The lights are on many houses and in the distance, snow can be seen on the mountains and that holiday feeling is in the air. While Christmas draws near, the world around us can steal away some of the very special feelings that the holidays conjure up.
The media is abundant with news that is worrisome and at times shocking. The “fiscal cliff”: I’m pretty sure that I went over my fiscal cliff quite some time ago, right around the time my daughter decided to attend an out of state college.
Still, I know that the “fiscal cliff” is on the minds of many Americans, especially older Americans on fixed incomes. The news of another mass shooting is shocking and practically unbelievable. The families and friends of the innocent victims will pass through Christmas in agonizing pain or numbness and their holiday season will never be the same. Still, with all the bad news and grim stories, most of us have a great deal to be thankful for.
In a couple of weeks my daughter will be going to Africa for a time to teach in a school there and to support the work of an American philanthropic effort. I have been looking at the conditions where she is going and they are desperate. There is little running water, no sewer systems, medications are lacking and schools are in great need. Many live in old corrugated roofing huts and walk about in bare feet even amongst the ruble, trash and sewage.
The huts are built on a garbage dump. My overview of this desperate part of the world has given me pause to consider how lucky many of us are. Just over nine percent of the world’s population owns their own car. About 40 percent of the world’s millions of cars are owned by Americans and the other 60 percent is distributed around the rest of the world. Imagine how different your life would be without a car, especially living where we do. Not only do many Americans have a car, many have two or three in the family. Just over 10 percent of the world’s populations are squatters and many millions more live in what we consider substandard conditions.
Almost 67 percent of Americans own their own homes and even though the recession has taken its toll on home ownership, most Americans still own their homes. Even the poorest among us are provided resources when needed to provide a place to live when ownership or renting cannot be secured independently.
Measures of poverty worldwide have been recently upgraded from people living on one dollar a day to one dollar and twenty five cents a day. Just over 1.5 billion people are living at this unbelievably low level. While every nation in the world struggles with the issue of poverty, Americans can rely on government programs and local relief efforts such as food pantries until they can get back on their feet. Many places in the world do not have these opportunities.
I had the opportunity to meet with a small group of students from an African country quite a few years ago and they had been receiving boxes of American magazines that would have otherwise been thrown out. One of the girls commented that while they enjoyed reading the stories in the many different magazines, it was difficult to see the advertisements. Many of the advertisements depicted people in their new convertible, people riding in a speedboat, watching their big screen television or playing a new game system. To this young girl, it almost seemed criminal that we spent so much money entertaining ourselves while so many of her people were dying form disease, starvation, lack of education and poor nutrition. I remember feeling a little ashamed that I did not have an answer other than to say that many Americans give generously to a variety of relief efforts in her country.
Many of us are busy buying last minute presents for friends and family. We will spend more than we should and worry about it later. We will enjoy Christmas with our families and friends; we will pass out presents and then enjoy the Christmas feast. Many of us will eat too much and loosen our belts when we sit down to watch a movie and to fall asleep on the couch. In so many ways we are fortunate to have the abundance that we have.
Of course there are many Americans who are not doing well this holiday season and we must never discontinue our collective efforts to create the best opportunity we can for every American. In the end, many Americans have a pretty good life when the entire world is considered. I hope that your holiday season is joyful and satisfying and when you sit down to enjoy the abundance that you have; take a few minutes to consider those that don’t.
This year, visit an area nursing home to brighten an elderly person’s day, donate to the local food shelf or area community action program, support our troops, or make a donation to the Red Cross. Make it a family affair, involve your children and let them help choose the organization which will receive your gift. Giving to others who can not repay you makes you feel very good in inside, give that gift to your children and family.
Remember, all kids count.
Reach the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.