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Donato Tramuto of Ogunquit is an author and chair and founder of the Tramuto Foundation and Health eVillages. He is also an honorary scholar in residence at St. Joseph’s College.
Prior to COVID-19, the United States was experiencing the effects of the new chronic condition of “loneliness.” Little did we know that we would face a pandemic that would put this condition on steroids. Unfortunately, the twin sister to COVID-19 has been that loneliness and social isolation have since risen in every age group around the world.
Anyone who knows me understands that I love an authentic story and always encourage others to share theirs. The power of a personal story, honestly told, can cross the divide that loneliness and isolation create and can drive greater connection. Connecting through stories can even change the trajectory of a life.
This was the case for a boy of 8 years old who lost most of his hearing from an ear infection. For nearly a decade, he was bullied by his peers, even by some family members. His hearing loss was so severe that he failed the fifth grade. He felt friendless and alone.
During the next decade, he endured five experimental surgeries. The last one restored partial hearing in both ears. When the bandages were removed, the horror of not hearing was replaced by the horror of hearing himself speak. He could not pronounce basic words, making it hard to communicate. Many viewed him as having a disability. No one saw his future as having any meaning.
Fortunately, his sister-in-law Rosemary was a speech pathologist at the local university. After years of being isolated in his own silent world, she gave the boy the help he needed to improve his speech. More than that, she saw his need, she listened to his story, and was moved through compassion to help him. He no longer felt so alone.
Still, when the time arrived for college, he was rejected by every school — most labeling him as disabled. He couldn’t shake the stigma, but he continued to try. Eventually, he convinced one college that the label of “disabled” was neither appropriate nor fair. He finally found someone who listened to his story. He entered the class of 1975 and four years later graduated summa cum laude.
The boy went on to become a successful business executive, author and a global health care activist.
That young boy was me.
In the past year, we’ve all experienced suffering. These situations point to an opportunity for us to act. It is in our power to take the time to listen to these stories — and to think about how to help if we can.
We enter this new year with optimism about getting control of the pandemic. We look forward to the day when the new vaccines will finally lead to herd immunity. But we also have the power and the opportunity to drive herd compassion and herd kindness as well. This would indeed be a silver lining to a profoundly difficult time. Humanity, tenderness and compassion for others can be the new abnormal for 2021 and beyond.
As I have often said, it makes no difference how much you did, what makes the difference is you did something. It makes no difference how much you give, what makes the difference is you gave something. It makes no difference how many you help, what makes the difference is you helped someone.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Unearned suffering is redemptive.” While the suffering that so many of us have endured in the last year was not deserved, we do nonetheless have the redemptive means to act to save someone else from further sufferings.