In spite of the economy and all its miseries, as the Holiday Season descends upon us like the first gentle snowfall of winter, we cannot help but be caught up in its magic. A magic instilled within us as children, passed on to future generations; a magic dating back to that most profoundly magical night in Bethlehem almost 2000 years ago. There was hope that year, for a new world and that hope has nurtured us throughout the ensuing centuries with all its horrors and its wonders. It is this same magic, which might be called faith, that will sustain us as we enter a turbulent new year.
The past year has been rough and it's been depressing. The upcoming new year offers little hope of immediate or lasting retrieval. The on-going recession looms constantly over the heads of middle-class Americans even as economic soothsayers insist that it is lifting. The public is not fooled, its members live in the real world, not one created by the number sheets of statisticians. What we need as the holidays approach is a little bit of magic to uplift sagging spirits.
Along with the relentless recession, we are still carrying the problems of the past with us, making some headway, but hardly enough to make a dent in the ills facing society. The homeless, to our great shame, are still homeless. City children are still being killed or maimed by random bullets and drug-related disputes. AIDS continues its merciless assault on young lives in spite of education, free condoms in the school system and safer sexual practices, using different avenues of transmission; for every one step forward, it seems there are two steps backward.
We have made major strides in the fight against cancer, but are no closer to a proven cure, although we are more aware of preventative measures through the adoption of healthier lifestyles.
Most people have been forced to cut back drastically in their spending habits. Food prices are up, but supermarkets thrive because we all have to eat, though not as well as in the past. Food coupons are dated to expire within a shorter time period, as industry tries to seduce the public into buying their products quickly. Yet nobody blames the very rich or the very poor for the recession. The middle-class takes all the heat for the "decadence" of the past decades.
The poor suffer because of the budget cuts slashing essential social services, but the middle class not only bears the brunt of the times, but is the only segment of the population that can reverse the recession by increased spending; and there is no extra money to stimulate a sluggish economy. The middle-class remains financially strapped, with misplaced guilt, yet helpless to make the needed changes.
Politicians are still found to be either corrupt or inept, and sometimes both. A long-lasting recession makes desperate people look for scapegoats. Instead of unleashing their frustrations on the government where it belongs, they tend to turn against minorities; one more flaw in human nature.
The fate of Mother Earth is still in jeopardy, although aware and caring organizations are struggling to institute beneficial changes that will halt the abuse of the planet. It would be prudent to remember that the earth is far more resilient than the humans presently in dominion of her. The world has undergone tumultuous changes throughout the ages and while we prefer not to think of it, the most endangered species is humanity.
The year has not been all bad. Freedom and democracy are rippling across the world like the waves of a stone tossed into a still lake. Most Americans are aware today that democracy and capitalism is a double-edged sword and can be used for both good and greed. Other nations embracing it are expecting it to be the panacea for their economic ills, a miracle cure, but possibly a false hope. Capitalism, given free reign by democracy can be manipulated and abused far more than despotism. History suggests that humanity has not yet reached the heights that freedom offers, yet succumbs easily to its pitfalls. In the biblical story of Eden, when Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, what she tasted was freedom and it was bittersweet.
Still freedom gives us the options of choice. All men are not created equal. Watch a cocaine-addicted or fetal-alcohol-syndrome baby if you doubt this. What is equal is the human capacity to rise above genetic annihilation tendencies and challenge the problems of a troubled society. If middle-class Americans are going to be blamed for the country's financial woes, then it is the obligation of that segment of the population to demand change and settle for nothing less.
During this Holiday Season, some of us may have less material things; a smaller turkey, batches of cookies that won't last until spring, and presents given with more feeling than material worth; which is what the holidays are supposed to be about. It is a time to gather with friends and loved ones, thankful to be together, mourning those we may have lost; a time to contemplate that most precious commodity, love, and consider how we might apply it to a shaky future. The magic of Christmas--thank God it exists, and may we all hold on to a little of it for next year.