As a kid, for me, New Year’s Eve was a time for celebration, to ring in the New Year with a bang — or so I thought. My mother, Chona, had a different idea. First, it was a time to kneel, pray and give thanks for the blessings we have — salud y esperanza para mañana (good health and hope for a better tomorrow). Only then were we allowed to go out in the street to bang the pots and pans, and then come back to enjoy the Mexican hot chocolate and buñuelos (a tortilla-shaped scone-like delicacy sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon) she made. It was her way of teaching us the important things in life.

Though Chona is no longer here to make me kneel to pray, and I barely stay awake to bring in the New Year, I take the time to pray, and give thinks for the blessings we have. It’s a tradition Chona gave me to remind me the important things in life are not about things or just celebrating, rather to be grateful for the blessings we have — family, health and community.

This New Year’s Eve, I will continue Chona’s tradition of praying at midnight, and wishing for the best and good health to all. Health is something we take for granted until we lose it, or see a loved one suffering. Chona knew it. I wish we all could take the time to realize it, especially those that have the power to help those among us who struggle with health.

Our world is again undergoing a period of dramatic change caused by technology and globalization that has changed our way life. It has created a growing economic inequality, and our institutions that once made us believe that a rising tide lifted all boats is no longer true. There used to be a connection between productivity, the economy and job growth. That relationship no longer exists.

Because of the growing economic disparity, there is less understanding and empathy, which used to exist among us. And there is no one, or time, to blame. What is needed is compassion, and to try to walk in another person’s shoes.

So, my prayer this year is to wish everyone a happy and healthy new year, and for our leaders to have the wisdom, courage and empathy needed to make it so.

Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch's staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and commission on Hispanic education. Email: