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The holidays aren’t always happy; you can make a difference


One day last week, three different people in three separate settings said to me, “Richard, you’re such a happy person.”

That is generally true, but that same chilly night, I stopped into Toucan Market to get a few things to go with dinner. Driving away, I saw someone huddled in a corner. I stopped to check on her, and gave her some food, as well as a stocking cap to warm her head.

The next day, I passed a dozen homeless people in a 15-minute drive around Las Cruces.

It’s good to be happy, I suppose, but despite the holiday uplift – and man, I love Christmas, the whole festive season – I started ticking off the many troubles surrounding us.

Heard a report about the 18-year war going on in Afghanistan, with constant instances of people dying from improvised explosive devices or suicide bombs.

Read an article about foster children, and how so many of them do badly after foster care ends. One study said a foster child is often better off staying with biological parents even when the parents are substance abusers and/or poverty stricken.

Heard about how the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma had made $12 billion in profit from the sale of opioids. That may explain why they were willing to pay a $3 billion fine. Read that more than 2 million Americans have an opioid use disorder. That’s the equivalent of every resident of New Mexico being addicted to the drug.

Many of our national members of Congress, elected officials we should be able to hold in the highest esteem, are acting worse than third graders. Regarding the issues around impeachment, neither Democrats nor Republicans seem even mildly interested in finding the truth. They only seem interested in getting their way, and frequently appearing as melodramatic, overacting juveniles.

A 20-year-old Las Cruces High School grad died in a car crash.

Also learned the U.S. pays two to six times more for medicine that almost all other countries. And that Americans pay more for cell phone service and airline tickets than most other countries. Of course, we make a lot more money than most countries too.

The average American household carries more than $16,000 in credit card debt. Students who took out college loans (one in four Americans) owe a total of $1.4 trillion, which averages to $32,731 per student.

Acute care for aging loved ones can cost more than $625 a day. That’s about $19,000 a month.

People are killing each other all over the globe because they perceive someone’s God to be the “wrong” one, or their ethnicity to be the “wrong” one, or their belief system to be the “wrong” one, or the stretch of land they’re occupying is the “wrong” one.

Every day, people are ripping off the elderly and the uninformed with telephone scams. Evil geniuses behind malware and ransomware threaten our computer systems, which are so critical to ordinary living now.

I learned recently of a young Nicaraguan, an earnest Christian who joined the police force. When President Daniel Ortega instituted laws that were financially oppressive to senior citizens, and another set of laws oppressive to college students, those two groups began nationwide protests. In some cases, Ortega ordered police to shoot the protestors. The young Christian, practicing his beliefs, refused to kill them. They pelted him with rocks and other weapons, injuring him badly. Meanwhile, he was threatened by the police force for disobeying orders and fled the country to save his life. He made his way to the U.S. seeking safety, but his asylum case was denied.

During holidays, I love listening to Christmas music and have long loved a song titled “This Christmas.” It’s been recorded by dozens of artists and all the versions are great, because it’s a great song, written by Donny Hathaway in 1970. Sadly, though, it also reminds me of Hathaway’s death, nine years later, when he jumped out of a New York City hotel 15 stories up.

And that reminds me New Mexico has the fourth highest teen suicide rate in the country. And that all across America, our veterans also have an excessive rate.

  • • •

I really hesitated to write this column this week, but something deeper compelled me to go ahead.

We all should, especially this time of year, recognize people all around us — often closer than we realize – are hurting, for many different reasons, and many different combinations of reasons.

The holidays often increase those difficulties, whether they are situations or feelings.

But it also means the things we do, whether it’s buying someone a meal, or simply putting a hand on a shoulder, can be an important comfort.

And it just may save a life.


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