2020/2021

Last year at this time I wrote:

A new year, a new decade, a new chance to reverse the obvious errors of the early years of this new century and new millennium. Here’s hoping for a greater clarity in our vision this year, for telling ourselves better stories, stories of hope and humility, of generosity and justice. And for a clear-eyed, unblinking view of reality going forward.

It didn’t quite turn out that way but my hopes aren’t dimmed. With a vaccine and a competent federal government to distribute it, there is real hope for a brighter future becoming reality in the new year.

Looking back over my years of new year’s posts I noticed that I have been here before. At the end of 2016, I wrote that it was “a horrible year for so many of us in so many ways.  I don’t remember ever feeling such desperation to turn the page on a year.” As 2017 ended: “Not to put too much pressure on you, Baby New Year, but we need some help after that nasty old man who just shuffled out the door. ” And 2014 was “a strange, sad year, full of goodbyes.” But always there was hope for better days ahead.

It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth.

Thomas Fuller, 1650

What was true in 1650 is also true in 2020. Even in the darkest times there are reasons to hope. There were some good things in 2020, seeds planted in the dark with the knowledge that the light would come again. Two people who are very dear to me got engaged, providing a shot in the arm to my faith in the power of love. And speaking of shots in the arm, I hope everyone joins me in rolling up our sleeves in the new year to do our part to eradicate this hideous plague.

As always, to better days ahead…

Here's wishing you the bluest sky
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme
And the very best of choruses, too
Follow all the doubt and sadness
I know that better things are on the way

Here's hoping all the days ahead
Won't be as bitter as the ones behind you
Be an optimist instead
And somehow happiness will find you
Forget what happened yesterday
I know that better things are on the way

It's really good to see you rocking out
And having fun
Living like you've just begun
Accept your life and what it brings
I hope tomorrow you'll find better things
I know tomorrow you'll find better things

Here's wishing you the bluest sky
And hoping something better comes tomorrow
Hoping all the verses rhyme
And the very best of choruses, too
Follow all the doubt and sadness
I know that better things are on the way

I know you've got a lot of good things happening up ahead
The past is gone, it's all been said
So here's to what the future brings
I know tomorrow you'll find better things

Christmastime

“I am sure I have always thought of Christmastime, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Wishes

One of the first questions a child is asked at this time of year is “what do you want for Christmas?” Wishing is as natural as breathing. We have all wished for things we did not or could not get. Some of us have been lucky enough to have at least one of our wishes come true.

Wishes fall into three categories:

The first type of wish is the selfish one. This is the one exemplified by the adage “what’s in it for me?” There is no benefit to anyone but the wisher, except by coincidence. This is the wish of ego.

The second type of wish is the impossible one, the one that does not expect fulfillment. This is the wish for the return of something that cannot be returned – a faded youth, a loved one who is gone, or a reciprocation of love where it does not exist. This wish is an excuse for unhappiness, exemplified by the adage, “I could be happy if only…” This is the wish of dishonesty.

The third type of wish is the one given to someone else, with an open heart, without expectation of benefit to the wisher. This is the one exemplified by the adage “it is better to give than to receive.” The good will of the wish is its own reward. This is the wish of love.

My wish is for each person who reads this to cultivate one gift of love, for a dear one or a stranger, and to see through the selfishness and dishonesty that poison desire. And no wish list would be complete without one final adage: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Peace on Earth

There was a time in human history when torture and even murder were offered up as forms of popular entertainment. As hard as it might be to believe, with so many violent acts being amplified by media attention, we are living is an age that is more peaceful than any in human history. The belief in a “good old days” when people were safe and secure is a myth. Christmas is a good time to remember the life that began “away in a manger” ended up nailed to a crucifix.

War and violence often grow from our ideas of good and evil. The most rational excuse for violence is that it is an effective way to stop the spread of evil. Good and evil are flexible concepts, and ones that evolve over time. Even the idea that there are good people and evil people seems primitive now. The best of us have done bad things and the worst of us have some redeeming features. It is beliefs that are good or evil, not people. We each have our own beliefs about what is good or evil but I think the distinction is a simple one:

Enjoying the pain of others is evil.

Helping someone to avoid, or overcome, pain, without expectation of reciprocity, is good.

There are many differences dividing us and encouraging anger and hate toward each other. If we can agree on only one thing – to resolve our differences peacefully – we will give future generations the opportunity they deserve, of a better life. Peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is an active process that requires vigilance, courage, and strength.

Peaceableness does not mean trying to disturb nothing or glossing over realities. It is the most profound kind of disturbance we seek to achieve. Nonviolence is not apathy or cowardice or passivity. And the fact that we want peace does not mean that there will not be opposition, suffering, social disorder.

A.J. Muste
Peace on Earth by Andrew Schubert

Saturday with Shakespeare

Imploring eyes

I think it was Shakespeare who first transcribed the immortal question: You want a beer? Or maybe the question was only implied by the imploring eyes of his portrait.

As if, on cracking open a cold bottle of beer and taking a healthful gulp, he thinks: Is this the last one? And, if so, the question – purple and pink – presents itself: Do I drink this slowly to make it last, or quickly for maximum effect before it evaporates like the snow?

Those hours that with gentle work did frame
The lovely gaze where every eye doth dwell,
Will play the tyrants to the very same,
And that unfair with fairly doth excel;
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter, and confounds him there;
Sap check'd with frost, and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o'ersnow'd and bareness everywhere:
Then, were not summer's distillation left,
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass,
Beauty's effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it, nor no remembrance what it was.
     But flowers distill'd, though they with winter meet,
     Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.
A liquid prisoner pent in walls of glass