A Long December

As the year draws to a close, I find myself slightly optimistic, but only in the sense that perhaps some of the things that happened this year will not recur next year, that lessons will be learned, dramatic changes will occur, and I will become hopeful again. It’s been a long season of lament and where hope once bubbled abundantly through my being, now I find it’s merely a single flickering candle, a flame that will sometimes twist and nearly fade from view or grow brighter, but doesn’t have the ability to shine enough light to show that there is a way, a path, a direction to be taken.

It’s been a season where beloved people and much wanted babies died, where complications from minor surgery turned grave. A season where relationships sometimes bloomed, but also fractured, possibly beyond repair, or changed in a way that’s no longer comfortable or healthy. Sometimes I’ve had to learn that I believed a relationship existed only to find that in truth it existed only in my head.

Social media feeds kept me informed about all manner of politics, of protesting against injustice, scripture quotes, the climate crisis, racism, sexism, violence and abuse, and also the occasional rare meme or tweet that was funny but not at the expense of a fellow human being.

This year I moved to a new apartment, which meant the final gasping breaths of a dream dying, acceptance that maybe it’s just not possible to live in community, even if it’s with people I love and with whom I share similar values. Though I was an active participant in all that occurred I still sometimes wonder what exactly happened, why things turned out the way they did, and what could have been done differently.

As I walked around the parking lot before and after Christmas, I saw dumpsters and recycle bins filled with the aftermath of excessive consumption, shiny new things purchased by parents and grandparents, spouses and children, daughters and sons, things that are supposed to bring happiness and a feeling of good cheer during this holiday season. This seemed rather incongruous as voices of parents yelling and children crying echoed in the hallway outside of my apartment. Was it necessary to buy all the plastic toys that will be on this planet forever? Will we ever learn that we can’t continue to consume at this rate without causing our own extinction? What sort of world will our grandchildren grow up in? Will they have fresh air, clean water, food to eat? Will they suffer from illnesses and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents and grandparents?

The one saving grace in this season has been the forest that sits behind my apartment building. As I walk along the path, leaves crunching under my boots, I listen for the birds, watch the squirrels and chipmunks running up and down the trees, watch the deer, who seem as interested in me as I am in them. I feel at peace, refreshed, at home. It’s hard to describe the beauty and the joy I feel when I’m there and I’m sure Thoreau or others have said it much more eloquently than I could hope to. And yet this beauty is also laced with sadness – a developer owns the land and the city has approved the building of twenty plus new homes that will wipe out the majority of the forest. Staying here when that happens is something I’m afraid I won’t be able to bear and I feel intense pressure to figure out the next step.

Will next year be better? It seems unlikely given what I know at the moment. Many of the problems that plague our country and humankind in general are not easily solved and it’s hard to be patient when change is so painfully slow, and quite frankly, when people refuse to acknowledge what is wrong, who is being harmed, and the role that each of us plays in it. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not clear on the path or direction I need to take, but I’m working on figuring it out.

And so, there is that glimmer of hope and I cling to that because without hope, there can be no revolution. And we are desperately in need of a revolution. As the song from Counting Crows goes, “It’s been a Long December but there’s reason to believe that maybe this year will be better than the last.” Time will tell, eh?

Heroes

For reasons I can’t explain, I thought it would be a good idea to watch all the Star Wars movies in succession and then go to see the new one when it came out in December of 2017.  It seems easy enough, doesn’t it?  Except that there is some controversy regarding the order in which to view the movies. 

After reading various opinions online, I went with the recommendation of my cousins and watched Star Wars IV A New Hope, followed by The Empire Strikes Back, Return Of The Jedi, The Phantom Menace, Attack Of The Clones, Revenge Of The Sith, The Force Awakens, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

You might think that all of this was just to be able to go to the Clinton Theater to watch The Last Jedi and snack on the delicious organic popcorn with real butter.  And of course, you’d be right. But that’s not the point I want to make today. 

Even though I saw the first three Star Wars movies back in the day when I was but a youth and I’ve seen bits and pieces of the following three, I couldn’t help but feel really disappointed in the heroes of the first six movies.  My crush on Luke Skywalker didn’t stand the passage of time and I found him to be a whiny baby who felt he was getting the shaft.  There’s nothing wrong with having ambition and a desire to see the world outside of your hometown but make a plan and do it. And Anakin Skywalker? It seemed like he was crying every five minutes, at least when he wasn’t breaking the Jedi rules and doing the wrong thing.  It’s not wrong for a man to cry, but sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and do the right thing, even though there will be pain and life might not turn out the way you’d like it to.

It’s not just Star Wars, though. It seems that some of today’s ‘heroes,’ both on screen and off just aren’t.  Once I made that statement, I felt it was pretty presumptuous of me unless I could actually define what it means to be a hero.  According to the dictionary, it’s a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.  Hmm, not that helpful.  What achievements are outstanding, what is courage, and who determines what qualities are noble? 

Instead of drilling down further on definitions, I decided to take an informal poll of people of varying ages, sexes, and backgrounds.  The youngest kids – threes and fours named a Superhero, which didn’t surprise me.  That’s their experience – heroes are Captain American, Wonder Woman, Batman.  The kids that were a little older had a slightly broader definition – someone who defeats the bad guys using their strength or super power. 

Among the adults (with a couple of exceptions – like the smart alecks that said a sandwich), the answers were surprisingly similar.  A hero is someone who is self-sacrificing, willing to give up whatever they have – even their life – for someone else or for the greater good.  It didn’t matter if the someone else was a stranger or a loved one.  The other thing that came up over and over was that a hero wouldn’t expect any recognition, publicity, fame, or even a pat on the back – the hero would do the right thing because it is the right thing without expecting anything in return.  A couple of people also mentioned that that a hero stands up for something when no one else does, something they feel is wrong or right but that no one else is doing anything about so they decide to be the one that does something.

Most touching was the response of a woman who felt that anyone could be a hero – and in her life, it was her two grandmothers – one who was a widow that raised three children and the other who married, ran a farm and household, and raised six children having only one arm.

Here’s the best thing I learned about heros from these wise people. Any of us can be a hero.  There are many things that are terribly wrong in the world right now and there are millions of people that need rescuing – not necessarily from the clutches of an evil villain, but from the struggling and suffering in their day to day.  You and I – and even better – you and I together, can make a difference and be the hero in someone else’s life.  Not for the fame, not for the glory, but just because it’s the right thing to do.  We don’t need a movie to show us a hero, we just need to be one.

If you’re feeling like you don’t have what it takes, here’s a song by Matthew West that I think will help to put things into perspective. 

What’s stopping you from being a hero today?

Life Before and After

Maybe you’ve been living an ordinary life.  Maybe it wasn’t everything you dreamed or wished for, but it’s okay, a good life.  For some people life is divided into two distinct halves, before it happened and after.  “It” could be an accident, a stroke, a suicide, a diagnosis, a sudden and unexpected death.  Regardless of the cause of this devastating change in life, the good life that seemed rather dull or lacking before is now extraordinary, something to which you want desperately to return.  Life after the event is hard, harder than you ever dreamed it could be, each day a new set of obstacles to overcome, hard questions to answer, a myriad of unpleasant tasks to do, suffering to endure, a stark and vivid contrast to what things were like just a short time ago. 

What can be done to overcome this trial?  What are the five easy steps to reduce and yes, please, remove this devastation?  To give a pat answer or a cheery platitude would be insulting and insensitive to those who are standing in the center of the wreckage.  The well meaning people who do this enrage and alienate, much like the friends of Job who gave their opinions on the reasons for his loss and suffering. Frankly, there is no quick and easy solution, no magic cure to make it all better, no time machine to take you back to the day before it happened.

Time, however, makes the wound less prominent, though the scar remains indefinitely. One day you awaken and ‘it’ is not the first thing you think about, it’s the second or maybe the third and you realize that one day at a time you’ve started living a new normal, one you wouldn’t have chosen, but the one you’ve been given.  No, it’s not the good and ordinary life you had before, the one you now perhaps realize you didn’t appreciate as much as you should have, but you’ve somehow figured out a way to navigate through it.

My nearly three year old granddaughter had spent considerable time creating a Duplo® creation.  While she was walking across the family room to put it on a shelf and out of the reach of her younger sister, she stumbled and it fell and broke in several pieces.  Her frustration and sadness poured out in tears and screaming.  Her Dad sat down next to her and put the blocks back into place and let her know he was fixing it, but her cries didn’t subside.  Her Mom, Dad, me, and her siblings tried to offer encouragement, but her anger and anguish could not be comforted. 

Before the fall

After a few moments, she got up off the floor and ran into the waiting arms of her Mom and she asked her to play one of her favorite songs on her phone.  Tears streamed down my face as I listened because I realized that in the midst of broken things and insurmountable grief it’s possible to find comfort in the arms of those who love us and listen to songs that ease the pain, if only temporarily.

If you are in this hard place right now, I pray that you will lament all that you’ve lost, that you will vent your rage and cry out and grieve.  It may seem like you’re all alone, but I encourage you to reach out to others who have a similar story.  There are a multitude of resources available online and locally.  A few links are listed below, but a quick Internet search for your ‘it’ will point you in the right direction. Lastly, here’s a link to the song that brought comfort to my granddaughter.  May it bring hope and peace to you as well.

Suicide

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Stroke

Cancer

Heart Attack