It has been twelve years since I penned the following ode to the joys of the holiday season. At the time, the first of the horrific school shootings (by a 14-year old) had just settled into our collective consciousness, we were only beginning to recover from the sudden death of Princess Diana, and we were finally becoming aware of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and of rampant famine in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Still, as I look back on those days, I am struck by how innocent our world still was.
Indeed, only two years later, on December 31, the world community celebrated the arrival of the new millennium with a sense of joy and hope that was probably unparalleled in human existence. Never before had so many of us joined in a salute to the grandeur and splendor of life.
And then, as that new age we had feted began to unfold, we were hit with the harsh reality of 9/11, and from the heights of hope and faith, we were plunged to the depths of despair and anguish. Instead of a brave new world, we appear to have rediscovered the horrors of the scared old one, with two near-decade-long wars against the evil of terrorism but the latest evidence.
Some view 9/11, and the events that have developed in its aftermath, as signs of a coming apocalypse. Others, myself included, instead choose to observe how little the human condition, and the attendant struggle for survival with which we all do battle every day, has changed. We are, always and forever, a strange combination of the best and the worst of our essential makeup. We can create, and we can destroy. We can love, and we can hate. We can be merciful, and we can be unjust.
And so I offer again my little ode to the spiritual oneness that binds us all. We aren’t perfect, far from it. But occasionally, we can feel the perfection that may somewhere exist. HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
Every year at just about this time, the four of us in my little family schedule two nights to watch two of my favorite movies of all time. They are the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring the incomparable Jimmy Stewart and Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” or, as it was titled in its original release, “Scrooge,” starring Alistair Sim in the role of a lifetime.
Together these two movies express beautifully the spiritual awareness which the holiday season seems to rekindle in each of us every year. Yes, they say, every life, every individual human being, can make a difference and be a source of good will to our fellow earthly inhabitants. And, in living such a life, they conclude, we can all know joy in the love that we create and thereby receive in return.
I am fully aware of the other side of the holiday season, that being the almost unbearable stress which it creates in many of us, what with the greeting cards that have to be mailed, the presents that have to be hunted down, the meals that have to be planned and prepared, the decorations that must go up, the lights that must be strung on the roof (often at no small risk to life and limb), and the countless other “burdens” that compound the difficulties that are constantly with us as we struggle to make our way in an often seemingly cruel and inhospitable world.
But those travails pale when compared with the wonderful spirit which pervades our interactions at this time of the year. What is it that causes all of us to be just a little friendlier, a little more in touch with our better instincts? For Christians, I suppose the answer is likely to revolve around a reverence for the occasion of the birth of Jesus, the light of the world, as he is described in the Gospel of John.
This feeling of goodness is not limited to the many followers of Christ, though. In fact, it seems so infectious as to know no religious bounds. And so I think the sense of joyfulness which we all feel during the holidays must be as much a testament to some kind of spiritual link which binds us together.
In presenting this admittedly ethereal thesis, I do not want to be accused of Gnostic mysticism or even some kind of pantheistic theological belief. I readily admit that I have very little understanding of ecclesiastical matters, notwithstanding my fascination with them.
But I cannot deny what I feel, and what I perceive others feel as well, and I am left with the unavoidable conclusion that, despite our inherent selfish nature, there is, in this strange species of ours, a will, a need, a burning desire to care for each other. We are, in this sense, kindred spirits, seeking a union with our fellows by which we can somehow feel more complete.
So it is that we can feel the pain of the parents of the three young girls who were killed by their 14-year old classmate in Kentucky, or feel the pain of the assailant’s parents perhaps even more, or mourn, collectively, when an otherwise unknown princess dies on the other side of the world, or long for a way to help starving children in a far-off place we will never visit, or cry at the cinematic depiction of past horrors and injustices which were inflicted before we were born.
In his marvelous personal reflection on the meaning of his Armenian ethnicity, Michael Arlen, in “Passage to Ararat,” identified the genesis of this quest for union with our human comrades by stating that “we were all kin to begin with.”
Maybe that fact is what we get more in touch with at this time of the year. Surely there is an impetus for this realization, and it may well come from a power greater than we can know. No matter the source, it happens every year. And it feels good, doesn’t it?
Peace, love and the joys of the season to all.