Facing down the horrors in life

— Steven Stiefel is a staff writer at the Times-Journal. His column appears weekly on Saturdays in the Times-Journal. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

Life these days is scary. And becoming more frightening by the day. I’m very glad this week we averted World War III, at least temporarily.

It’s all too easy to send our soldiers off to fight and die -- until they start coming home in body bags, and then all of the nationalist sloganeering is replaced by the realization that there’d be a compelling reason for them to lose limbs and die. No doubt our Armed Forces could whip Iran, but the relevant question we should always ask is “at what cost and for what outcome?”

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I join in the chorus of gratitude to the men and women who serve in local law enforcement. You perform a tough job that I couldn’t do, suiting up day after day to march toward danger. You deal with people who frighten me and give them a reason to think twice before harming me and my family. I admire your bravery - the same heroism as the soldiers in our military - putting your lives on the line.

You rarely get the respect and recognition that you deserve, and I know you do your best because anything less can be catastrophic. I may make an error in a story, but my mistakes do not potentially put anyone in a grave. We need to appreciate all of the hours spent behind-the-scenes training to achieve best case scenarios.

Several years ago, I worked very briefly in the E-911 Communications office under Roger Wells. I’m not ashamed to admit that I couldn’t cut it. I’d have panic attacks just realizing that human lives were in my hands. I have hearing problems in my left ear, and I could just imagine some officer put in danger because I didn’t clearly hear what was said by the officer or someone placing an emergency call. So I quit and hoped there were better-qualified people ready to step up and do that vital work. My public service is better performed behind a computer keyboard, sharing the great work others do.

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Speaking of law enforcement, I’ve had them on my mind this week as I’ve written a story about human trafficking. Like many of you, I watched the original “Taken” with Liam Neeson and felt alarmed by the prospect of criminals kidnapping our daughters and turning them into sex slaves. It’s hard to know how many stories are urban legends as opposed to something to actually worry about.

These days, what do we NOT have to worry about?!

I learned that the human trafficking in our area isn’t really like the movies. It’s even more tragic, with parents coercing their teenage children to repeatedly have sex for money with strangers so they can get money for drugs.

I can hardly conceive of such a betrayal, waking up daily knowing that the one person who is supposed to offer unconditional love and support will instead rent out your body like you are a dumpster instead of a human being. The horror!

I don’t know how widespread human trafficking occurs, but we need to stop sexual abuse in any and all forms so our children can actually experience childhoods and not spend the rest of their lives repeating that trauma every time they try to form a normal intimate relationship. My heart goes out to anyone who has been hurt this way and those recovering from sexual assault generally.

We also need to address the core question of why so many of our neighbors feel so hopeless that they’ll inject heroin into their veins or swallow an Oxycontin and just drift off into a haze, never actually dealing with their problems until they are up to their necks with no choice but to get clean or die.

People feel hopeless, resigned to have no control over their fates. It’s challenging to face the world some days when you feel as if you offer no value to anyone or anything. It can seem a lot easier to take a narcotic detour to avoid a life seemingly devoid of purpose. The fellowship of a church family helps many, as do friendships. I wish there were words I could write to encourage someone to hang on, to discover what makes them excited to get out of bed in the morning and feel as if tomorrow can be a better day. No amount of pep talks can convince someone to feel hopeful if their daily experiences leave them feeling defeated.

That goes for people who aren’t addicts, but still struggling, perhaps working two or three jobs to pay their bills yet they can’t seem to get out of a hole while billionaires flaunt their wealth on the television. It seems backwards that we pay the people who do the most important work -- police, soldiers, teachers, etc. -- as little money as possible while hedge fund managers play on their yachts.

I’m particularly disturbed by how many young people these days feel as if there’s no use in fighting for their rights and defending our planet. I’ve encountered several who admit to feeling suicidal. I understand their thinking and hope they realize that acting on those thoughts is merely transferring their problems and their pain to people they are supposed to love, their friends and family. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Just as our happy moments come and go, so do those times we’d rather skip past.

Please don’t give up. Get help. The world may be full of horrors, but it is a better place with you in it.

— Steven Stiefel is a staff writer at the Times-Journal. His column appears weekly on Saturdays in the Times-Journal. Email: steven.stiefel@times-journal.com.

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