Help others this Christmas season - Keith Roulston editorial
Sometimes it’s hard to see the Christmas spirit in the world around us. On one hand, the T.V. news every night features the generosity of people who have given to a number of Christmas food drives, but on the other there is the reality that we still need food banks.
We see the wonderful open hearts of people who donate coats, mittens and new underwear to people who are poor, but on the other hand, why are there so many people living in poverty or, worse, living in makeshift shelters like tents in the middle of a Canadian winter?
With our government-supported housing, our welfare system and so many government supports, not to mention better general living standards, we are so far ahead of the days of Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol, that I mentioned in last week’s column. On the other hand, with so many people able to invest in rental houses and apartments, we also have a larger portion of the population who are like Scrooge, out to get every penny they can from their investments. How many landlords, big and small, have hiked up their rents during the last inflationary year, not just to meet their additional costs, but boost their profits?
Meanwhile, we have a government in Ontario that reduced the provincial tax on gas and gave car owners back their license fees, while pleading poverty as far as providing health care and school workers with a wage that keeps up with inflation.
So with some people, like food and clothing shelter volunteers and those collecting toys and gifts to give to families in need on one hand, and those trying to maximize their investments on the other, it’s sometimes hard to remember that Christmas shows the best of humanity.
Then the other day I was doing my exercises in front of the window and the trees outside were dripping icicles from freezing rain that was falling and my memories were jogged about the 1998 ice storm that pelted eastern Ontario and southern Quebec with up to 100 millimetres of freezing rain, leaving some people without power for weeks as even giant electricity towers caved in under the weight of the ice.
Fortunately, I wasn’t in the middle of the area hit by the storm so generally my memories are of the good and generous side of human beings as they reached out to help.
It all started on Jan. 4, when the freezing rain began falling and it lasted for days. I was attending Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week, in Elmwood, for a week-long series of information days on crops, beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, goats, horses and ecological farming as part of my primary job as editor of our sister publication, the farm magazine The Rural Voice.
On day one, the subject of the hardship hitting their eastern comrades kept farmers buzzing at all breaks and the luncheon session. By the second day, talk was of what could be done to help and soon farmers were bringing their portable electrical generators to the event, to be loaded on trucks to be sent east to farmers in need of power to help milk their cows or feed their pigs. Momentum to help grew with each passing day. A week designed to help farmers from Grey and Bruce Counties also facilitated helping farmers in the eastern part of the province.
The crisis went on and on as 30,000 utility poles fell, causing a blackout for half its population. In Quebec, 3.5 million lost power, and more than a million Ontarians, and thousands in the Maritimes were left in the dark, some for several weeks.
A total of 35 people died as a direct result of the ice storm.
The army was called in to help with 16,000 Canadian Forces personnel engaged in the largest deployment of Canadian military personnel since its involvement in the Korean War.
I don’t know how many of the generators loaned at Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week (or by farmers in Huron, Perth and elsewhere) actually made it home. Many were worn out and useless after exhaustive use on farms in the east. I’m sure the farmers who donated them were repaid in good memories.
There are other examples of such neighbourly generosity too. I remember as a kid, one Christmas season, when a single ring on our pre-dial party-line told our neighbours there was a fire at the farm across the road. All the neighbours were on hand by the time the local fire department arrived. The fire turned out to be minor and was dealt with quickly by so many volunteers, but the lesson of caring individuals has stuck with me for nearly 70 years.
So, what do we tend to remember as Christmas approaches? The few who are so consumed with profits or the many caring, giving people who try to improve the lives of those less fortunate than themselves by giving to food banks and homeless shelters?
Be one of the good people this Christmas, those rewarded by helping others.