As I read the headlines and browse my Facebook Home Page, I wonder, "Where Are You, Joy?" I wonder if you wonder the same thing.
We live in a time and place of great divide, which is causing great despair, both in our dialogue and for many, in daily life. America's democratic passing of the baton has deepened and widened the emotional and practical divide of American citizens, and increasingly, citizens of the world.
Regardless of who you believe threw the first punch, so to speak, regarding the spewing of divisive dialogue, all who continue to engage are guilty of prolonging the fight. In fact, much of what is said appears to be said to do exactly that - prolong and stoke the fight. We are fortunate that, over time, people have been willing to fight - intellectually and physically - for important change in our society. Think abolition, civil rights, women's rights, to name a few. It is important to remember, however, that individuals often come to see the need for change far earlier than organizations and institutions.
That individuals see more clearly than groups puts into the hands of individuals the ability to act first and more specifically to do the right thing. In fact, we all have the power to conduct ourselves in a manner that serves our personal interests in the context of serving the greater good. If we all act this way, we will not need to rely on governing entities to make our choices for us. I do not naively
suggest that a society should set no parameters for conduct; however, when individuals conduct themselves in a responsible manner that shows respect for not only themselves, but also the whole, the importance of rules of conduct is diminished. Rules are, after all, for the bad guys.
Unfortunately, we as Americans find ourselves disappointed in, disillusioned by and even fearful of our elected leaders. This is not something new, even if media and social media would have you believe it is. Perhaps it's another "alternative fact." The reality is that if individuals exercised their citizenship, something our former President asked of everyone during his farewell address, our nation would not have to rely so heavily on laws established by those we elect to control our life choices.
It is my hope that we as individuals will use our unique gifts to be our best selves, as individuals and as members of this great society. It takes time, energy, perseverance and compassion to ensure that our unique qualities will allow us to thrive as a community of individuals who are more alike than different. It is also my personal belief that words spoken and actions taken, born out of internal joy, will absolutely lead us toward this great end. Let us rely on that joy, rather than our elected people, who seem to have lost touch with what we truly want, to lead our great society forward. It is time to take things into our own hands - not just the writing and speaking of opinion, but rather the living of lives worthy of our words.
The Joy is there. Feel it and live it. Our families, friendships, communities, states, countries and world are depending on it.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
"How does the water get to the roots?" asked my daughter's Jewish friend about our Christmas tree. Knowing a tree would surely die if the water couldn't get to its roots, she was not only curious, but also concerned, about how the water could get to our tree's roots. Imagine her reaction when my daughter told her it couldn't - because we had cut the tree down.
I do feel a bit of guilt at the notion of cutting down a living tree each year to serve as our family Christmas tree. After all, it is literally giving its life for us. But I don't think I will ever be able to give up this tradition. I'm not unwilling to part with tradition; rather, I am unwilling to part with the life each tree gives me.
Christmas trees, being evergreens, are symbols of life that thrives throughout the year, no matter the weather. We add lights, which bring precious brightness during the darkest time of year. Ornaments, which in my home are treasures gifted and purchased, and reminders of someone or somewhere special, adorn the branches. My Christmas tree, while technically dead, is alive. And it brings me great joy.
This year's tree for me is my most favorite of all. (My family would say I say that every year, which may or may not be true, and even if it is, it is still true that this year's tree is my favorite, and I truly believe it is.) I specifically chose this tree because it was more "open" - again, my family not sure what I was talking about. When we brought it in and the branches settled, it was clear that there was much open space between the branches, which tended to reach out in all directions. All of the openess allowed for the lights to be placed well into the interior, and for our beloved treasures to hang in nooks and crannies. I love its imperfect perfection. I have spent many an early morning staring deeply into this living symbol of Christmas spirit. It has literally filled my heart with joy and love.
Sadly, my Christmas tree, with its lights and treasures, will soon come down. Just as it "lived on" even after water no longer fed its roots, I vow that the joy it brought will live on in my heart to bring brightness to the world. My hope for this post-Christmas season is that we might all take the joy and love of Christmas deep into the dark places in our world. May they help us bring peace and understanding to the hearts and minds of all people, allowing us to all feel the light and the life. If a tree whose roots no longer take water can do it, I believe we can, too.
author of "JOY"