|'Tis the season ... Make it jolly|
And so it is Christmas, to quote a beloved singer no longer with us. Or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, all times when wet and gray skies conspire to inspire folks to gather with loved ones for physical and psychic warmth, meals, music, merriment. Since my particular tradition is Christmas, I write from that perspective.
And what a Christmas season! No shortage of grinches in 2008. The economy is bad with no signs of relief; if you’re lucky enough to still have a job, likely your shopping plans got curtailed. The cold snap is especially chilling for sunny-California beach denizens. We’re still at war with lives being threatened and lost. Christmas is a stretch when you try to picture merriment amidst bombs.
We do also have good things. There are plenty of reminders out there, even when we don’t want to be preached at. (“Behind every cloud is a silver lining, blah, blah, blah …”) The good things don’t negate nor can they erase the bad things, just point out that nothing is ever black-and-white. Most of those reading this column have at least passably good health. There’s even going to be a new administration, if you didn’t like the old one.
But when you get really down to it, we’re pretty rich. Both in what we have and what we can give, and economy be darned. We live in a lovely place, where the air tends to be fresh, the scenery pretty, friendships recognized, children valued, people generally friendly and good to be around. If you’re reading this column, it means you can read, an advantage not shared by all. You also can think, and you’re in a place where you can decide whether to agree, and you can say that. You probably have the physical ability to smile, which means it’s in your power to give a Christmas present to everyone you pass on the street, without spending a cent.
Is it a good Christmas, is it a bad one … that’s purely subjective and dependent on circumstance, of course. But maybe a good part of it is how you choose to deal with it. Did you ever read, “Man’s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy” by Viktor E. Frankl? He was the Jewish, Austrian psychiatrist who lost everything – livelihood, home, family – during World War II. They put him to hard labor in a concentration camp, which he survived, and went on to outline “logotherapy” in his book. Its premise is that while we cannot avoid suffering, we can choose how we feel about our circumstances, choose our own opinions and outlook. The Nazis took everything from Frankl but his life – and, what seemed as important to him, his mind and his freedom of choice over his own thoughts.
“Everything can be taken from a man but … the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way,” he wrote. “There is also purpose in life which is almost barren of both creation and enjoyment and which admits of but one possibility of high moral behavior: namely, in man’s attitude to his existence, an existence restricted by external forces.”
My friends the Welch family, with whom I’d grown up since their kids and my sisters were good friends, stopped by the paper unexpectedly yesterday to bring season’s greetings. One of them was hosting the holiday dinner for the first time, and there were 15 people expected. That scenario’s enough to scare – or delight – anybody, depending on how you look at it. David was just grinning.
It’s all subjective, but potential is hiding along the way. And by the way, as someone who tends to see the glass half-empty, not half-full (and who is trying to grow up out of that) I’m saying this as much to myself as to you.
Let’s all have a wonderful season. Why not?