Christmas Contrasts

Christmas Contrasts

By James Palombo 

There are two dumps located in this area of Mexico, one in the vicinity of San Miguel and the other is near the city of Dolores Hidalgo. I’ve had the experience of visiting both sites in the past, predominantly to see how the people living there were fairing and if indeed the conditions were as bad as some had indicated. In that regard I have to answer both yes and no. The “yes” part is directly tied to the belief that no-one, especially the young, should be living in the conditions that the people in these dumps are living in. Given the smell, the filth and the overall lack of what can easily be considered ‘basic’ living elements, the dumps are an affront to human decency. And this is no matter what political platform you support or how you frame individual and societal responsibilities. On the “no” side unfortunately (and I say this with legitimate sadness and despair) I’ve seen worse in my travels. 

That being said I happened to run into into several friends who usually go to both sites during the holiday season to bring food, clothing and presents for the people who make the dump their home. Practicing our best social distancing and mask wearing measures (“Merry Dismas” in this respect) we stopped for a minute to chat, which led them to recall their previous year’s visit to the dumps and how they would miss not being there this year. And as I listened to their comments about the poor living conditions mixed with the cold and damp weather that happens this time of year I couldn’t help recall the images of the dirty, hungry and listless faces that I had encountered. Suffice it to say that in extending our best holiday wishes on parting it was with somber feelings that we did so.

Perhaps on any normal day I wouldn’t have made much more of the discomfort that our meet had created. But later that evening as I sat in front of our big screen and listened to the beautiful Christmas sounds coming from the beautiful choirs across the world, the images of the poor and dirty and hungry came back to me. I tried not to let the sadness overcome the beauty I was witnessing, but it was simply unavoidable.

With a teared eye all I could think about was how strange a world it is – where clean and bright and healthy souls could sing with such joy and spirit at Christmas time while others lived in such gut wrenching misery. It wasn’t as if the conditions were the carolers’ fault or even if fault was in play. It was more of an empty feeling, as if that was the way of world, it has always been this way and it will more than likely always be so. In this light I found myself considering the poverty across the globe in a pandemic-like form, a situation which many of us keep our social distance from and one that we wear masks – over our eyes in this case – to avoid seeing. Of course I realized that this wasn’t in the best of holiday spirit, but it was what it was. 

It may be that it’s just too difficult in these troubling days to let ourselves stay put in what should be joyous moments. Perhaps it’s just a matter of enjoying what we can of joy’s relative availability. In any event I know that the contrast of those whose voices and images were so beautifully arranged as opposed to those who had little to rejoice amid their scattered lives presented a meaningful picture. And with that picture in mind, and especially given our current, often bittersweet state of affairs, it seemed fitting to extend to everyone best wishes for a thoughtful and safe year ahead.