An out-of-town friend of mine recently shared the heartbreak of having another person let her down.
My friend has health issues which include severe pain. All she wanted was someone to go with her to another one of the myriad doctors of she has to see in order to get a better diagnosis and treatment. A friend of hers promised to accompany her but did not. This left my friend feeling cheated and alone.
Not long afterward, I read yet another article encouraging people to embrace the spirit of the season by giving to those less fortunate.
Food drives, coat drives, toy drives, blanket drives – those are but a few of the charitable projects seeking donations right here in the Lehigh Valley.
What a shame we get all this encouragement to give to strangers when those we know personally may actually need us just as much, if not more.
Don't get me wrong. I support and applaud these charitable causes. One of our family Christmas traditions is to adopt a family through an organization such as Northampton Quota and provide Christmas gifts for someone who would otherwise go without.
We've fostered cats for animal rescue organizations and we regularly support local fundraisers by donating baskets of goodies for raffle prizes.
The recent incident with my friend, however, just capped off a series of incidents that is making me realize that "less fortunate" should not be just a catch phrase. Being in need is not something that happens only to strangers.
Our quest to help others should not begin and end with making a donation to some group and then immediately turning back to our own lives. We need to see the need around us, in our own families and in our circle of friends and acquaintances.
I've become friends with the Galusha family, who lost 12-year-old Dakota in a freak accident in front of Northampton Area Middle School Jan. 9, 2009. I've also begun to form a bond with the Ferullo family, who lost 18-year-old Alec to brain cancer Oct. 8, just four months after he graduated from Northampton Area High School.
I have a friend who lost her husband to cancer in March and another friend who had to give up her job for health reasons at about that same time.
The friend who lost her husband recently contacted me to apologize for not finishing something she said she'd do. Although she thought she was on her way to recovering from her loss, she encounters setbacks at the most inopportune times.
People like these are not necessarily struggling financially and, as such, may not fit the definition we've assigned to "less fortunate." But they, too, need help through the love and support of their family and friends.
What they need is not a donation to some kind of cause, but rather a few moments of our time.
You may not know the Galushas, the Ferullos or the other individuals I mentioned. But I bet you know someone who could use a hand.
Maybe you know someone who recently lost a loved one. Maybe you know someone experiencing a painful medical condition or even a not-so-painful condition that just involves the frustration of keeping numerous doctors' appointments.
Maybe you know someone who recently lost a job, or had a falling out with family or someone else of importance.
If you are able, why not reach out to and support those people in your life?
Accompany someone with medical issues to a doctor's appointment or offer to proofread a resume for someone who has lost a job.
Ask someone to lunch or invite them to dinner.
If you're not sure what to do, just reach out. Call, email or stop by and strike up a conversation. And then listen. If you pay attention to what is said to you, chances are you will get an idea of what the other person needs and what you can do.
Most likely what is needed is your time and your emotional investment.
By all means, continue to give to food drives, coat drives, blanket drives and other charitable causes. But don't forget that helping others doesn't stop there. It means being there for those right in front of you who are dealing with their own difficulties.
The best part about doing this is that it will strengthen relationships and that can pay dividends in the future.
Who knows, some day it may be you who needs their support. Like the old cliche, the best way to have a friend is to be one.
Johanna S. Billings