The Voice of Experience: It’s never too late to make a difference

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Dr. Gerald Jampolsky wrote a book back in 1925 entitled One Person Can Make a Difference: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things. As I was wondering what to write about, I began to flip through the pages and found, “It’s never too late…” and it’s not to late for me to steal the odd quote from him!

He poses a couple of questions that I feel are really important to us all: “When I am dead, how will I be remembered? Has my life been so insignificant that I really didn’t make a difference?” And, as he says, the answers can be painful for many of us. I personally don’t care if people forget about my work experiences or that I was on a bowling league back in the 1940s or that I once sang in a choir. What I really care about is how much difference I have made in people’s lives over the years. Am I still making a difference? I sincerely hope so.

“As the years pass and we enter that stage of life that some refer to as ‘old age’ or ‘elderly’, there is a temptation to look back on our lives and be disappointed by what we find. And, if we look ahead, we see but a few years left, and we may wonder what we have … the feeling that we have had little or no effect on the planet or those who live on it.”

Many of us haven’t had a whole lot of time to even think about that, being busy with work and raising a family. However, I feel that now, as I have reached that “elderly” space, is the prime time for me to have a positive effect on those people in my community, on my friends, on my family. Some years ago, my stress management business, Concepts in Health, had positive effects on those attending workshops and seminars, as well as the one-on-one clients who came through my door. Nowadays I’m too tired to plan and facilitate the workshops, but am grateful to those who still come to me in need.

Also, I am grateful to provide a wee bit of guidance through a local Internet program called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — remember that book by Dr. Carlson? You can check that out on if you care to. In this case, I read a small chapter from the book, then add my own comments and suggestions. Most of all, I’m having fun with it! And that, regardless of what you do, is most important.

I give hugs. Now that my hair is silver (as Henri says!), it’s much more acceptable socially to give hugs than when I was a few decades younger — probably safer too! Sharing the energy of a hug lifts the spirits of both participants, and brings a smile to the faces of those watching. In fact, just this week, a young lady said, “What about me?” That brought a series of hugs around the room, complete with smiles and laughter.

A while ago, I noticed a man coming toward me downtown, dressed rather poorly, with a downtrodden look in his eyes. Homeless, perhaps. No job, maybe. Whatever the reason, he looked rather lost. I greeted him with a smile and “Good morning” as I often do with people I don’t know. He appeared to be shocked at first, then smiled and greeted me too. OK, so I couldn’t give him a job or a place to sleep, but I gave him all that I could — a recognition that he was still a member of the human race and worthy enough to receive a bit of warm, heartfelt energy. It made me feel good, too.

There are so many things that can be done by us all to make this world a better place to live in. let’s start by getting rid of the baggage we’ve been carrying around for years — old hurts, the quarrels that have divided the family or friendships. Let’s remember that it is our baggage and no one else’s, and that we are the only ones who can get rid of it. Let’s clear out the negative things that have been holding us back from truly enjoying life and passing our joy on to others. It’s amazing how freeing it is. Forgiving ourselves is every bit as important (or more so) than forgiving others.

And, right now, I’m sending each of you a big, warm hug! Did that make a difference? Sure hope so. And please, pass it on.

Mary Underhill is a stress therapist and grief counsellor. The Voice of Experience is co-ordinated by the Therapeutic Activation Program for Seniors.