by Mirah W. (mwelday)
Chances are you have heard the old adage if you share a smile with someone you could change his or her life. And we’ve all heard of the Golden Rule. The key with both of these is to actually put them into practice. In my opinion, until we take a minute to step out of our own lives and see what others might endure, we really can’t offer true compassion.
To mark Cheer Up the Lonely Day, I decided to highlight a book my book club read last month: In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, a memoir by Neil White. Mr. White takes us back to 1993 when he is sent to prison for bank fraud. What makes this story interesting is the location of the federal prison where he is to serve his sentence. Mr. White gets sent to a facility in Carville, Louisiana which served as a home for some of the last people in the continental United States afflicted with leprosy. I admit, while reading this story I was not moved by Mr. White’s story and his transformation. I only know Mr. White through this book so I will choose not to make a judgment call on whether he became a better person during his time at Carville; instead, I will focus on his interactions with the leprosy patients at the facility.
I was transfixed by the stories of the leprosy patients living in the colony. Some of them shared their stories with Mr. White about how they ended up in the colony. I can’t imagine the loneliness or isolation they must have felt when they were sent to the colony or dropped off by their families and not allowed to return to their normal lives. One sign of the disease on their bodies and they were banished to a new place, a new life, a new existence to be defined by their disease.
One of Mr. White’s jobs at the prison was to write the menu for the day on the board in the dining room. He would use different colors or draw pictures, including caricatures of Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro, to make the board more interesting. The patients looked forward to his drawings and would laugh about the sign. He would share moments with Ella, a longtime resident of the facility. He was willing to ask her opinion on things and learn about her life. Mr. White also began to realize the stigma the patients felt when called lepers. He felt sympathetic of the life the patients had been forced to live in the colony and gained a respect for how they tried to live their life with dignity in spite of their circumstances.
Dignity and respect are at the cusp of Cheer Up the Lonely Day, I think. Loneliness is fed by so many catalysts. Different people experience loneliness due to different circumstances: illness, separation from those we love, new surroundings, personal loss. But, in the end, no matter how the loneliness begins, we all search for someone to respect our feelings and show us a glimpse of happiness again. You really don’t know what impact your smile or kind word can have on someone else. Cheer Up the Lonely Day provides us the perfect opportunity to escape the humdrum of our everyday lives. We have an excuse to reach out to someone else and spread cheer and kindness. We have an opportunity to show others they aren’t alone.