February. The coldest month of the year. The height of winter. And, brrrrr, it’s cold out there! February is also the month of love. Valentine’s Day is a time we stop to reflect on those we love, their importance in our lives and to show the gratitude and emotional appreciation that we have for them. It is a month that is both the coldest and the warmest in our year.
I can remember, as a homeless person, dreading the month of February. For two reasons. First, I knew that I was going to have to find a way to deal with frigid temperatures and ensure that I kept all of my fingers and toes. And, secondly, I knew that while everyone else would be celebrating their love for one another, I would be alone. No family, no girlfriend, no friends, period. The bitterness of the winter was only magnified by the bitterness of loneliness. Everyday, there are many who are experiencing these same feelings. Scared, alone, cold. Hoping to just make it another day, both physically and emotionally.
I often wonder if Valentine’s Day was intentionally put in the coldest month of the year. Could it be that ‘they’ knew that the warmth created by the love for others could help us to brave and cope with the cold of the elements? It is my experience that my love for, and the love from, my family, wife, friends, and others in my life provide me sense of value and belonging that helps me to survive most challenges that life throws my way. Feeling that there are those that care about me, that I am needed, that I make a difference, provides me the self esteem and strength to handle my life and its ups and downs, knowing that I am not alone. And this love motivates me to spread that caring to others that need help. Those that need to feel valued. Those that need the warmth of believing that they are not alone. I cannot take every cold, homeless person into my house to get them out of the weather. At a certain point, they need to want that for themselves and take the steps to begin that process. But what I can do is show them compassion. What I can do is to be kind. What I can do is be prepared for when they are ready to make a change in their lives and to help direct them to the help that they need. That is what was done for me. That is what my family and loved ones still do for me. And it is what I now do for others – including those who are not my family and loved ones.
Sometimes, love can melt the ice of winter. Caring, compassion and genuine concern can warm both the hearts and the bodies of those who are alone and cold. A kind word. A moment to listen. A hot cup of coffee. Just showing someone that they matter. My experience is that these things brought me more warmth than any coat, than any blanket, than any shelter. Yes, eventually I needed actual heat to survive, but having people show me care, concern and sometimes even love, gave me the motivation to want to help myself. Because I knew that I mattered. To someone. And I wanted to become a better person that could matter to everyone. Especially my family and friends again. The warmth of love helped me to overcome the cold of winter. The ‘winter’ that was my life at that time…
Paul L. Scudo is the Executive Director of Step Denver and is in recovery from the disease of addiction.