Amid the torrent of really sad news of martial law, fraudulent voting, epic cyberhacks, millions facing food scarcity job insecurity or actual loss, the proliferation of food banks, and an overweening endangerment from an uncontrollable virus mutating and then spreading 70% faster, how does anyone find evidence of the original promise of peace, hope, love, and light in all of the many layered metaphors and meanings of those cliché words?
Hallmark movies are offering dozens of hours of “love-stories” of the romantic, nostalgic and eggnog variety, with festive lights, home baking, re-connections and new beginnings. And while they are soothing, like the warm fuzzies of casseroles, plum puddings, and family dinners, they are little more than formulaic tenderness, when we are all craving something more.
Our hope, this Christmas, is for relief from the threat of being impaled by an imperceptible virus, for the opportunity to visit, to chat and to get to know who we are in our fractured families, and how and if some of the brokenness of our lives might begin to heal. Forced separations and shut-downs, while necessary and prickly restrictions, are also promoting new ways of being together, new ways of seeing each other, and new ways of reaching out in empathy, compassion and hopefully tenderness and even forgiveness. Our hopes, this year especially, do not stop with the passing of the pandemic; they stretch further into a new cultural perspective that embraces a guaranteed annual income, a renewed public education system that itself stretches beyond STEM into an appetite for and an appreciation for the best of human creativity, the integration of the poetic imagination into our cooking, our crafting, our gifting and our communication. Our shared hopes extend further into a deep realization of our collective and sometimes unconscious detachment, coldness, separation and alienation of ‘the other’…without our having taken the time and the patience and the courage to open our hearts to the other’s pain. And through the lens of our own personal and communal (and national and international) sense of privilege, a penny that never really dropped previously, our shared hope embraces a new insight, a new possibility, and a new commitment to peel the scale of superiority off our eye, and especially off our hearts.
Governments are said never to reach an important decision until minutes or even seconds before a monumental deadline. Organizations, similarly find that only really red-line moments bring about significant shifts in values, perspectives, habits, and thereby cultures. Individuals, too, know that, when the night is the darkest, we wake up to the full truth of our situation, and the option of both amendment and tolerance of those things, ideas and persons and other cultures we previously disdained. Christmas 2020 brings with it the dark night of millions of infections and thousands of untimely deaths, through no fault of those individuals so impaled, and yet we all know that we cannot fail to take note of how profoundly and how inescapably we are ONE, regardless of our geography, our language, our religion or our culture. We previously knew, from having been subjected to the drum beat “we all share the air, water and land” on this fragile planet. Now every street, store, school, college, church, hospital and factory is literally or certainly potentially “infected” with an odorless, tasteless, invisible and yet vehement attacking virus that seeks to hook up to our respiratory system and to bring our immune system to heel. And while we humbly and gratefully thank those providing both direct care, and those providing needed supplies, including foot, water, sanitation, transportation, as well as intubations and therapeutics and more recently vaccinations, we also note s shift away from our previous frenetic, grabbing, impatient public interactions.
Out of sheer and indisputable basic human need, we have been forced into a new way of interacting with each other, albeit from behind masks. We not only ‘keep our distance’; we also carry a demeanour of more gentleness, more politeness, more patience and the obvious more ‘space’ in our encounters. And our hope is that, once having adjusted how we treat each other in public spaces, we might continue such sensitivity and sensibility long after this pandemic recedes. In this period of scarcity, anxiety, fear and a far more intimate and immediate realization of the unknown (in the next hour, or day or week, appointment, transaction, or even conversation), we find a new muscle that is exercised, and thereby brought to new life that resists being ignored after the pandemic.
Our hope, then, embraces a new way of being, as the lasting birthright of this holy season on the Christian and the Jewish calendars, not because those faith communities hold exclusive insights into the profound and deeply complex relationship between humans and their god. A new way of being, however, cannot be confined to the private personal encounters among people of the same office, school, community or even nation. A new tolerance, and a deeper consciousness of the uniqueness and the specialness of each person, has the potential to reach even into the bowels of what are commonly known as ‘the situation rooms’ of national and international politics, economics, and even military and cyber-security considerations.
Just this weekend, Senator Mitt Romney, appearing on State of the Union with Jake Tapper on CNN, when asked to comment about the latest reports of extensive cyber-hacking into multiple government and private corporation security systems. Many observers point to the Russian hackers, clearly connected to the Russian government, as agents of this latest breach of security. On the question of Putin, Romney said, “The president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia.” This morning, on Morning Joe on MSNBC, Mika Brezinski took issue with the gentility of Romney’s comment, based on what she considers multiple instances of giving Putin and Russia a pass by trump, indicating a much more serious issue than a mere “blind spot”. And while I concur with Brezinski’s more concerned take on the phrase, I also note that diplomatic language often defers to phrases similar to that used by Romney in the Tapper interview. Also on Moring Joe, Richard Haas, Chairmen of the Council on Foreign Relations, commented that it is important to discern between espionage and system control as the motive and the result of the wide-spread hacking. The former, apparently is more familiar, and differs only in the methods used by the hackers; the latter, system control, is a far more dangerous and potential lethal act, should whoever is benefitting from the hacking be able to, and then actually engage in the sabotage of significant national systems. And this hacking was apparently not restricted to one nation, but has been taking place in multiple locations.
In a highly complex universe, in which technology, on top of highly complex traditions of diplomacy, trade, and the raging of all of the levers of international power-politics, a phrase like the one Romney used “blind spot” tends to minimize the irresponsibility of one trump, in his failure to attend to the duties and responsibilities to which he committed following the election of 2016. We are not, all of us, going to become experts in the field of cyber-espionage, nor of international diplomacy, and perhaps even of the highly nuanced and often conflicting pin-ball guideposts of a legal constitution. However, in this festive, holy, hopeful and compassionate season of 2020, our hopes can and might legitimately embrace a commitment to our own truth-telling, as well as a growing “chia-pet” social commitment to holding our elected officials to the truth, as best they know it. Cowering under a euphemistic aphorism such as “blind spot” only demeans the graciousness to which Romney was aspiring. Enemies, chicanery, deception, betrayal, sabotage, including especially the capacity of self-sabotage, are all lurking viruses in the social, cultural consciousness, and especially in the collective unconscious.
And, in this season of new light and new birthing, although we tend toward more celebration than confession and penitential, we might, through our new hopes, embrace those moments in our recent past when we broke through that veil of propriety, superficial niceness, and political correctness, and shone the light of our authentic truth, albeit in the most kindly manner we could muster. New life and new light can and will only emerge from the darknesses to which we have become so familiar and even perhaps unrecognized. It is the new life that comes from the courage to acknowledge that we can, that we have, and that we can expand on our new mode of truth-telling, as a way of giving birth, not merely to a new year’s resolution, almost all of which come to naught in a brief few days or weeks.
Now that the universe has imposed a regime in which our basic survival needs have become so prominent that scales of pride and shame, once preventing many of us from seeking help, whether that help was food, or medicine, or friends or even a shelter, our hope this year can extend to embracing the opportunity of letting go of all of those pretenses that we formerly thought and believed were protecting us from being “exposed” to others who might not like us and might not accept us, if they knew our truth. There is a new day, and a new sunrise and new hope in the promise of risking our own truth, not only in our private and most intimate conversations, but in the rooms where big decisions are being considered.
And this year, we have multiple examples of voices previously undetected, unheard and un-respected that have brought new light and new hope to many of the plights facing the people on the planet. Whether they are young people, or ordinary people doing extraordinary things with very little, they are the lights of new life and new hope, from whom we can all garner courage, confidence, clarity and opportunity.
While sitting with friends and family, we might consider telling those life stories that have been locked away in the vaults of our personal, secret memory. And when that process begins, like a small creek peeking out of a rock outcropping, others, too, can and will be stimulated to bring to engage in the process. Our truth is, after all, all we have, and our attempt to protect ourselves from the dangers of being known, and then potentially being dismissed, has only given way to chasms of speculation, spasms of politically correct repressions and worse, to historic chapters of deception, subterfuge, sabotage, and the inevitable armouring of individuals, families…and the inordinate cost of security systems that, no matter how monstrous and sleek and costly, nevertheless, have the inherent risk of operating like swiss cheese. We simply cannot either know or plug all of the potential holes in our armour, on the international stage, nor at our family kitchen tables. And our health, in the short and medium and long term depends on our fundamental acceptance of our warts and the warts and gaps of others in our circles.
And the sooner those warts are transformed into celebrations, rather than shameful inadequacies, the sooner we can and will embrace the fulfilment of those hopes we previously considered beyond reach.
It is our foreclosure on what we might actually bring about, if we re-consider what it is we really want and need and then summon the courage and the imagination to bring those truths into the light of day that impedes the new 2020 lighting of that Star in the East, at Bethlehem. There is a Christ-child within, and that spirit will only thrive on the whole truth! And we have it within us to summon that truth and light!