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“Off We Go, Into The New Year”: Where Each Of Us Will Have The Chance To Do Better

After a certain age, favorite holiday memories tend to meld into tales too good to be true. This is human nature. We want to believe we’re better than the evidence suggests. This is a good habit of our species, especially at the end of this year, in which we’ve seen so much of the worst in us.

There is no such thing as perfection whenever we add memories of past holiday experiences to the combustible mix of family and friends. Add booze and a couple of sturdy grudges and Grey Gardens has nothing over the drama unfolding in front of us as we shake our heads.

Nevertheless, with the passage of time, we will yet again enshrine these get-togethers as something magical. This speaks to something good in us. Most of us want to be people who love people, so we manage the willpower to love even the people who get on our last nerve. Which at least one of them surely will; we just know it.

You will note that I am laying blame elsewhere for all that might annoy us this holiday season. I employ this nifty trick of memory so that, at least for the duration of this column, we can all feel superior and terribly misunderstood. My gift to you. Merry Christmas, if you celebrate. Otherwise: Happy Solstice Week. Be sure to look out the window tomorrow morning. Already, the darkness is ending a teensy bit sooner.

This has been a rough year in our lives, even if we harbor no personal grievance because of what is churning out there all around us. Just this once, let’s not rattle off the list. Many of us will continue to stake out our own little patches of righteousness, but this is the time of year when we should at least try to acknowledge the truth of the matter: We are all in this together.

Former astronaut John Glenn, a dear friend, once described for me what it was like to hover 150 miles above the Earth and get a good look at the rest of us:

“On a map, every nation has a different color,” he said. “Well, the Earth looks much different from space. You realize our borders are so artificial. Some are political; some have developed along ethnic lines. But all those lines disappear when you’re looking down from space. And you can’t help but see all that we have in common and think about how much we foul things up by focusing on our differences rather than our sameness.”

I don’t expect us to link arms and sing to the heavens. For one thing, there’d be that unpleasant argument over which version of heaven and another over whose version of God would be listening. And that’s just among the believers.

Pass.

Instead, I ask that, in the spirit of the season, we pause to consider what we still have in common with one another. It’s there, in every single person we can imagine.

I know, I know. Work through the wince. Breathe.

Three days before Christmas, I was about to start dinner, when my friend Jackie called. She and her wife, Kate, live just down the street.

“Go to the Square,” she said.

“Why?” I asked as I shut off the burner.

“I’m not telling you. Just go — and bring your camera.”

My husband and I threw on our jackets and began the short walk to the community park that greets everyone who enters our neighborhood in Cleveland.

Dozens of luminarias flickered on the ground around the gazebo. Two deer ventured forth as we walked among the lights and offered nods to the fat moon competing for attention.

I loved watching neighbors pulling in to the development after a long day at work and slowing their cars to a crawl to take in the sight of this unexpected kindness. I have no idea which neighbors made the effort to do this, but I know we need more people like them. I am grateful for the reminder that small gestures can ignite big hopes and that there are many ways to light the darkness.

To those who don’t celebrate Christmas, thank you for putting up with those of us who do. If you are struggling right now, may the holiday land gently.

Off we go, into the new year, where each of us will have the chance to do better.

 

By: Connie Schultz, The National Memo, December 24, 2015

December 26, 2015 Posted by | Christmas, Holiday Season, New Years | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Greeting The New Year”: A Time Of Lightness And Optimism In A World Full Of Darkness

This is the season of lists: roundups and recaps, forecasts and resolutions.

What was the biggest story of the year? Snowden.

The best movie? “12 Years a Slave.”

The splashiest pop culture moment? Twerk, Miley!

Will the health care rollout roll over the president’s second-term agenda? Who’ll win in 2016? Who are the people to watch? Can Pope Francis top his 2013 cool points?

We resolve to go back to the gym and lose a few pounds, to pay off that credit card debt and up our savings, and to tell that overbearing boss to “chill out!”

I must say that as corny as it all is, I’m always entertained by it. In fact, “entertained” may be too mild a word. I’m enthralled by it, mostly because I connect with the more profound undercurrent of the moment: the idea of marking endings and beginnings, the ideas of commemoration and anticipation.

For that reason, the new year has always been my favorite time of the year.

When I was growing up, we had our own rural, Southern ways to mark it. Some folks spent New Year’s Eve at watch night church services, singing and praying and testifying. My brothers and I spent ours in front of the television waiting for the ball to drop in Times Square. Then, as the clock struck midnight and folks on television kissed and cheered and celebrated in a blizzard of confetti, we stepped outside to listen as old men blasted shotguns into the perfect darkness of the Louisiana night sky. Finally, we ate black-eyed peas (for good luck) and cooked greens (for good fortune). As the saying went, “Eat poor on New Year’s, and eat fat the rest of the year.” Things didn’t always work out that way, but hope was always heavy in the bowls of those old spoons.

To me, New Year’s was always a time of lightness and optimism in a world full of darkness. Anything could be, no matter what had been.

I never really made resolutions when I was young. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve felt that resolutions are necessary, as much for the forced articulation of goals as for the setting of them.

So this year, these are my resolutions:

1. To stop treating politicians like sports stars, political parties like teams and our national debate like sport.

Politics is not a game. There are real lives hanging in the balance of the decisions made — or not made — by those in power. Often, those with the most to lose as a result of a poor policy move are the most vulnerable and most marginalized. Those folks need a voice, and I will endeavor to be that voice.

2. To force politicians to remember, with as much force and fervor as my pen can muster, that they are servants, not rulers.

A democracy is a government by the people, for the people. Politicians too often bend in the presence of power. They believe that it is they who possess power, rather than the people who elected them. And power and money are kissing cousins; you will rarely find one not cozied up to the other. Money is corruptive, and power addictive. Together they work against the greater good. That cannot stand.

3. To remember that justice is a natural aching of human morality.

In the core of most people is an overwhelming desire to see others treated fairly and dealt with honestly. That is not a party-line impulse but a universal one. I will do my best to highlight that basic quality. For instance, I believe that there will come a time when we will all look back at the brouhaha over same-sex marriage in disbelief and disgrace, and ask: Why was that even a debate?

4. To focus more fully on the power and beauty of the human spirit.

Regardless of their politics, the vast majority of the people I meet, when they can speak and listen and act of their own accord and not in concert with a group, are good, decent and caring people. Most work hard or want to. They love their families and like their neighbors. They will give until it hurts. They fall down, but they bounce back. They are just real people, struggling to get a bit and get by, and hoping to share a laugh and a hug with an honest heart or two along the way. That is no small observation and not one of little consequence. I believe that I can write more about those traits.

Those are my resolutions, ones I will strive to keep, ones I’ll reflect on even if I fall short. What are yours?

Happy New Year.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 27, 2013

December 30, 2013 Posted by | Democracy, New Years | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Our Authentic Tradition”: Here’s To A Kinder, Gentler 2013

The boardwalk where generations strolled along one of the world’s great urban beaches is gone, twisted and then tossed into neighborhood streets by an unforgiving storm called Sandy.

Off-season devotees of the Atlantic are bound together in homage to the waves even after the temperatures have dropped and bathing suits have given way to fleece. But now, the joy of a winter’s day walk along the ocean between Beach 120th and 130th streets quickly gives way to sorrow at the sight of collapsed roofs, mounds of rubble, front porches warped into unnatural shapes and homes blown from their foundations now perching at perilous angles.

Still, the human spirit cannot be blown away. The highlight of my beach walk was etched on a plywood barrier protecting an empty lot. Someone had scrawled the words: “NO retreat. NO Surrender. Not now. Not Ever. Rockaway 4ever.”

For political junkies, the meaning of 2012 was defined by an electoral verdict rendered by a richly diverse electorate on behalf of President Obama. History may well judge the election as the year’s decisive event, a turning point in our national argument.

Yet it was also a year that ended in twin tragedies.

First came the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, and in New Jersey, Long Island, Staten Island, Manhattan and Connecticut. Sandy taught me something troubling about the limits of my own empathy. Of course I felt for those elsewhere whose lives were wrecked and whose communities were torn apart in other natural disasters. Televised reports seared New Orleans, and especially its Lower Ninth Ward, into the consciousness of all Americans.

But television pictures are less powerful than ties to a particular place and to the people who live there. My mother-in-law, Helen Boyle, and the families of two of my brothers-in-law, Brian and Kevin Boyle, were all displaced by the storm. They inspire my love for Rockaway, a place that was also home to so many firefighters, police officers and others who perished in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

We can’t forget Rockaway’s times of sadness, but these cannot wipe away so many moments of delight. Whenever we arrive for one of our frequent visits, my wife, Mary, our three kids and I are immediately drawn in as if we have spent our whole lives here. Old-fashioned places are like that. Community is not a philosophical abstraction in the blocks of the Belle Harbor neighborhood where my extended family lives.

An experience like Sandy dissolves ideology. My sister-in-law Kathy Boyle, part of the management team that helped keep South Nassau Communities Hospital open during the storm, offered a view of the role of private and public action so filled with common sense that it would never enter Washington’s debate.

In politics, we debate, uselessly, whether government agencies or nonprofits are “better.” Her conclusion is that not-for-profits with ties to people and neighbors — Catholic Charities and a slew of other religious groups, Team Rubicon, local charitable organizations such as Rockaway Wish, Rockaway Help and the Graybeards — were absolutely vital in the earliest days after the storm, before government help was up and running.

Then, government could kick in with larger-scale aid and basic services, notably a New York City Sanitation Department that cleared away mountains of sand and debris.

Kathy, more conservative than I, has no illusions about government, yet she also has no illusions that we can live without it. At the same time, none of us should pretend that government, without community, religious and nonprofit associations, can solve our problems all by itself. Our authentic tradition is to bring the public and voluntary spheres together, not divide them.

And surely government has no more important role than in protecting its citizens, young children above all, from violence. However much we identify with Sandy’s victims, we can probably never fully fathom the desolation felt by the parents in Newtown, Conn. A hurricane has no face. Nature has no conscience. The loss of a child to random violence committed by another human being is an inexplicable evil.

We must act forcefully to contain gun violence, and that is a political matter. But a year that ended on notes of heroism in response to natural disaster and endurance in response to human horror brings to mind George H.W. Bush’s challenge: We need to become “a kinder, gentler nation.” That seems a worthy resolution for 2013.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 30, 2012

December 31, 2012 Posted by | 2013, New Years | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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