Friday, November 30, 2012

Do You Hear?

The sun rises, the sun sets, Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Christmas is on its way, ready or not.  It’s always been my favorite season.  Even though since I left Christianity behind it had felt a bit disingenuous to revel in the trappings of a holiday in which I don’t really believe.

For awhile, I called myself “agnostic.”  I could no longer swallow the whole Abrahamic religious model; it seemed like 90% of the motivation behind those religions was sinister, avaricious and more about gaining and keeping earthly power than worshipping a godly one.  Born, raised and steeped as I was in the some of the more conservative Christian traditions, it took a few years for me to screw up the courage scrape off the last barnacles of those traditions.  Once I discarded that spiritual model, for good and all, it took some months to identify the spiritual path that spoke to my soul and my relationship to the Almighty.    

Now that I have found that path, I feel a little less hypocritical getting all caught up in a “Christian” holiday.  Because, of course, it’s not really Christian now, is it?   History tells us that Jesus is probably not the reason for this particular season.  We know that Christ, by the account of the Gospels, was probably born in closer to February than December, judging by the speculation that if shepherds were in the fields watching the flocks at night it would be lambing time: late winter/early spring.  Early Christians decided it would be easier to convert pagans if they borrowed holidays the heathens already celebrated and gave them Christian significance.  Someone determined that Winter Solstice was as good a date as any to assign to the birth of Christ. 

But the holiday itself is Solstice, and I no longer have any guilt about surrounding myself with bright lights, burning logs, the smell of spices and comforting foods, enjoying family and giving gifts, honoring the Almighty and celebrating the turn of the season and the return of the light. 

One of my favorite aspects of the holiday season is the music.  Sacred, popular, whimsical or traditional, I love it all.  From ancient chant to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I have to admit, for a few years there, I cherished the music more for its nostalgic value than for any meaning it had in my present life.  But lately, I’ve been considering that the songs have a universal, not necessarily strictly Christian, message.

I own an impressive collection of holiday CD’s.  Last count had me at something around 120.  Yes, that’s right…I own over a hundred Christmas records.  Heading this year’s list of favorites is Jim Brickman’s “Peace.”  In particular, his cover of “Do You Hear What I Hear,” with vocals by Anne Cochran.  While I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Der Bingle, Brickman’s  is just the perfect rendition of this song.  For me, it took the meaning of the lyrics out of the realm of soppy 50’s sentimentalism and into universal relevance. 

Given the events surrounding the recent presidential election, colored as they were by our 21st –century talent for choosing our own reality, we could all very well be looking at our neighbors and wondering, “Do you see what I see?  Do you hear what I hear?”  But that’s not the direction I’m going to go with this.

No…what struck me was that the song included everybody and everything—the  wind, the lamb, the shepherd boy, the mighty king—talking with each other just the same as I could talk to you. Exactly how it is…how it should be.   And they are asking these questions about the magic of creation that the Universe shows us every day, every hour.   Do you see what I see?  Do you hear what I hear?  Do you know what I know?

I wanted to post a You-Tube video here, but You-Tube did not have exactly the right version of this song.  I needed the one off the album, with the fiddle and the whistle and the slightly Celtic flavor.  So…since You-Tube didn’t have one, I made one myself.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanks, America.

Many people I know are participating in a meme (it’s moved to Facebook, now) where they post every day from November 1 until Thanksgiving about a thing for which they are thankful. I thought about doing it myself. But I couldn’t come up with anything that was heart-warming or edifying. People don’t really want to know that I am grateful that my life partner and I are cohabitating astoundingly amiably these days. Or that I’m thankful for the new darker carpeting in my bedroom that will be less likely to show hairball stains. Most of the things for which I thank the Universe these days would add up to a colossal example of TMI were I to share them with my internet friends.

But then, there is the election. That thing which has inspired such a firestorm of weeping and gnashing of teeth amongst those Fox-loyal hordes who were utterly blind-sided by the results thereof. Hell yes, I’m grateful that the majority of the American people somehow managed to sift through the lies and the smoke and the mirrors and grant the president four more years to push through the hope and change he promised the first time around. Or even if Obama could not/did not deliver those things, we were not attracted to the option of bringing back the guys who got us in this mess in the first place, and beginning the process of going backward come January 20th, 2013.

I have been somewhat astonished by the inability of right-wing loyalists to accept the results of the election, get over it and move on. We all had to do that in 2004, did we not? In the end, we all suspected that “our” candidate (John Kerry) had been little more than a human sacrifice to the right-wing juggernaut running unchecked across America in those days. Perhaps we sounded as gloom-and-doom and hopeless about America’s future back then as the right does now. I remember being anything but pleased that Bush and his cronies had been granted another four years to pilot the country down the road to ruin, and I continued to rail against Bush Administration policies for the remainder of his reign. But I don’t remember those of us on the left projecting the naked hatred and vitriol being spewed around by disappointed right-wingers today. And I don’t remember left-wing media personalities egging us on and whipping us into a frenzy of losers’ bloodlust.

As time has passed and theories about the “surprising” 2012 election results have been advanced by everyone and his pup, it has dawned on me that there is something else for which to be grateful here. Something more than the prospect of at least maintaining the status quo (which is not very attractive, but is still preferable to a Republican “do-over.”) I discovered this in a piece being circulated in the past few days by several media outlets, in which ex-Governor Romney publicly laments that Obama won the election because he “promised gifts" to hand-picked factions of his base coalition. Oh, that voters should fall prey to such unethical tactics!

Oh, Mr. Romney! On how many levels does this comment prove than you are laudably and remarkably full of shit about the democratic process? I suppose you can be forgiven, sir, if you believed that you were doing what it took, in 21st-century America, to win elective office. Especially the highest office in the land. The tack upon which you were headed was, by all indications of the past several elections, exactly where the American people wanted to go. Negative campaigning. Demonizing the opposing candidate. Spending those gigantic contributions from undisclosed sources on making the other guy appear to be the obvious worst choice in the world, rather than wasting time and resources presenting your own plans and vision to the voters. The American people have consumed stinking negative garbage by the tanker-load in the past several elections, and clamored for more.

But—wonder of wonders—during election 2012, the President’s campaign made a bold move. What if we send out a different sort of message? How about: “Vote for us. Here is what we have to offer YOU.” And though it was by no means the loudest message out on the campaign trail, it was out there. And by the grace of some sort of cosmic head-slap, a portion of the American voting public heard it and responded to it. What a concept. Vote for the guy that actually offers you something. Unheard of!

So today, I’m indescribably grateful that the American people—or at least a large enough subset thereof to mystify (and piss off) the loser—voted FOR something this election. Rejected the New Conventional Wisdom of negative campaigning and responded to promises of positive policy. It’s a breath of such pure, fresh air that I just want to fill my lungs with it and never exhale.

I hardly dare to hope that this might start a “new” trend…

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004:  “I decided I would let the dawn be the omen. If we had a spectacular sunrise, no matter who won, things were going to be all right. A rainy, drizzly, weeping dawn would foretell of dire consequences for our nation. Funny thing…I knew the forecast was for sun today…knew the rain had stopped and the clouds had scuttled away before we went to bed last night. I think I was creating a scenario in my mind where my "good omen" daybreak was more than likely to happen.

“But we didn’t have a spectacular sunrise. The day dawned bright and brittle. The sun just marched up over the horizon, cold and hard in the east. And it frosted last night…the first frost of the season. The bright hard rays of the rising sun glittered off the sodden masses of my garden flowers that were killed by the frost. So, tell me…what kind of omen is that?”
Wednesday, November 5, 2008:   “… dawned grey and drizzly and dark…very much a typical late autumn day in the Pacific Northwest.

“Yet I jumped out of bed, bustled into the cafĂ© and gushed to my staff and any customer within earshot:

“Isn’t it a beautiful day!"

“And I wasn’t talking about the weather.”
Wednesday, November 7, 2012: 
Anyone carrying this picture in her sidebar for four years would certainly be expected to have something to say about the 2012 election results.  So I will not disappoint…
This year, I made a tacit agreement with myself to keep as far away from campaign coverage as I could possibly get—from the primaries to the conventions and through the nationally televised stump-speech duels erroneously billed as “debates.”   If I’ve learned nothing else from closely following the two presidential elections previous to this one, I’ve learned to loathe the hype and mistrust the fickle whims of the American electorate—or at least as those whims are reported by our intrepid sensation-starved media.
In 2004, I truly believed there were people out there who might be undecided about for whom to cast their vote—folks who might be persuaded by what I believed to be rational arguments against allowing the Bush Administration four more years to wreak havoc upon the nation and the world.  So I kept my keyboard at the ready and produced a significant collection of political rants.  As if something that I said could change even one “misguided” mind.
In 2008, I was encouraged that the American people seemed to be so DONE with Republican national leadership that they would set aside a centuries-old tradition of racial bias to elect the first black president of the United States.  Frankly, I didn’t think we had it in us.  I was pleasantly surprised, stoked for the sweeping changes I expected to follow this historic event, and thoroughly relieved to see the back of George W. Bush and his gang of thieves.    
We all know how that turned out.  The “change” part, that is.  For the past four years, the Republican congressional leadership, partnered with a media where the loudest voices preach an unfettered, outrageous and irresponsible right-wing sermon, have proven that ugly, avaricious fear-mongering did not disappear with George W. Bush.  Not only did the rhetoric continue, it got louder and more outrageous.   Birthers.  “Obamacare.”   Socialism.  The president is a Muslim.  Thinly veiled racial slurs.  And some not veiled at all.
And then there is the Congressional gridlock.  The party out of power pulled out all the stops to fulfill its publicly professed agenda—to Make This President Fail.  They vilified the man and demonized his policies; and the American people ate it up…with two spoons and a shovel.  There has been little of hope and/or change allowed to escape the black hole of Washington for the past four years.
Yet…here it is, November 7th, 2012, and we have managed to re-elect this man.  Pundits and disgruntled Republicans point at the closeness of the popular vote (“The Donald” tweeted about it, in his bombastically stupid way), declare that the country is still divided and Mr. Obama has, if anything, lost the support of some of the folks who rallied to his cause in 2008.
I maintain that, if anything, this victory is greater than the first.  Despite four years of hounding by the opposition, despite losing the support of progressives of his own party, despite herculean voter-suppression efforts launched by forces interested in assuring his defeat, despite the amnesia suffered by an American electorate which has become largely convinced Mr. Obama caused the problems he inherited upon becoming president four years ago (as Mr. Obama accurately predicted would happen)…
This man—the first black President of the United States—will  be President  for four more years. 
And I, for one, would rather suffer through four more years of legislative gridlock presided over by Barack Obama than see the clock rolled back on everything from health care reform to women’s rights by a Republican administration held hostage by extreme right wing interests. 
Hail, indeed, to the chief.  Let’s all wish him good luck.  And let’s set our sights to help him achieve it.