Saturday, December 17, 2005
Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men (and Women)This year, these are difficult concepts for me. Peace on earth seems further away than ever before. Good will towards men (and women), seems also remote. The world outside is in upheaval, on the micro and macro levels. My own world is conflicted and out of whack. Communications are skewed, tensions are high, emotions are constantly in flux.
What is going on here?
I don't know if anyone else is feeling it. Maybe it's because I just got back from some wondrous travels and have been thrown into a world that's dramatically different from when I left. The trees are stripped of their leaves, the houses and stores are transformed by decorations, and I am faced with a list that is by definition irrevocably behind.
I have moved from a sense of possibility and wonder while I was out in the world, to being drowned by a low-level frantic crush of lists and obligations and things to do so that I can arrive at December 25, sweaty and frayed, hopefully intact. People close to me are at odds, disappointed in me, each other and in life. I'm sensing a huge schism this year between the Christmas lights and the crisp cold evenings and the internal churnings of colliding needs and deep resentments.
It's not a new story. Holiday seasons are fraught, period. Fraught with layers of personal history, past aches, renewed hopes, and that never-quite-forgotten certainty we had as children that the Thing Most Longed For will appear, glittering and new, as if by magic under the tree. I think it's the waving of that wand that so gets to us as we get older. We are now the providers of the magic. We now accumulate the wads of credit card receipts as we try to cobble together some fulfillment for the ones we love. Now that we're the wizards behind the curtain, we know our own fallibilities all too well, and have lost faith that magic can exist outside our efforts.
We try so hard to make it work. Not just on the material level, but also to rise to the occasion of the spiritual promise and hope that is embodied in the season, no matter what our religious grounding. We want to believe in the light in the darkest hour. We crave the peace that the myths of salvation and delivery provide. We want so badly to fix all the aching painful moments in the past where there was no salvation, where there were no lights, where the magic fell short. Not just for ourselves, but for the people around us. We want so desperately for it all to be so nice.
Peace on earth: it ain't happening these days. And we're to blame. That's a tough concept to accept. It's not just George Bush's fault for being a self-aggrandizing despot. It's not just the Republicans' fault for running a set of ruthless and questionable elections. It's not just the Democrats' fault for being the nice guys in a world that no longer can sustain that sensibility. It's our fault. We're part of it. That's a concept that is almost impossible to reconcile.
Good will towards men (and women). Also a difficult concept. Almost everywhere I look I see fallout from tense, strained, painful relationships between men and women. I see divorces destroying children. I see bitter tension undermining existing relationships. I see people complaining about their mates, lying to each other, putting on smiling faces while inwardly dying inside.
I see new relationships full of joy and hope, and I see exactly in what way they will start to crumble and fail. I see ongoing relationships in which both people have learned to accept a level of misery that they no longer have any strength to change. I see people hurting and hating and bitter. I see people alone who need to be connected. I see people connected who need to be alone.
Where is the light in all of this? What is the message here?
I don't know the answers. But I have a sense of where to start. I know what, for me, lightens the load for a moment or an hour or a lifetime. I know, for me, what takes all of this and makes it bearable. It's stuff like this, the guy who programmed his Christmas lights to music. To me, this is on the same list as the Eiffel Tower, the wild exuberance of Jackson Pollack, the manic brushstrokes of Van Gogh, the windows of Chartres, the gargoyles of Notre Dame, the glitter of Broadway, the sheer pleasure of movie-making in King Kong, the smell of a bookstore, any ornamentation that is done from love of beauty over function, any word that is crafted from the love of language, any act that is done with mindfulness and joy, any moment that is entered into with peace and left with gratitude.
The antidote for all this pain is the act of the heart over the brain, the triumph of the nonsensical over the mundane. When I see someone creating something insane, something non-functional, something unacceptable, it gives me joy. I love the things that are big and outrageous. I applaud the person who creates the thing that the world cannot understand.
The thing that negates the horrors of the world and the strain of living together in it, is the whimsy and the passion of those who refuse to conform, who will not shut up, who cannot contain their voice into neat compartments.
Magic exists in this world. It may not be found under the tree, or on the front page of the paper, or in a pill you can take to make the hard realities of life endurable. But it exists. And sometimes it will jump out and surprise you in moments of breathtaking wonder. The Eiffel Tower is such a cultural cliche, it's easy to pass it by as just another set of Mickey Mouse ears. But when looked at and absorbed, it is a thing of perfect beauty, created by someone who just wanted to do it. It is absurd.
Even though we are the creators of magic for many of the people in our lives, we are still entitled to receive some of it ourselves. As we enter into a new year, I wish you all some moments of this absurd and beautiful magic. May it enter your life, lighten your load, inoculate you against the harder realities. We will not wake up on Christmas morning with world peace and completely peaceful hearts. But maybe we can find a way to start the process. And maybe we'll discover in that journey that the Thing Most Longed For is a possibility once again.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 12:23 PM
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