We had an unusually cold Christmas weekend that was filled with sunny but frigid days. Most of us stayed warm in our heated homes decked out in holiday splendor. We celebrated the holiday with friends and family and so much joy. We exchanged gifts and sipped on eggnog while munching cookies and all kinds of goodies. There were gifts under the trees and abundance on our tables in spite of inflation and the recent difficult times that so many endured. Life was good for most of us, but I found myself thinking of people both far away and near who are suffering in this season while I enjoy the prosperity of good fortune.
The hard freeze that brought out our coats and blankets reminded me of the souls that I often pass as they wander the streets untethered from homes and families. Many of them are ill both physically and mentally. They suffer from addictions that drove them from their families and their homes. They struggle to survive from one day to the next and most especially when the weather becomes frightful. They remind us that we do so little to help them with the mental maladies that leave them without direction. So often we simply look away, hoping to blunt the feelings that tell us they they deserve our compassion and help even as we struggle to know what to do for them.
An ocean away the people of Ukraine are at war with a nation that invaded their land under the pretense of questionable claims. The souls there have fought valiantly to maintain their freedom and independence from an authoritarian super power. Much of their infrastructure is destroyed. Once quaint towns lie in ruins. Millions have no power, no heat, no safe homes. It would be easy to write off the war in Ukraine as none of our business, a situation that is sad but not worthy of our attention. Nonetheless the human suffering in that country deserves to be acknowledged and addressed.
There is worry that the famine in Somalia will lead to starvation and death for many of the people. The grain that might normally feed the population is not as plentifully as it once was. The supply chain has been interrupted by the war in Ukraine and droughts in parts of the world that were once fertile and productive. The fate of the Somali people demonstrates the interdependence of the nations of the world. It points to our global relationships that require us all to understand that no place is an island that can afford to ignore the rest of the world.
The women of Afghanistan and Iran are being denied the human rights that those of us living in democracies often take for granted. We complain about our educational system while they are being forced to leave classrooms and languish in the isolation of their homes. Our daughters and female friends have the luxuries of learning and voicing opinions that are too often denied to our sisters around the globe. We women need to embrace and appreciate the opportunities that are so abundant for us and attempt to find ways to keep all women learning.
Sometimes the troubles that surround and threaten our complacence can feel so overwhelming that we have a tendency to retreat inward rather than looking beyond our own comfort. We know that we cannot possibly solve every problem, save every person who is crying out for someone to help, but we can be more willing to begin meaningful dialogue in search of ways to lessen the suffering. Instead of seeing those in need as less than ourselves or somehow so broken that they should be judged and shunned perhaps we should attempt to consider that but for the grace of God we might find ourselves in their dire situations.
The story of Jesus from the beginning of his life until his death points us to the conclusion that even the least among us deserve our compassion and understanding. We may be overwhelmed by the numbers who need our help, but if each of us made it a point to choose a cause and do something big or small to lessen the suffering we would no doubt change a life.
Recently I heard an interview on NPR with a man who returned from service in the war in the Middle East with physical and mental wounds. He eased the pain that he was feeling with drugs and alcohol. His depression was so severe that he began to skip work and eventually lost his job. He fought with his family and literally ran away from them, first to live in a cheap apartment and eventually to find his home on the streets of Austin. He wandered aimlessly in a stupor and his health declined.
A team of physicians, dentists and counselors formed an alliance to bring medical care to those living without shelter or direction. They found this man and diagnosed all of his needs. They provided medication and therapy for him. They found a room where he might sleep at night. When he became healthier they help him to find part time work. He is on the mend, clean and sober, spending more and more hours working and earning a living. The group found an apartment that he can afford. They visit him regularly to help him to maintain a positive direction. He is feeling better than he has in years and is hopeful of one day feeling normal again.
As a new year dawns it would be wonderful if we would all resolve to help fight ignorance, hunger, disease and war wherever it exists on this earth. Find a cause and do something positive to help. When we all join in the battle against the plagues that destroy human souls everyone wins. Make 2023 the year of the helper, the time for persons who do something positive for the world.