A Season To Give Thanks
For me the end of a year is always a time for reflection, a look ahead to the New Year, and to make resolutions I try with the best of intentions but usually fail to manage to keep.
During the past two months I’ve had ample time for reflection after breaking my ankle in a wholly preventable fall in my home that put me into a cast, and too much time in bed.
There has been ample time for reading about the events that transpire daily in our world. Among the subjects that seem to dominate the news these days are disturbing, senseless crimes, poverty, endless war in many unstable parts of the world, accidents, and the antics of an array of politicians without the slightest clue of the meaning of public service.
After the obligatory few days of feeling sorry for myself and my condition I came to the realization that, thankfully, it was nothing permanent and that with time Humpty Dumpty would eventually be put back together again, if slightly the worse for the wear and tear.
My favorite day of the week is Sunday, not only for the distraction and entertainment of football but for the Sunday papers. Newspaper opinion columns are a dime-a-dozen these days, however, in my local paper one writer has stood head and shoulders above the rest for a great many years.
He is Dan McCullough, a professor of philosophy for the past forty years at Cape Cod Community College. However, that hardly begins to describe Dan McCullough. He has also been a commercial fisherman, tug boat captain, bartender, welder, blacksmith, sailboat captain, playwright with five staged plays, author of numerous books and articles, a medical ethicist to two local hospitals, and an intrepid world traveler with a unique perspective about the human condition. Dan has sailed in far flung places from the Hebrides islands of Scotland to most of the Caribbean.
His weekly columns are a treasure and there have been well over a thousand of them written over a long period of years. I’ve yet to read one that hasn’t been thought provoking and inspiring.
While I was recuperating one Sunday, Dan’s weekly column not only caught my eye but also left me pondering my own good fortune. It was about the homeless and their plight in our society. Dan reflected how December 21 is not only the beginning of the winter solstice but also the longest night of the year: a time of freezing temperatures that pose a grave risk to those who have no food, shelter or bed for the night.
Cape Cod, where I live, has never been the make-believe place of the popular Patti Page song. With each passing year a growing plague of drugs has spawned crime and violence on our streets. Nor is the Cape immune from those who suffer from poverty and destitution.
For more than twenty years Dan McCullough has been a tireless advocate for the homeless and downtrodden. He has organized efforts to help the homeless and while the rest of us have been safely in a warm house, apartment or condo he has spent countless late nights prowling the local streets seeking out the places where homeless men and women tend to congregate in order to offer assistance, perhaps a fresh pair of socks or a warm coat – and hope.
Each of their stories is one of travail; all are tragic, whether the result of drugs and alcohol, mental illness, financial ruin or a traumatic event. Sadly, as McCullough notes, they all too often die from exposure, from common illness, lack of even rudimentary health care, and sometimes as victims of the violence often found on our streets:
These are not fictional people from “Oliver Twist” or “Les Miserables.” These are real human beings with real names and faces … They were born beautiful little babies. Just like us. Once upon a time, they sang about a red-nosed reindeer, wrote letters to Santa, and found it hard to sleep on the night of December 24. They were children who were loved, as were you and I … Things just happened in their lives that did not happen in our lives …
(“In the midst of cold, warmth and hope,” Cape Cod Times, December 15, 2013.)
McCullough goes on to remind us that, “we ourselves are a simple twist of fortune or God’s grace from the fates of those we remember that night.”
Each December 21, Dan and a like-minded group of supporters gather to remember with observations, singing, candles, and silence to honor the memory of those unfortunate homeless who have died during the year, and to offer hope that one of “these years we will meet on the longest night and celebrate that there are no longer any homeless people on Cape Cod.”
As we begin 2014, I am exceptionally grateful and profoundly reassured that there exist selfless humanitarians in our midst like Dan McCullough, and those like him who operate our homeless shelters and tend to the less fortunate among us.
I am also thankful for the men and women of our armed forces who keep us safe, and who are often in harm’s way in service to our nation.
To each of them, and to my readers, a very happy and prosperous New Year.