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Monday, December 21, 2009

No Peace on Earth, Much Less Goodwill...

     Coming out of the post office today, I got cut off by a Metro bus. No good reason for his lack of courtesy. Traffic wasn't especially heavy. There was no way he could beat the light one block up the street. Plain, simple rudeness, nothing fancy or especially malicious about it.
     I'm reminded that all too often at this time of year, the qualities we all say we strive for are pushed to the curb. No matter whether we live in Texas or New York, Left Coast or New England, Munich or Tel Aviv, the jolly holiday spirit gets crushed in the rush to have the best tree and most expensive presents, the most extravagant Chanukah. Even Kwanzaa has joined the great tradition of commercialization over meaning.
     And instead of spending time contemplating our common interest in light, our common pursuit of peace, we wind up with the common heartache of heartburn, of distress under stress, of trying to live up to impossible expectations. Often imposed on us by ourselves.
     If you know our family at all, you are aware that Janet committed suicide in mid-December over
thirty years ago. Her death followed the tragic boating accident of a beloved uncle. It was pretty much a crappy December.
     We are hardly unique. Although "suicide rises at Christmas time" has been debunked by the Mayo Clinic, they do confirm that suicides jump alarmingly on New Year's Day, by around 25%.
     As a nation, then, we don't do a very good job of living up to the ideals our various religions proclaim. The original goals of those religious traditions may have intended to give families sure footing in an increasingly complex world. As the Germans would say, a "Halt" - support, foothold, stability.
     Instead, those same religious traditions have undermined the family unit, exerting so much pressure on us as individuals that when we try to come together, it is with anything but unity, love, and affection. Doesn't matter whether the tradition is Protestant, Catholic, mainstream, fringe, Reform Jewish or Orthodox, or the newer traditions associated with Kwanzaa. We have failed, we are failing, and unless things change, we will continue to fail - to bring peace to the world, to our nation, to our community, to our homes.
     To ourselves.
     I voted for, and continue to support, President Obama. I admire and respect Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill. I affirm the work that Bill and Melinda Gates are doing in third world countries.
     But until it's fixed on the micro-level, until we as individuals and families learn how to live peaceably, we cannot possibly expect to repair this broken-down world. To salve the wounds of AIDS epidemics. To hope that dictators and despots will fall. To bring democracy, much less peace, to a globe filled with war.
     Somehow, that starts with drivers in too big a hurry, with Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays. With dishonest bankers and crooked politicians. With what we spend on trivia instead of substance.
     It's our choice. It is my choice. Tikkun olam. Beats the heck out of Merry Christmas.

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