun violence and family breakups. One can read to the blind, tutor a struggling student, help someone learn to read, or be a Big Brother or Big Sister. Or if that’s too much, one can volunteer at the Humane Society of Greater Miami at 161st Street and West Dixie Highway or the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station on the 79th Street Causeway.

The City of North Miami is always looking for volunteers at events, and its public information officer, Kassandra Timothe, says the North Miami Food Pantry is in dire need of volunteers. (Search online for feedingsouthflorida.org or Pass It On Ministries.)

Food is an issue for lots of people. One friend in her early 70s let slip that her North Miami rent is jumping from $930 to more than $1000 a month on a $1300 Social Security check after Medicare. How can that work?

There are some excellent, non-political, faith-based social justice groups, such as miamipact.org, which takes on affordable housing, gun violence, and immigration. Hands on Miami -- at handsonmiami.org -- is a wonderful portal for volunteering, often with one-off opportunities for those who wish to sample first. The Smile Trust, at mthsmile.com, offers plenty of opportunities to serve the homeless. And United Way offers its own resources.

Apart from that, fresh air and sports are a great healer for many of us, even the non-athletic. People of any age and shape can show up and paddle, as I do, with a dragonboat team in Hollywood or Rickenbacker Causeway. The scenery, exercise, and fellowship are glorious.

Sure, the news is disturbing. All the more reason, then, to turn off that TV, stop looking at that smartphone, buy a Democrat or Republican lunch, volunteer at that family shelter, take a class, or say hi to that person on the bench. It’s food for your well-being, for that of those around you, and for your community. Heck, it’s even patriotic.

 

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