One of the characters in some of my older novels became famous for saying, “This county is going to hell in a handbasket.” He was referring to the “unusual” incidents I had to create to tell a story. (More)

Well, the incidents weren’t all that unusual. They happen everywhere all the time, but this little county seemed like a place removed from all of that … on the surface. It was a kind of joke with my readers, and they loved it.

But I’m starting to feel like that character as I read the news day in and out. “The world is going to hell in a handbasket.”

Israel is invading Gaza. I read lies about refugee children from Central America bringing diseases that have only been documented in Africa, and many want to deny them the care that simple human decency requires. I see that separatists shot down a passenger plane over the Ukraine. The president is being sued with taxpayer dollars by a Congress that refuses to do its job and has no goal other than to sink the presidency. Armed people are walking our streets, into our restaurants and department stores, claiming they have the right to terrify all the rest of us. I read about a party that refuses to help the poor among us, preferring instead to increase the wealth of the wealthiest. And no, ordinary Americans shouldn’t have health care.

And let us not forget our changing climate, which is going to kick us in the butt no matter how often some say it isn’t happening.

So yes, it could seem like the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Except that in reality little has changed. We’ve been fighting these battles for a long time. Little more than a century ago, we had Robber Barons. Then we had union organizers beaten and killed in our streets. Two thousand years ago the Romans realized that handing out free grain to the people prevented civil unrest. (I guess they were smarter than we are.) Over two hundred years ago there was a revolution in France because the people couldn’t get bread. Three hundred years ago we had the Inquisition. Seven hundred years ago the Little Ice Age brought famine and disease to Europe.

History is replete with examples of how often life gets hard. It’s equally replete with examples of how often we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and set about improving things.

Difficult times and difficult challenges are tough. But they also provide an opportunity to show our true stuff. The thing is to never give up. The world may be going to hell in a handbasket, but we can pick up that handbasket and carry it in a different direction.

Vote. Donate to the needy. Help your neighbors. Welcome the strangers who come to your door seeking aid.

What we do in our own backyards adds up to heaven or hell. The choice is in our hands.