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Here we are in the midst of the longest holiday debacle of the year. This is the holiday I’ve come to think of as HallowThankMas, an orgy of shopping and eating that begins mid-October and tears a path through three months, stopping only to exchange orange and gold decorations for red and green, with just a touch of yellow and blue to include a nod for Hanukkah — the unfortunate Jewish observance that finds itself stuck in the middle of this mess.
I’ve never been a fan of Halloween. Even as a child, I found the ritual of selecting and wearing a costume less than attractive. I enjoyed getting candy, but, it’s subsequent consumption was so bounded by rules and limitations that it took what spontaneity the customs afforded right out of the day. As I grew older I tried to focus on the day that follows All Hallows Eve – All Saints Day – but, quietly reflecting on the great deeds of those who have gone before us just doesn’t sell Hersheys or encourage costumes dripping in fake blood, so All Saints Day remains the quiet observance of a few.
Fortunately for the Presidential and other candidates, only one of the ‘big three’ encroached on their special day at the polls. In fact, in my neck of the woods Halloween was a decided ‘non-event’ this year. I did hear about a family that hoped to take their children trick or treating at the mall — yep, they do that here — but by early evening the mall had run out of candy. They ended up buying candy and taking it home to dole out on a day by day basis. Those mall stores don’t miss a trick…and they ended up with a treat when parents of disappointed youngsters had to spend money on chocolates and gummy bears.
The rituals of Thanksgiving – a table laden with harvest foods, a large family gathered around one happy and thankful table are the ones that are closest to my heart. I remember a few childhood Thanksgivings that had the quality of joy those images inspire. I also remember stilted conversations with relatives who rarely visited, long journeys to houses where I might be the only child in attendance, and the pressures the cook feels when everything has to be perfect and perfectly timed. Still, it is hard to pause and enjoy the memories of good times, or even to start new memories, when all around us is now focused on the biggest shopping season of the year, Christmas. (Oh, and Hanukkah, too.)
Let’s hit rewind and pause before we leap beyond thanks and into the crazy days of the secular shopping spree attached to Christmas. Let’s stop long enough to give thanks for the people who’ve sheltered us with love, and the people who challenged and inspired us, and our own personal saints. Let’s give thanks for the food that graces our table every day of the year, in good times and bad, in small quantities or great. Let’s give thanks whether we’ve been spared the pain of this economic season or not. Let us give thanks for the ability to stop, to remember, to reflect, to act. And if we have any abundance to share, let us give it away with gratitude, that people in pain, in crisis, living their own hard times, might have ease because of something we did, and money we set aside to give them aide.
Let’s stop before the siren call to spend, spend, spend money on gifts reaches too deep into our psyches. Let’s pause long enough to give so that others can know a time of thanksgiving in their own lives. Let’s breathe in thanksgiving, and share our gratitude with others.
This is a ‘swing’ state. Fortunately it is also the Sunshine State. Long lines of eager early voters have been filling the parking lots at every site. Some people have had to wait three hours to fill out their ballots. Early in the second week of voting, it was announced that one-fifth of registered voters had voted already and the polling sites would be open four additional hours each weekday. I waited over an hour to take paper ballot in hand and file my choices in national, state and county races. While I was waiting, I couldn’t help overhearing some of the conversations around me. Cell phones were snapped open with some regularity, and after “Hello” most everyone continued to explain that they were waiting in line to vote. One young woman (young enough to be voting in her first presidential race) described her experience saying, “It’s great to be voting in a state where the candidates care about you and they actually come to see you.” It’s true. Barack Obama and Joe Biden have been here, even in Tallahassee. John McCain hosted Governor Charlie Crist at a high-falutin’ picnic that also served as an interview for Vice President. All the candidates want to gather the good will and votes of Floridians. But, I suspect we weren’t waiting in that outrageously long line because the candidates have been interested in Florida voters. I suspect we endured that trial because we were very interested in the candidates. Both presidential candidates are offering a promise of change. Floridians want change. They want a sound economy with jobs for all, and opportunities to get ahead and get along. How much change they want, and what kind of small and not-so-small sacrifices they are willing to make to insure change happens will be known when the votes are finally tallied. When that young woman ended her phone conversation, she turned to her companion and noted that she didn’t know who to vote for in the race for Congress. Her companion couldn’t pull up the name of the candidate he preferred, but, instead told her to vote a straight Democratic ticket. She countered that she didn’t know anything about the Democratic candidate, and it didn’t seem right to vote for someone who might not represent her interests. Suppressing the answers that sprang to mind, and chiding myself for eavesdropping, I quietly pondered the possibilities and pitfalls of a race where the voters respond only to being courted by the candidates, and fail to return that interest before entering the polls.
Reflections on the future, inspired by memories of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki —
I grew up in a world where the very idea of the existence of a ‘future’ was in question. Some of you remember those days. Heads down on your desk, you waited, as I did, for the atomic bomb to fall not far from your hometown. Fallout shelters, early warning signals blasting out of radios and test patterns interrupting television programming were all part of the preparations we made, hoping to insure that the greatest numbers of people would survive that big blast. Somewhere along the way, someone got the bright idea that outgunning each other wasn’t the only way human beings might proceed to live together on one small planet. Nations began to adopt treaties and agreements that could safeguard the trigger happy from themselves and each other. The ‘mutually assured destruction’ of atomic and nuclear weapons led governments to the brink of taking action for mutually assured survival.
As we consider the prospects for annihilation that still threaten our future, we do not stand so very far from the observation shared by Gen. Omar Bradley after the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he said, “The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.”
Today, it seems we know more about Weapons of Mass Destruction than we do about Strategies for Mass Survival. But, those strategies are just where we need to put our energies in our future…in the future we want to create, in the future we can create for our children, and their children, and their children’s children.
There are Strategies for Mass Survival that can be attended to today to aide in securing our future.
We can follow, support, and work to enhance the half dozen treaties that protect portions of our future, like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Seabed Arms Control Treaty.
We can accept as a fact of our human nature that new and equally destructive methods of mass murder have been invented, and we can follow, support and enhance agreements that attempt to control the use of biological and chemical weapons.
We can accept as a further fact, that in our brilliance – new and terrifying weapons are being developed, like the class of weapons known as directed energy weapons. While those weapons are not operational today, we’re already being told that they will be useful for defense, not necessarily aggression. But, we’ve heard that story before haven’t we? The bombs dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were used in ‘defense’ against an aggressor – and the thousands upon thousands of lives lost generation upon generation were treated like so much collateral damage that couldn’t be avoided. Because we know our past includes the potential to visit generations of innocents with the consequences of war, we need to be especially careful to carry not only the ‘brilliance’ of weaponry into the future, but, also the wisdom to turn aside a new era of horror.
In the future we need to nurture the wisdom that will lead us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons. We need to nurture an ethical stance that cares for all humanity, not just our own nationals. We need to make peace our goal as small conflicts threaten the stability of our world. We need to make ourselves brilliant in the tactics of living together in justice, compassion and equality. We need to learn the fundamentals for mutually assured survival.