Thirteen-year-old Katy was diagnosed with depression yesterday. The main culprit—big surprise—is the pandemic. Katy is like many U.S. teens right now, she is stuck inside doing online school, getting little socialization, rarely leaving her bedroom.

Katy’s email to me reads:

“I’m tired of feeling this sad... My mom told me to message you to see if you had any suggestions for cheering up depressed people my age.”

Well, Katy, I’m glad you contacted me because it sounds to me like you need some major fun right now. And you’re in luck because in many circles I am known as Mister Fun. How fun am I? As I write this, I am drinking something called “panda dung” tea.

I am serious. This looseleaf tea was sent to me by a reader named Sara, from Little Rock. Along with this tea came a magazine clipping explaining that this tea is imported from Asia where it is wildly expensive, usually selling for $3,500 per 50 grams. Which means I am drinking a $75 cup of tea right now.

I called a local tea shop to ask about this tea since, call me paranoid, I was concerned about drinking anything that had been passed through the gastrointestinal system of an exotic mammal.

The tea-shop lady was nice. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, the tea has no actual dung in it, it’s only called that because the tea plants are grown in big piles of panda excrement.”

Yum! Pass the sugar!

So I’m trying to drink this tea with an open mind. And after finishing one mug I can honestly say that, even though I was skeptical at first, panda dung tea tastes exactly like the name sounds.

But getting back to dealing with depression. Something I’ve found that helps is going for walks. I realize this sounds painfully simple and a little idealistic, and maybe it is. But it actually does help.

When I…

It’s a long story, but it all starts with red hair. Sort of. She was a redhead, and in love. And 17-year-old redheads in love do impulsive things. It was a different era. Johnson was president.

Her parents were against the romance. His parents were against it, too. But redheads make decisions without consulting the rest of the world. When the young couple found out she was pregnant, they married.

Her father and mother were mad; she had never been so excited. They moved to California. He took a job driving a truck. He was gone a lot, making all-night runs across the U.S., but they were happy.

One lonely night she was rattled awake by loud knocking on the front door. She answered it in her bathrobe. Two patrolmen on her porch said that her husband’s eighteen-wheeler flipped, and he was gone.

She went through pregnancy alone. And on the morning she gave birth, she was unsure about what to feel. She held her boy against her chest and wept

over him with the joyful kind of tears that only widows know.

She worked low-paying jobs. A receptionist in a textile factory. An orderly in a rest home. Finally, she decided to go back to school. The night classes were hard, but she stuck with them for many years. During the same week that her son graduated from 7th grade, she graduated with her teaching certificate, and life was looking up.

First she taught elementary, then high school. She was miserable with both jobs. Children can test a woman’s patience and cause her to use very strong cuss words in public sometimes.

She applied for a position at a junior college, it was only a part-time gig, and modest pay. She loved it. The college kids were much more sincere than high-schoolers who spent the majority of their class period grabbing each other’s butts.

There was one student in…

Anna is 49 years old. She is cheerful, beautiful, and her elderly mother believes Anna is a living angel.

Each morning, Anna wakes at 5 A.M. to make the coffee. While the coffee perks, she visits her mother’s bedroom. “Wakey wakey!” she says, breezing into the room.

Next Anna throws open the curtains and smiles. Then she helps her mother out of a hospital bed. Her mother is not able to walk due to hip issues.

Anna lifts her mother, then carries her into the shower using brute strength. She positions her mother in a specialized shower seat, undresses her, bathes her from head to heel, then brushes her teeth.

“Anna is my lifeline,” Anna’s mother tells me. “My daughter is an angel.”

After the bath, Anna lifts her mother into a wheelchair. She then dresses her mother, fixes her hair, administers medication, and kisses her mother’s face. “I love you Mom,” Anna reminds her mother, just in case her mother needs to hear this.

Then, Anna parks her mother near the television and starts breakfast.

Later, Anna doles out more meds, then clips her mother’s toenails, carries her to the bathroom, or pays her mothers bills.

By then, it’s about noon. A friend usually comes to sit with Anna’s mother while Anna goes to work.

Oh, yeah. By the way, Anna works full time.

After her long shift, she comes back to the apartment, and her night has just begun. Before she changes out of work attire, Anna cooks supper, then cleans the house. The night ends when she carries her mother into the bedroom. There, she dresses her mother in a nightgown, gives more meds, and reads to her.

“Sometimes Anna falls asleep beside me,” her mother says. “She’s usually very exhausted after all that lifting.”

The next morning, Anna does it all again.

Carl, in Atlanta, does the same thing with his dad. Carl bathes his father,…

Last night the windchills in Texas were below freezing. The electricity was out. And 83-year-old Cindy sat in her den wearing a parka.

Surrounding her were two cats, a kerosene lantern, a popping fireplace, and her grandchildren, clad in winter caps and double socks. And they were all singing.

Cindy made everyone sing because her grandkids were getting panicked about what was happening. And singing is how Cindy’s own mother used to calm the family during dire moments like this.

So the old woman draped blankets over her babies and taught them the lyrics to “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Rock of Ages.”

She could see their breath vapor rising in the darkness.

Right now, 3 million Texans have lost power and are covered in snow crust. And, if that’s not enough, another 100 million Americans are braced for more oncoming ice and snowfall. Record temperatures have been recorded from Minneapolis to Galveston.

Texans are getting pommeled. Without electricity, some hospitals are losing water pressure.

Carbon monoxide poisoning has become another local problem for those trying heat their homes. Harris County alone had 200 people suffer carbon monoxide poisoning.

Some Texans have frozen to death. Others are hungry. Most are just worried.

I’m told the overwhelming quietness outside is weird. In some places it’s a new level of silence that many have never experienced before. There are no ambient noises to cut the stillness. No heat pumps churning, no idling air compressors, no refrigerators humming, no distant TVs, no appliances running. And there’s hardly any traffic noise.

Elderly Cindy takes it all in stride. “My daddy was a farmer. He used to say the only difference between an adventure and an ordeal is how you look at it.”

Her father, the third-generation Texan, was like most men of the southern Plains in his time. He raised a family during a Great Depression. He…

To the 2 million homes in Texas without power right now. To the millions covered in snow, who cannot keep their houses warm during freezing temperatures.

To Karen and Joe, in North Texas, who can see their breath vapor while lying in bed; who are eating cold cans of tuna in the dark, covered in blankets; who are constantly telling their anxious children, “Everything will be okay.”

To Lynn, the single mother with a 6-month-old who was so cold last night she crawled into her idling car parked in the driveway; who cranked the heater and cradled her child; who stayed there until three in the morning until her vehicle ran out of gas.

To elderly Miss Susan, who invited 14 neighbors into her house to share the warmth of her fireplace. She turned it into a party with games, music, and everything.

To Rod, the 32-year-old in Houston who opened his home to three homeless guys he found on the street. Rod welcomed them into his

living room and showed them to his gas fireplace. Rod gave them new clothes, hot showers, then fired up his outdoor grill and barbecued a rack of Saint Louis ribs. They ate supper by candlelight.

And to those same long-bearded men who slept in Rod’s living room last night. They were men who, just yesterday, had snow encrusted whiskers and ice-covered eyebrows. As I write this, they are asleep on Rod’s floor, buried beneath a Pikes Peak of quilts, nestled beside a glowing hearth, enjoying full stomachs.

To the 27,229 homeless men and women in the state of Texas who are lost tonight. Most of them are people who have no family ties. Some are mentally ill. Each one is lonely. Almost all have been forced to huddle against buildings, in ditches, or in tents, simply to overcome below-zero wind chills.

To the emergency workers, the EMTs, the sheriff departments, the police officers,…

I had a dream. It was a vivid dream. It was sunny. I was in my childhood Sunday school classroom, alone. It was like nothing had changed.

The paned windows were slung open. It was a magnificent day outside. The daylight was so bright it hurt your heart. The sound of starlings came from the trees.

It was your typical church classroom. There was a flannel board, with paper Bible-story characters stuck to the felt. I stood to examine the storytelling board for old time’s sake.

Apparently some kids had taken Sharpies to the cutout characters because Paul and Silas were defaced. Paul was smoking a cigarette, and Silas had a tattoo of a woman on his forearm. The kid responsible for this would be sentenced to hard time mowing the church lawn until he was forty.

My attention moved from the classroom when I heard a sound. A melodic noise coming from the other room. People singing. I knew this song. I can still remember the words.

“O there’s sunshine,
“Sunshine in my

“Blessed sunshine,
“Blessed sunshine in my soul…”

It’s been a while since I’ve heard this standard. Heck. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that many people in one room, singing, smiling, exchanging germs.

But in my dream, it was olden times. I wandered into the tiny sanctuary. The sight made my insides turn to Jello. Just seeing those recognizable faces, the battered pews, the towhead children holding hymnals.

I saw the whole gang. There was elderly Mister Dan, balding, with a crown of white fuzz around his head. He was red faced, because he was bad to drink.

And old Miss Eleanor, wearing her weird hat. I think they buried her in that hat.

And look! There’s my cousin! He’s so young! Look at him, standing next to my aunt. And who is that standing beside… Wait! That’s me! There I…

I have here an email from Mason, a 13-year-old in Buffalo, who writes:

“I hate my hair color… I am a redhead and people make fun of me and I am afraid I’ll never get a girlfriend because I’m red haired, how do I get girls to like me?”

This has got to be the best letter I’ve ever received. And as a fellow redhead, I can relate to this question, Mason.

It is hard being a redhead. And it’s especially difficult when you’re young. But I promise things will get easier once your hair finally turns white.

As a kid I hated my hair. My head looked like a mint penny, I had buckshot freckles, pale skin, and fainting spells. Redheads are prone to fainting: something in our genes.

My mother says people in the supermarket would ask if they could rub my copper head for good luck. She always obliged them, although I don’t know why. Many times in the produce aisle there would be a single file line of strangers waiting

to fuzz my hair violently and make a wish. By the time I was three I was nearly bald.

Also, when you’re a redhead you’ll find that you stand out in pictures involving flash photography. Poorly lit photographs will transform your unique hair into the orange flames of Satan.

My friend Johnny Paul said this was because all redheads were secretly witches. His remark really hurt my feelings so I boiled him alive in an iron kettle.

I disliked my hair so badly that I tried dyeing my hair once. I heard that shoe polish worked. I spent an entire afternoon rubbing Kiwi “oxblood brown” shoeshine into my hair to make it brunette. When I finished, my mother was mortified. She vigorously washed my hair, but the tint was permanent. For six months thereafter my hair was burgundy.

But if you ask me, one of the…