Saturday, December 24, 2011

Eve of Christ's Mass

So here we are on Christmas Eve, 2011. A time when we like to think a hush of peace descends all over the world and everyone contemplates a child born to a virgin mother in a dirty, dark stable, cushioned by a manger full of hay and warmed by the breath of barnyard animals lucky enough to be there at the right time, at the dawn of a new era of human existence.

For Christians in the civilized world, it is the holiest time of their year, a time when everything stops and everyone steps away from their regular routine and gathers around a crackling fireplace to gaze dreamily at a tree covered in lights, sheltering a pile of brightly-wrapped gifts. Songs are sung, glasses raised in toasts of family and friends, hearty meals are partaken, and people travel great distances to be with the ones they love. We will not trouble ourselves with the fact that the vast majority of people in the world are either Hindu or Buddhist and to them Christmas has no meaning. This is one day that is very special, and we all drink deep from the cup of shared cultural experience.

Let us consider what might be happening this day:

Somewhere in America, a family pet is outdoors in a dirty, drafty shelter on a cold, damp night, shivering in the darkness, away from the company of his family. Looking at his empty food and water bowls, he knows the only thing in abundance is loneliness and the bite of the cold wind. He can hear their voices as he gazes at the warm light coming through the windows of the home, so near yet so very far.

Somewhere in America, through either the ignorance or carelessness of its owner, an animal is giving birth to a litter of babies. Humans will take the babies, put them in a cardboard box, and leave them by the side of a road. The box will not be found for three days.

Somewhere in America, an animal will languish in a cold, sterile metal cage in a pound, huddling in fear of the terrifying sights, sounds and smells which surround it. It will not understand why, just a very short time ago, it was living in a home with a family it had grown to love. It was taken out of that home and roughly shoved into a tiny carrier, and watched as the family it loved turned their backs and walked out the door, without another word. It knows that it is a good animal, and will continue to hope in vain that its family will return and take it home again.

Somewhere in America, a good, sweet, friendly dog will be brought to a shelter and will sit next to its owner as he fills out the surrender form. The dog has no idea what is about to happen to him; the only thing he knows is that he is happy to be with his owner. He will take his paw and place it on the arm of his owner to try to get him to play, but the man only continues writing. He looks at his owner with love-filled eyes, and trusts him so very much. The paperwork is completed, and the dog's life will change forever.

Somewhere in America, a skinny, mangy cat, looking far older than its actual age, walks down a filthy, trash-strewn alleyway of a big city, looking for any scraps of garbage or discarded food it can possibly eat. It has learned that humans cause it nothing but pain and injury, and is constantly chased and targeted by rocks, bottles, anything that can be used as a missile. It will watch the rain as it puddles up on the grimy streets, and will never know the gentle touch of a loving hand.

Yes a lot of things will happen tonight, and some of them will be very bad. Right now, an automobile crash is happening and lives will be lost. Right now, an elderly woman lies in a hospital room, alone, with no one to hold her hand, her life slowly slipping away. Right now, a married couple will sit in silence in a neonatal intensive care unit and look at an impossibly tiny human form in an incubator, covered with wires and tubes and tape, taking short, labored breaths, and they will wonder why a merciful and loving God would do this to them and their firstborn.

These things, and a lot worse, will happen tonight. But since I try to be a "glass half full" kind of guy, I like to think that some good things will also happen.

I like to think that people are gathering together and sharing stories of the solstice, and of traditions and customs past, and forming bonds that will last a lifetime.

I like to think there are families where children are taught to accept everyone for the kind of person they are, rather than judge them on what color their skin is, or what kind of accent they speak with, or who they love, or how much money they make, or whether they worship a god or not.

I like to think we can live in a world where all children and animals are loved and wanted, and everyone has a home, enough to eat and medical care when needed.

I like to think there are people who are beginning to awaken to the understanding of the unimaginably vast universe in which we live, and how there are billions and billions of galaxies, each one containing many billions of stars, millions of which have planets similar to our own, and how some of them might harbor life with sentient beings who do as we do: look out into the vast starry expanse of a clear night and wonder if there's anybody else out there.

I like to think that not all people in the world are ignorant and bigoted and hateful, although so often it seems politicians, celebrities and athletes go out of their way in a very public fashion to prove otherwise.

I like to think that someday humans will rid themselves of the arcane, discredited and destructive notion that they are the superior form of life on this planet and all other forms are to be abused and exploited as we wish. I completely and utterly reject and condemn with every fiber of my being the Biblical idea that mankind has been given "dominion" over the earth. With each passing day, it's becoming more critical that mankind understands and accepts that it is a part of the immense web of life that exists on this planet, and we must coexist with every other life form. We have the ability to destroy this planet and with that comes the responsibility to make sure that doesn't happen. We have no right to ruin this planet for other life forms just because we're unable to control our primitive urges.

I like to think that we can create a world where people are freed from the tyranny of religion and are fully able to realize their true potential. I want to live in a world where laws are just and fair and rooted in compassion and mercy, instead of hatred, fear and antiquated superstition.

I wish we could take a little bit of the peace and serenity of this day and keep it close to us and nurture it, and find a way to make it last through the other 364 days.

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