D. Kevin McNeir

What’s On Your Christmas List for 2022?’ Just One Word!

As a little boy anticipating that special day when most, if not all, of my wishes came true –Christmas – I remember my mother cranking up the record player and playing the family’s Top Ten of holiday albums. She always included two recordings by Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, an anthology of Christmas classics, The Temptations and, my favorite, The Jackson Five. And among the songs on the Jackson Fives’ recording, I think I liked “Give Love on Christmas Day” best of all. The song begins with a familiar practice, especially for children: making that list for Santa Claus with the things they’ve been hoping to receive all year long.

It begins:

People making lists, buying special gifts,

Taking time to be kind to one and all and it’s that time of year when good friends are near and you wish you could give more than just presents from a store

Why don’t you give love on Christmas Day

Oh even the man who has everything

Would be so happy if you would bring

Him love on Christmas Day

No greater gift is there than love.

It’s been many years since I’ve formulated a list and even longer since I’ve actually believed that the items on my list would magically appear under the tree on December 25th. But after the past two years of the still prevalent COVID-19 pandemic, surviving two frightening bouts with the virus, as well as being struck with health challenges due to mold infestation in my home and my former employer “suddenly” deciding that she wanted to take a “different direction” which did not include my time, talents or commitment to what I perceived as excellence, Christmas did not feel like something to celebrate.

After several weeks of pain and being unable to do much more than struggle to the bathroom or feed my dogs and let them outside to do their business, after being hit with another setback – a flareup of a sciatic nerve condition, exacerbated by an unprecedented rise of stress and anxiety, I found myself questioning God, asking Him, “Why me?” Yes, I momentarily engaged in a pity party for one.

Then, I received an email from my high school classmates – the University of Detroit Jesuit High School; Academy in Detroit. Two close friends, I learned, were facing even more life- threatening situations: stage 4 liver cancer and a stroke, respectively, leaving my two friends hospitalized and unable to speak.

Then, I heard the news about Stephen “tWitch” Boss, who spent years as the house DJ for The Ellen DeGeneres Show and his tragic suicide. It seems that he had lost his job and was facing financial ruin, allegedly. And he was overwhelmed. A suicide note the 40-year-old reportedly left behind hinted why he decided to take his own life. But for me, the reason remained less important than the result. Now, before I cause confusion, I am NOT considering suicide. Life is full of mountain high and valley low experiences. Sometimes, they are of our own doing. Other times, they come without warning and have little to do with our own actions – at least not intentionally.

My mother would tell me that when faced with situations tantamount to the most severe of storms, the best we can do is “spit in your hands and take a fresh hold.” And that’s just what I’ve done. Sure, Christmas Day may not come with a host of presents under my “Charlie Brown Christmas tree.”And I may find myself eating alone – a plate of chicken and rice – instead of that sumptuous table of delicacies that Momma always prepared.

But I’m here. I’m alive. And my faith tells me that this too – whatever “this” may be – will pass. While overall statistics point to Black people typically having among the lowest suicide rates, data from last year shows that  the COVID-19 pandemic has changed those numbers for the worst. Whether it’s due to mental illness, stress, feelings of hopelessness or any of the multiple other reasons why people commit suicide, it is something that affects folks from all walks of life.

Data provided by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center shows  that from 2010 to 2019 — the most recent years statistics were available — Black people in the U.S. had a suicide rate of 7.4% per 100,000 people. That is compared to the overall rate of 13.2% per 100,000 people for everybody in the U.S. “Among Black populations, suicide rates peak during adolescence and young adulthood, then decline. This is a different pattern than is seen in the overall U.S. population, where suicide rates peak in midlife,” according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center data. However, Black males have more than double the suicide rate of Black females but each group’s rate is significantly lower than that of their white counterparts. Overall, “the suicide death rate for men is more than four times the rate for women in Black populations” and the “suicide death rate for the overall U.S. population is approximately double that of Black populations for both males and females,” the Suicide Prevention Resource Center found.

Sadly, tWitch has joined that list of Black men who found themselves unable to face and to conquer the vicissitudes of life. Did anyone realize he was struggling with suicidal ideations? Did he believe that he had someone with whom he could talk about his fears? We may never know. But as for me and my house, I remain thankful for life today and improved health. I remain thankful that I have seen another sunrise and sunset. I remain thankful for the love and support of my family and a few, precious friends. And of course, I remain thankful for my two beloved sidekicks, my boxer, Baby Girl, and my dachshund, Duchess, who love me unconditionally.

What’s on my list this year? Not one thing – at least not for me. But there is one word that sits at the top of my Christmas list. Just one word: GRATEFUL.

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