Profundity of Peace on Earth



MrryChrstmsHppyNwYr

copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

This year, Christmas and New Years Days were days of intense reflection.  Perchance, that is true every year and for every individual.  I cannot know what is true for others.  I am only certain that on each of these dates I was immersed in a rigorous course of study.   My gifts or the curriculum came wrapped in a routine event.

The lessons covered were Empathy and Education, although perhaps these were presented in reverse order.  Possibly, the truer program was entropy  and encouragement.  Each edifies.  I wonder; on each of the two days these topics were intertwined.  In my attempt to analyze and understand what I needed to learn or did, I invite your assessments.  Please indulge me as I share the story.

Each was a sunny Saturday.  On neither of the dates, December 25, 2010 or January 1, 2011, was I locked in a classroom.  Nor did I enter a library, a lecture hall, or school.  Indeed, no walls surrounded me.  I was as I am every Saturday of the year, with one exception, at the “Peace Corner.”  The name was given to the intersection of two major highways in my local community years ago.  Then, people came out weekly to stand vigil for global harmony.  That time was long ago, and far, far, far away.  

In the last thirteen months or so, more often than not, I appear at the crossroads alone.  My constant companions are my thoughts and signs.  One sign is but the index and middle fingers held high in a gesture of peace.  The other is  a single poster that reads “Love! Not War. Love!”

On occasion, one or two other persons also grace the Peace Corner.  However, if either of these individuals appears, they and I do not stand together. Hence, regardless of the Saturday, I place me, myself, and I on the Northwest side of the streets.  I have no desire to engage in conversation with another activist.  I only wish to connect with passer-bys.  Eye contact with drivers and walkers is all I need.  

At times, someone approaches me from the street.  Others offer opportunities to share as they travel down the sidewalk.  I am open to learn from these chance encounters.  Admittedly, I cannot be sure what will be said, done, thought, before or after an exchange.  I can only accept that I will be touched, intrigued, quiz, and question for myself, what does it all mean.  

Christmas Day, or the date customarily adopted in America as the holy day, gave gifts I have yet to comprehend.  In 2010, the streets were bare.  Nary an automobile was in site.  Egrets were everywhere.  I pondered.  Might these lovely white birds anxiously await the celebration each December.  The quiet calm truly captured my attention and theirs.  The lovely herons swooped and dove gracefully through the air.  When an occasional automobile appeared on the scene, stopped as required by a red directional signal, uncharacteristically, the two-legged winged animals perched themselves atop the metallic being for the minutes of immobility.

I have never seen the Egrets more enthusiast, energetic, and serene.  The dance these creatures did was well orchestrated, I felt as though I had been given front-row seats to a theatre production meant only for the privileged few.  That is, until the silence was broken.  

On this Christmas Saturday, as pious people prayed in churches, or gathered together with loved ones a man sped through the intersection.  Upon seeing my signs, or the little person I am, he screamed.  “F**k You!”  Yes.  Whilst the religious recognized a devout devotion to the deity donned the Lord, this grateful gent appreciated the chance to vent.  I can only speculate.  In what way did my presence, my message or I, offend his sensibility.  What was stirred within him?  Likely, I will never know.

A pedestrian, a far gentler soul voiced his view of the occurrence.  With a knowing smile, the man who stood within inches of me moments later said of the other, “He’s just stu**d.”  Since I think no one can be characterized in such a manner, this answer did not satisfy my curiosity.  Nor did it suffice.  However, I cannot imagine that I might be granted an opening to ask the aggressor what disturbed him so.  I do not envision a day when we might meet.  I have faith divine intervention is a possibility.  I will not hold my breath.  

The day went on.  Once this person passed the tranquility of the day returned.  Fascinating to me, people were less receptive to my presence than they are normally, on every other Saturday.  In a time thought to define “Peace on Earth” and “Goodwill to all men,” there was little shown to my signs or me.  Having been at the Peace Corner for sooooooooo many years, I thought this was truly odd.  Why might it be that more kindness and care is shown on days that do not honor Christ’s birth?  Entropy?  I have my theories, although I rather hear yours.

If you would, please consider what I think might be a lesson presented in tandem.  Today.

New Years Day 2011, was equally, actually more unusual.  In the last decade, never have people been so very responsive to my message or me.  I would have imagined that with increased traffic, a focus on shopping and sales, a fervent desire to dash hither and yon, a far less consecrated day would deliver far fewer acknowledgements of peace.  Yet, the opposite was true.  Everywhere I turned, and I do face the oncoming traffic, be it going North, South, East, and West, people smiled.  Countless placed their fingers in a sign of peace.  Car horns honked constantly and not at other vehicles.  Drivers made certain that I knew these toots were meant for me.  Car loads of persons young, old, and all ages in-between waved to me.  Hands were held high in a sign of accord.  Out of many a window, from each side of a car, fingers flew in a gesture that mirrored my own.

Suddenly, near the end of my hour at the crossroads, a late model, newly washed burgundy Sports Utility Vehicle approached.  A nicely dressed woman drove nearer.  She wore a black print dress and a huge smile.  Her raven colored hair was long, lush, and curly.  In the passenger seat, nearer to me, sat a nice-looking man.  His shirt was well-pressed, long sleeved, and as white as his bright grin.  Each seemed excited to see my.  I thought perhaps they were lost and hoped I was a local who would provide directions.

That turned out not to be the case.  Elatedly, the woman spoke.  She said, “I see you here every week.”  Breathlessly, she continued.  “About a month ago, I decided to buy a book for you.”  More animated with each word she uttered, she said, “I have looked for you every Saturday since. ”  I assured her, I was there every week, even on the most recent Saturday passed, Christmas Day.  I thought possibly she came by before or after I left in earlier weeks.  I did not have time to inquire.  Impatient with glee and happy to finally connect, the sweet stranger presented me with the tome.  Grateful for the expression of kindness, I quickly read the large type, “An Endless Falling in Love.”  

Unfamiliar with the title, I thanked her and thought of how special it is.  My mere presence inspired her to think thoughts of love.  The pair said “God bless.” Each thanked me for doing as I do.  Then, as traffic whizzed by, the vehicle merged into the flow.  In an instant they were out of sight.  

Curious, I tried to scan the cover.  Yet, I did not wish to neglect what for me is my priority while at The Peace Corner, the people as they pass.  I tucked the paperback behind my poster and continued to receive the endless warm welcome acknowledgements.  For many minutes more, the air was filled with  friendly exchanges.  When it was time for me to be with me and  continue the day, I read on.  I discovered the manuscript was more religious than spiritual.  The woman had handwritten a somewhat personal or practical note.  She shared her name and the name of the church she is affiliated with.

While I am not a follower of a religious faith, for doctrines do not fill me with delight, I am nonetheless extremely touched.  As one who believes that we each have a profound effect on all others, I am grateful for the recognition.  The couple’s choice to come close to me, to grace me with goodwill, and bestow benevolence in the form of a book and bequest . . . this is special to me.  Encouragement.  I think it is Part Two of an intensive study I trust has not ended.

The lessons I learned thus far from the woman I will call Donna and the aggressive distressed man whom I met on Christmas Day taught me. Empathy and Education come at us from every direction.  Entropy and encouragement are also encountered.  These qualities greet us on each avenue. Compassion, connections, and  a chance to comprehend find us on street corners.  Often we do not understand the messages or do not relate to the thoughts in a manner consistent with their intent.  Still, unexpectedly, we are edified.

Mostly, we never know what another hopes to teach us.  Nonetheless, I have no doubt, we learn from and with each other.  Be it a holiday, a holy day, a hump day, or just a day, we gain knowledge.  Please tell me, what did you learn from my story, or your own.  Whatever it is, I feel certain that your experience, interpretation, and mine, will be wondrous, for each of us is a glorious Teacher.



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You Are the Gift!

copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or  BeThink.org

Perchance, on this the twenty-second commemoration of a lesson learned, it is time to reflect on our first, foremost, and greatest Teachers.  More than a generation has passed.  In that time, I have acquired much knowledge. Yet, I am forever reminded that the more I know, the more certain I am.  I know nothing with certainty.  What I once thought was the greatest treasure, a tradition I could never part with, was other than it appeared.  I never imagined what would become my truth.  Today, I share the tale with you.

Originally Published December 25, 2009

On this the twenty-first year anniversary of my first holiday season without what are thought to be tangibly traditional gifts, I can truly say that, I, Betsy, remember it well.  The occasion changed my life forever.

It was October 12, 1988.  Mommy, Berenice Barbara sat across from me at the kitchen table.  This was just as it had been all of my days.  We chatted cheerfully.  Conversation between us was never superficial.  Nonetheless, for us, serious contemplations were fun.  A pleasure for the profound has not left me. It was and is the reason I revel in the company of my Mom.

On this one extraordinary occasion, Mommy declared my family would no longer celebrate any of the conventional holidays as we had.  No presents would be exchanged in the future.  Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, the Winter Solstice, whatever we might wish to call the customary holiday, in our family home little or large luxuries given would not appear.  None would be purchased or placed under a tree.  Trinkets would not sit on a shelf, nor would these be stashed in a closet for a charitable sharing on a December day.  The season of gift giving would not be ours.  

Once the words entered my ears, I exclaimed in horror.  I inquired; why would this be our newly adopted truth.

In her defense, Berenice Barbara offered a dismissive statement that I knew was suspect.  Mommy had never thought the notion of age appropriateness a wise or welcome one.  She forever spoke of the need to honor individuals for whoever they might be.  My Mom often discussed; people need not be constrained by a chronological age.  Yet, perchance her experience of my reaction caused her to offer a rapid retort.  “You are too old for presents,” she proclaimed.  “Too old?” I responded.  For minutes, we talked to no obvious avail.

It seemed nothing could be done to change my Mom’s mind, thankfully.  Her steadfast stance evoked my evolution.

Days later I learned, her own distress for what had recently occurred in our lives encouraged this unexpected and ultimately, very welcome reflection.

While it is true, on that day, Mommy and I had our first and only significant argument, I am grateful for what emerged.  The lesson I learned was a truer value than any bobble or bangle.  Occasions are worthwhile when one feels no sense of obligation to give or receive.  Gifts are given daily in every exchange.  

A word, a touch, a look, the mere presence of a person can mean more to those who bequeath and receive than any material object might.  This veracity is one that fills our hearts, our heads, our bodies, and souls.

More than a score has passed since that date.  I look back on what, for me, was once an unbearable idea.  Today, I cherish what has been my ideal.  

To those beings who I experience as beloved, beautiful, inside and out, to individuals familiar to me, and who intentionally interact in a manner that honors reciprocal reverence, you are the gift.  Your presence in my life is all that I cherish.

I thank you Mommy!  I like and love you more than mere words might ever begin to express.  You, just as all beings, are genuinely a gift!

businesscard.aspx

You Are the Gift!

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

On this the twenty-first year anniversary of my first holiday season without what are thought to be tangibly traditional gifts, I can truly say that, I, Betsy, remember it well.  The occasion changed my life forever.

It was October 12, 1988.  Mommy, Berenice Barbara sat across from me at the kitchen table.  This was just as it had been all of my days.  We chatted cheerfully.  Conversation between us was never superficial.  Nonetheless, for us, serious contemplations were fun.  A pleasure for the profound has not left me. It was and is the reason I revel in the company of my Mom.

On this one extraordinary occasion, Mommy declared my family would no longer celebrate any of the traditional holidays as we had.  No gifts would be exchanged in the future.  Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan, the Winter Solstice, whatever we might wish to call the customary holiday, in our family home presents would not appear.  None would be purchased or placed under a tree.  Trinkets would not sit on a shelf, nor would these be stashed in a closet for a charitable sharing on a December day.  The season of gift giving would not be ours.  

Once the words entered my ears, I exclaimed in horror.  I inquired; why would this be our newly adopted truth.

In her defense, Berenice Barbara offered a dismissive statement that I knew was suspect.  Mommy had never thought the notion of age appropriateness a wise or welcome one.  She forever spoke of the need to honor individuals for whoever they might be.  My Mom often discussed; people need not be constrained by a chronological age.  Yet, perchance her experience of my reaction caused her to offer a rapid retort.  “You are too old for presents,” she proclaimed.  “Too old?” I responded.  For minutes, we talked to no obvious avail.

It seemed nothing could be done to change my Mom’s mind, thankfully.  Her steadfast stance evoked my evolution.

Days later I learned, her own distress for what had recently occurred in our lives encouraged this unexpected and ultimately, very welcome reflection.

While it is true, on that day, Mommy and I had our first and only significant argument, I am grateful for what emerged.  The lesson I learned was a truer value than any bobble or bangle.  Occasions are worthwhile when one feels no sense of obligation to give or receive.  Gifts are given daily in every exchange.  

A word, a touch, a look, the mere presence of a person can mean more to those who bequeath and receive than any material object might.  This veracity is one that fills our hearts, our heads, our bodies, and souls.

More than a score has passed since that date.  I look back on what, for me, was once an unbearable idea.  Today, I treasure what has been my ideal.  

To those beings who I experience as beloved, beautiful, inside and out, to individuals familiar to me, and who intentionally interact in a manner that honors reciprocal reverence, you are the gift.  Your presence in my life is all that I cherish.

I thank you Mommy!  I like and love you more than mere words might ever begin to express.  You, just as all beings, are genuinely a gift!

Santa Claus Has Come To Health Care Reform



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copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.  BeThink.org

“Tis the season to be Jolly” This was the sentiment expressed by President Barack Obama.  The actual words were, the health care Bill passed on Christmas Eve was “the most important piece of social legislation since the Social Security Act passed in the 1930s.” Together with the proposed regulations our Representatives approved weeks ago, citizens of this country can rest assured “the toughest measures ever taken to hold the insurance industry accountable” will soon be law. This would be wondrous news if only the legislation brought joy to the land or authentic health care coverage to the American people.  

Millions muse; it will not.  The American people are reminded of the professionally wrapped gift boxes left under the tree or stashed on a shelf near a Menorah, Kinara, or near the Fanouz, These too, may glitter like gold.  Still, the contents can be as lackluster as the new directive, meant to better manage America’s medical system, would seem to be. Whether we celebrate traditional holidays or only observe those who do, most of us have learned, all is not as it appears to be.  

Sure, some may wish to reassure the public in the same way they would if a lad or lass learned that Mommy and Daddy not Saint Nicolas, bought the presents, and they will return what the tot thought a disappointment.  The conference committee has yet to meet. Congress seems posed to impose initiatives, that establish every individual must be insured.  Allowances will be made for those who cannot reasonably afford medical coverage.  Only Americans who experience an extreme hardship will qualify for government assistance. For the masses, a substantial financial penalty (2 to 2.5 percent of a persons income) will be charged to citizens who violate the mandate.  

People who now think themselves comfortably ensconced in an employer paid policy may be fine with the bequest, for now.  However, once they learn, what they thought beautiful ribbons and bows are strings attached to the package, sorrow might set in.  If a forty percent [40%] proposed excise tax is adopted almost two-thirds of the employers recently surveyed by Mercer, a benefits consulting firm, said they expect to reduce employee benefits rather than pay the levy.  

Nevertheless, an ebullient Barack Obama asserted Americans need only  Trust us.”  The White House is as Santa’s Workshop.  Good gifts are made here.

The American people are skeptical.  Today, throughout the land many wonder whether they can trust that life is lovely in this holiday season or that the President can produce as he promised.  The country’s Chief Executive appears certain he can; indeed, he has.  The Obama family delayed their traditional Christmas departure to Hawaii until the President was sure his health care reform plan was safely secured in the Senate.  Sadly, for common citizens, this legislation was as a Christmas stocking full of coal.  It was not wondrous or reason for a celebration.  For the American people rest and relaxation was not possible.  The sense of good cheer was lost.  It went the way of Single Payer and the public option. Average Americans had awaited the treats President Obama pledged to provide.

Few recognized that in 2003, the precedent was established.  Then, in an Illinois campaign speech, in front of an AFL-CIO chapter, the candidate declared his dedication, “I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program.” (applause) “I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see.”

All those years ago, just as Mister Obama had done more recently in his presidential bid, after he offered reason to believe in the best of possibilities, did he dash all hope.  He articulated his angst and said, “But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”   Before Americans knew him well Barack Obama “presented” reasons that passed for resolve.  As his momentum increased so too did the mission.  Give the gift of hope and then withdraw it.  

It was September 7, 2009.  As President Obama stood with union members, who gave him an enthusiastic reception at Cincinnati’s Coney Island Park, he stated his commitment “I continue to believe that a public option within the basket of insurance choices would help improve quality and bring down costs.”  This pronouncement was not an exact proposal offered for execution.  

Later, Senator Obama espoused the need to insure everyone affordably in Iowa, at the The Heartland Presidential Forum.  A Plan for a Healthy America appeared prominently at his website during his Presidential bid.  Even after he took residency in the White House, Mister Obama sang the praises of the “public option.”  He did so in a speech given in front of a confrontational crowd, the American Medical Association.  

These stalwart supporters remembered what the President has now presumed was but history buried long ago.  In a Cable News Network interview, aired on Super Tuesday Primary Election Day 2008, Senator Barack Obama stated, “If a mandate was the solution, we could try that to solve homelessness by mandating everybody buy a house.”

The Presidential aspirant articulated what millions of Americans avow; “The reason they don’t have a house is they don’t have the money. So, our focus has been on reducing costs, making it available. I am confident that if people have a chance to buy high quality health care that is affordable, they will do so. And that’s what our plan does, and nobody disputes that.”  

No one, except perchance, President Barack Obama.  After less than six months in the White House, the once seeker, and speaker of a much-admired truth, disputed his own plan.   Nonetheless, just as little ones do during the holidays, those devoted to the dream retained hope.  

Whilst Mister Obama called the public option his preferred choice and stressed his want to ensure broad coverage, he has never demanded that it be part of a final bill. The need for competition, or a choice other than private insurers policies would be nice, however, Mister Obama did not require these.

Earlier and now again, Barack Obama waved the possibility that pleased the American people, and then did not fully work to make the dream come true.  

As summer began, and the spring was no longer evident in Barack Obama’s steps.  It was then that Obama first explained he was Open to a Mandate on Health Insurance. Independents and the more Progressive began to understand; the Emperor wore no clothes.  Perchance, it was thought by the more enchanted, Santa’s bright red suit was only a bit soiled, stained, and worn

One need only ponder the duality of words dispensed.  President Obama acknowledged that his acquiescent approach to health care legislation had likely been a mistake and that he had “probably left too much ambiguity out there” by allowing the House and the Senate to draft bills.  Yet, just as the mythical reindeers and the Claus’, Mister Obama has chosen to do nothing other than let the narrative lie.

Definitive details, or even a refined design, were not outlined.  Not in the Presidential campaign; nor from the halls of the White House.  He did venture out on occasion and give voice to his signature issues: hope and change.

However, only days before the President bequeathed his gift on the American people, in the White House, President Obama defended himself against abundant criticism.  In an Oval Office interview with The Washington Post, Mister Obama rejected the notion that he has compromised too much to secure health-care reform. He said that it was not true that he anointed Congress the sole authority to pursue what was thought to be his broad legislative agenda.

In the dialogue, Obama vigorously sanctioned the soon to be health care reform law. He said it was just as he pledged to deliver.  Like Santa Claus, President Obama had looked at his list.  He had checked it twice.  The President postured that he was not naughty.  Indeed, he had been very, very nice.  Mister Obama had no misgivings, and offered I am  “not just grudgingly supporting the bill. I am very enthusiastic about what we have achieved.”

“Nowhere has there been a bigger gap between the perceptions of compromise and the realities of compromise than in the health-care bill,” Mister Obama said. “Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill.”  Challenged by the claims that he had not done as he vowed to do, the President stated,  “I didn’t campaign on the public option.”

With an abundance of contradictions many muse, that, just as children, the American people have been carefully led through the Santa lore, Americans slowly and surely came to believe in “change.”  Barack Obama, as a Senator swayed the malleable minds of those desperate to believe in a dream.  He offered opportunities.  He showed us why it was vital that we serve someone or a cause greater than ourselves.  

As a candidate, Mister Obama presented the American people with possibilities.  As he spoke, unimaginable sugarplums that would satisfy a nation hungry for health care improvements danced in the heads of voters.   On Christmas Eve morning, as Mister Obama celebrates his transformative triumph, citizen cry out. “Is this the health reform Obama promised?” The answer is indubitably “No!” What has been passed in the Halls of Congress is not even close to the change Americans were led to believe in.

In an Albuquerque town hall, August 2008, heard the poised United States Senator speak.  Then, and there, he was eager to please, He offered “If I were designing a system from scratch, I would probably go ahead with a single-payer system,”   However, he added, there is a distinction between his desire and what he would do.

Little more than a year earlier, Candidate Obama concluded what he now says he never did.  With circumstances as they are, there would be widespread opposition.  In his days as a candidate, Barack Obama deduced; we must tread lightly and carry the big stick called change.  Such was the pattern on the path to the Presidency.

The “fierce urgency of now” was prominent in the Obama rhetoric Mister Obama proclaimed. “People don’t have time to wait,” Obama said, “They need relief now.”  Then, in the same breath, careful not to claim that he could convert the current health care behemoth, the Presidential challenger relented. , “So my attitude is let’s build up the system we got, let’s make it more efficient, we may be over time-as we make the system more efficient and everybody’s covered-decide that there are other ways for us to provide care more effectively.”

Back then that was the rationalization,  believers bellowed with Barack Obama.  There is a Santa Claus.  Fairy tales can come true.  It can happen to you if you are young at heart and elect Mister Obama to serve as President.  The public trusted the person who now occupies the Oval Office, when he said we will not fail.  There will be change “Not this time.”  

With words warped in time and space, the thought is President Barack Obama has become practical, or perchance he is as he always was, anything but Santa.

Yes, there is a Santa Claus?  Reality, Reform, References and a Skewed Reality  . . .

This Is How The War On Christmas Started

© copyright 2007 Storm Bear Town Called Dobson

To view the original, travel to a Town Called Dobson.

The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianization of the ancient Pagan idea that the evergreen tree represents a celebration of the renewal of life.  In actuality, when the Roman Empire was converted en masse to Christianity, many cultures did not give up their Pagan ideals and traditions and so they were incorporated into the Christmas tradition.

Many of the symbols associated with the modern holiday of Christmas such as the burning of the Yule log, the eating of ham, the hanging of boughs, holly, mistletoe, etc. are apparently derived from traditional northern European Yule celebrations.  When the first missionaries began converting the Germanic peoples to Christianity, they found it convenient to provide a Christian reinterpretation for popular feasts such as Yule and allow the celebrations themselves to go on largely unchanged, versus trying to confront and suppress them.  The Scandinavian tradition of slaughtering a pig at Christmas (see Christmas ham), and not in the autumn, is probably the most salient evidence for this.  The tradition derives from the sacrifice to the god Freyr at the Yule celebrations.  Halloween and Easter are likewise assimilated from northern European Pagan festivals.

Mother Earth; Story of Stuff or The Seventh Generation



Movie Documentary – The Story of Stuff – Consumption, money, nature, environment

copyright © 2007 Betsy L. Angert

Mother Nature is replete with resources.  Americans, with infinite ingenuity, wish to reap the rewards the planet offers.  We, in this country, claim the riches the land affords us; we do this well and often.  For us, every moment is an opportunity to give and receive stuff.

In America, what was once thought a “bundle of joy” is not enough.  In March 2007, Jena Slosberg of Bedford, New Hampshire became a new Mom after a seventeen-hour labor.  Her skin was aglow as the young mother held the manna from heaven.  Her husband Paul, stood by her side and smiled.  The proud Papa bestowed not the baby of their dreams, but something a bit more valuable, monetarily.  In the recovery room,  Paul presented his wife with a pair of sparkling diamond earrings.  The two beamed with pride.  

The little one was set aside as the couple contemplated the more substantial treasures.  Just as Jena and Paul, Americans love material possessions, perhaps more than they appreciate people.  In this nation, we do not honor the notion that we must live for the Seventh Generation. The time is now.  In the “present,” Jena spoke of her gemstones with great glee as she reflected upon the future.

“I was on cloud nine,” Ms. Slosberg said.  “It was the perfect present to make a frazzled, sleep-deprived, first-time mommy feel absolutely glamorous.”

She added, “I wonder what 17 hours of labor will get me next time?”

In a more innocent age, new mothers generally considered their babies to be the greatest gift imaginable.  Today, they are likely to want some sort of tangible bonus as well.

In a world of trinkets, trifle, ornamentation, and bling, babies are but a blip on the screen of life.  Too often infants conceived though intimate acts are as possessions, important for what they say about us, and there is much to say.  During the holiday season, people consider the importance of being benevolent and charitable.  We bless the almighty or those mighty in our lives.  We are grateful for our bountiful pleasures.  As a new mother might thank goodness for her healthy child, Americans express gratitude for all those close to them, or so we say.  

However, as we venture out into the malls, journey into brick and mortar stores, or shop in cyberspace we might take a moment to consider what we do and why.  How do our purchases affect us as a whole.  Perchance, the earlier discussion of newborns provides enlightenment; the narrative helps us understand the Story of Stuff.

Some call it the “baby mama gift.”  Others refer to it as the “baby bauble.”  But it’s most popularly known as the “push present.”

That’s “push” as in, “I the mother, having been through the wringer and pushed out this blessed event, hereby claim my reward.”  Or “push” as in, “I’ve delivered something special and now I’m pushing you, my husband/boyfriend, to follow suit.”

Americans are “pushed” to purchase as we do.  Numerous social scientists posit this is the Century of Self.  The line is now blurred between want and need, nourishment and necessary, conservative, and conservation.  Consumption, for its own sake, is promoted in this, the era of Public Relations.   Sadly, specialists in communications often honor commercial concerns, not those of the preservationist.  

Propaganda is bought, and sold, although we do not use such a derogatory identifier for advertisements.  The public is persuaded; shop til you drop.  Nonetheless, in each and every moment Americans are convinced they must live a lavish life if they are to find joy.  Expensive material gifts will bring you happiness and glee.  

In our modern society, people realize they must labor long and arduous hours if they are to pay the price for simple pleasures.  Others, such as Jena believe their labor of love will yield grand chattels.  Apparently, in the last few years, many first-time mothers think as Mommy Slosberg does.

“It’s more and more an expectation of moms these days that they deserve something for bearing the burden for nine months, getting sick, ruining their body,” said Linda Murray, executive editor of BabyCenter.com. “The guilt really gets piled on.”

A recent survey of more than 30,000 respondents by BabyCenter.com found that 38 percent of new mothers received a gift from their mate in connection with their child.  Among pregnant mothers, 55 percent wanted one.  About 40 percent of both groups said the baby was ample reward.

Sandra Miller of Arlington, Mass., is not among the 40 percent.

“Women can and do expect a thoughtful token of appreciation,” she said.  “It’s a way to honor a mother giving her emotions, body and hormones over to a baby for nine months, culminating in an experience which, when done naturally, redefines the meaning of pain.  And when not done naturally, it’s still an act of sacrifice.”

Apparently, today more than half of the new mothers in America think they have suffered.  Therefore, they must be rewarded.  Women believe when they choose to give birth they forfeit their figure.  New moms surrender more than a few seconds of their lives.  These feminine embryo vessels are deprived and chemically depleted.  Daddies owe their spouse or female partner a present or two.  At least one big package is a must, and she does not speak of the bundle named baby.

It seems in America we do not give credence to the notion, commercials cause us to commit to an accepted custom, consumption.  Merchandisers do not make us leap from our chair; nor do they have the power to force us to dash downtown before the boutiques close.  Perchance, empathy encourages us to do as we do. Possibly, the father feels he was free to be, as his woman carried such a burden.  If not guilt-ridden, or worn into submission, a proud Papa believes he owes his beloved a bauble, a bracelet, a token of some sort.

Push presents seem to have taken off within the last decade, particularly in the last couple of years.  In 2005 the Southeast-based jewelry chain Mayors marketed diamond earrings with the tag line, “She delivered your first born; now give her twins.”  Fortunoff, the jewelry and gift chain with a Fifth Avenue flagship, established a push present registry six months ago.

But the push present – unlike the 15-year anniversary ring – is apparently not the invention of the jewelry industry looking for another opportunity to sell goods. No one is quite sure how the trend began; in practice, the baubles are presented before or after the big day, or sometimes right in the delivery room.

“They’ve arisen from the time cavemen brought trinkets to their wives,” said Jim Brusilovsky of Chains-and-charms.com, a Philadelphia-based jewelry chain. “I haven’t seen it coming from the industry.”

Michael Toback, a jewelry supplier in Manhattan’s diamond district, traces the practice to a new posture of assertiveness by women. “You know, ‘Honey, you wanted this child as much as I did. So I want this,'” he said.

A more likely explanation is that men are now simply more aware of and sympathetic to the plight of their pregnant partners, given their increasing tendency to attend childbirth classes and help in the actual delivery.  “I think husbands are more involved with the prenatal process,” said Dr. Philippe Girerd, an obstetrician in Richmond, Va. “Women go through back pain, morning sickness, stress and so on.  We just sit around and take the credit.  I think a lot of 21st century husbands are a little more in touch with that.”

Yes, that is it.  Empathy, sympathy pains prompt men, women, and children to shop.  Ties the season to be jolly, and to do this we must feel for our wife, husband, daughter, or son.  Late in November, we gave thanks; however, then the gift of food was the focus.  Mostly, we rewarded our stomachs.  The turkey was stuffed and so were we.  Now, in the spirit of the holidays, we will stuff our face, our stockings, our homes, and garages.  We will fill our rooms with treasures until we can fill no more.  Then we will expand our horizons.  Each of us will bestow gifts upon those we love.

It is Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, and Ramadan; in truth, any excuse will do.  We need no reason to spend and spread the cheer.  Any day, every day is a celebration when you are an American consumer.

Citizens who reside in the United States are taught to consume.  As children, we were delighted when commercials rang out on the radio or danced across screens.  As toddlers we heard the cheery music, sang the jingles that we still recall today.  We strolled through the supermarkets with Mommy and Daddy.  All was attractive to us and was placed within our reach.  We grabbed for everything.

The brightly colored boxes, the sweet sugary confections, and the vibrant balloons that hung overhead, all called to us.  The stickers, soda cans, snacks . . . what more could a young person want but to buy, buy, and buy.  Mommy please, can I have this?  Daddy, I want that . . . As toddler we expected to be rewarded.  Did mother and father not say, if you are a good girl, the best boy, then I will give you a gift?  In our early years, we were trained, not only to use the toilet, but to buy.  We learned, if we acted as others hoped we would, they would give us gifts galore.  Things were surrogates for love.

Mom was too busy to pay attention to young John or Jane.  However, she had time to spend on shopping for Jill and Joshua.  Dad was overwhelmed with the demands of his job.  His boss brought more burdens.  Father was out, for he needed to provide [for Sam and Sally.]  The man we called Pop was gone.  Still the presents came.  “Daddy when you come home, what will you bring me?'”

As a tot, we learned; we needed stuff.  Stuff was our supplement for affection, adoration, devotion, and demonstrations of kindness.  Our hearts were empty.  There was a huge void to fill.  We did not just want goodies.  Trinkets were and are necessities.  Then and now Americans need, validation and vindication.  If we do not receive a present, certainly the reason must be vengeance.  No one would wish to leave the impression that they are bitter, rancorous, or unreasonable; thus, even if guilt motivates our purchases we will buy.  Young fathers such as Paul Schlosberg may not appreciate the presumption that he must pay his wife for bringing the bundle of joy into the universe.  Nevertheless, he is grateful.  Hence . . .

  • The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.

We are easily influenced, or convinced of what we already believe.

  • We each see more advertisements in one year than a people 50 years ago saw in a lifetime.

We do as directed.  Americans embark on a mission to consume.  During the holidays, even days before, we merely set our sights higher.  Most see this season as an opportunity to increase our standard of living, or at least our credit limit.  Our quest begins on Black Friday.   In the twenty-first century, there is no need to wait ’til dawn.  The race to rejoice in shopping with the religious holy days in mind inspires entrepreneurs to open shop doors before the sun rises.  By breakfast, the stores filled with people.  People scramble from one sale table to another.  Warehouse shelves are stocked, cleared by eager customers, and stocked again.  

Carolers sing as if to cheer the patrons on.  Procure, purchase, pay for your wares.  Do this in one depot then move on to another.  Collectibles, china, figurines, fine jewelry.  Clothing, cameras, computers, and candy.  Ties, tableware, television sets, high definition, and plasma screens.  Shoes are nice.  Do you know her size?  Digital Media Players, that is what he truly desires.  Software, hardware, perchance, an automobile would the perfect gift.  Let us look for sales and hope we are in time for bargains.

In times of strife, in moments of glory, no matter the season or the reason, in America we shop.  There is never enough stuff.  We are never satisfied.  We want a newer, brighter, lighter, convenient, compact, more powerful, more prestigious, more, more, and more.  “Too much is never enough.”  Yet, there is a price to pay.  Americans work longer hours.  We are less happy.  Our health is poor.  Citizens in this country are stressed.  No amount of stuff we have, nothing seems to satiate our need to feel whatever bliss buying brings us.

  • In the U.S. our national happiness peaked sometime in the 1950s.
  • In the U.S., we spend 3-4 times as many hours shopping as our counterparts in Europe do.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”  Americans find him under a Christmas tree or beneath a Hanukah bush.  The divine may shine in the light from the candles.  A mishumaa saba or a menorah might light the way to the almighty.  Possibly, in America stuff is our G-d.

I, for one, love the traditions of the holidays.  Every time-honored festivity warms my heart.  However, much to my surprise, only when my family chose to forego the exchange of ‘goodies’ did I truly learn to appreciate the winter solstice and the time spent with those I truly treasure.  In truth, a much as I protested the change, and I did, every day of my life has been far better since I “sacrificed” the joy of conventional gift giving or more accurately taking from the Earth.

  • In the past three decades, one-third of the planet’s natural resources base have been consumed.
  • In the United States, we have less than 4% of our original forests left.
  • Forty percent of waterways in the US have become undrinkable.
  • The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population but consumes 30% of the world’s resources4 and creates 30% of the world’s waste.
  • If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets.

As much as we have in America, it seems what we acquire is never enough.  Marketers and manufactures know this.  Perhaps the awareness grew out of the era of Freud.

Edward L. Bernays, an early leader in the public relations field, and often described as the Father of Public Relations, devised or developed many techniques for influencing public opinion.  During the Industrial Revolution Mr. Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, realized that if you persuade people to behave irrationally if you link products to their emotional desires and feelings you can sell any product.  Bernays understood if an advertisement attempts to appeal to the intellect, it will not likely be successful.  People will ultimately conclude they do not need more than they can afford or use.  However, if you allure and entice a person to desire an object, they will justify that what they want is what they truly require.

During the Industrial Revolution production increased, workers were employed.  Money began to flow.  However, the corporate bigwigs had a fear.  What would happen once the market was saturated?  Bernays trusted, if people were trained to believe they need what they  merely want, the streets would never be sparse.  Shops would be full, and there would be customers aplenty.  Economically, the marketplace would work efficiently, if advertisements were presented effectively.  Charm the customer to consume and he will do so eternally.  Edward Bernays appreciated this construct early in his life.

Born on Nov. 22, 1891, Mr. Bernays was one of five children of Ely Bernays and Anna Freud Bernays.  The family moved in 1892 to the United States, and in 1912, Mr. Bernays graduated from Cornell University.  After doing United States Government war propaganda work in World War I, Mr. Bernays realized that, as he put it in the 1991 interview, “if this could be used for war, it can be used for peace.” . . .

Some of Mr. Bernays’s promotion efforts became legendary. To promote Ivory soap and make bathing more popular with children, he set up a national small-sculpture panel that for years oversaw soap-carving competitions.

Several of the societal changes that Mr. Bernays espoused for clients have had long-lasting effects. For instance, he was instrumental in making it acceptable for women to smoke in public, sponsoring, on behalf of the American Tobacco Company’s Lucky Strike cigarettes, demonstrations in which debutantes gathered on street corners to light up. The cigarettes were even called “torches of freedom.”

On behalf of Lucky Strike, Mr. Bernays also undertook to alter women’s fashions. When surveys showed that women objected to Luckies because the green package with its red bull’s-eye clashed with the colors of their clothes, he swung into action to make green fashionable. There followed a green fashion luncheon, green balls (at which green gowns were worn), and window displays of green suits and dresses. The campaign was a brilliant success, according to sales figures.

He regarded himself as a professional opinion maker who, by following precise principles, could produce desired changes in attitudes.

“Public relations, effectively used, helps validate an underlying principle of our society — competition in the market place of ideas and things,” he wrote in 1971.

. . . One of his early public relations strokes was on behalf of Venida hairnets. When women began to bob their hair after World War I, they discarded hairnets, much to the distress of hairnet manufacturers.

Venida, an industry leader, called in Mr. Bernays, who conducted a public relations campaign for the product. Among other things, he got artists to praise the “Greek coiffure” look that hairnets gave their wearers. And he got a labor expert to urge labor commissioners around the country to insist that women working with or near machines wear hairnets for their own protection. Much favorable publicity ensued.

In this, as in similar campaigns, Mr. Bernays’s approach was oblique. The emphasis was on hairnets, not on Venida. Indeed, Venida was rarely mentioned at all.

While we are all aware of brand loyalty, and accept that a name can sell a product, there must be an emotional connection to ensure a customer will be devoted throughout their lifetime. Manufacturers accepted they must maintain a certain standard of excellence to secure dedication.  However, industrialists also knew, once a consumer believed implicitly in a product, it was difficult to convince them to venture far from the familiar.  Diamonds will be forever.  A De Beers [if not a blood gem] is truly a prize.  Did Paul buy Jena the best?

Industry moguls in America love that humans have a deep desire to satisfy every emotion with stuff.  To appease the inner angst that we might be good enough we must embellish ourselves.  To quell the anxiety we feel when we consider we might go without we must horde.  If we are to honor others, we must give.  

Hence, companies in the United States produce and do so with abandon.  Manufacturers seek ways to make the wares more attractive to consumers.  Years ago, companies realized if they use synthetic material and relied on the miracle of chemistry they could generate more goods at a lower price.  Thus, profits would increase.  Artificial substances were less expensive and more easily accessed.  The costs of the final product must be kept low in order to attract consumers.  

[T]he materials move to “production” and what happens there is we use energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic contaminated products.  There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce today.  Only a handful of these have even been tested for human health impacts and NONE of them have been tested for synergistic health impacts, that means when they interact with all the other chemicals we’re exposed to every day.

So, we don’t know the full impact of these toxics on our health and environment of all these toxic chemicals.  But we do know one thing: Toxics in, Toxics Out.  As long as we keep putting toxics into our production system, we are going to keep getting toxics in the stuff that we bring into our homes, our workplaces, and schools. And, duh, our bodies.  These toxics build up in the food chain and concentrate in our bodies.

Do you know what is the food at the top of the food chain with the highest levels of many toxic contaminants?

Human breast milk.  [Oh no.  Again, we are reminded of the Schlosberg’s.  Is mother’s milk contaminated?  Will the baby be affected, if not by a consumer driven society, but by a basic source of nourishment.]

That means that we have reached a point where the smallest members of our societies-our babies-are getting their highest lifetime dose of toxic chemicals from breastfeeding from their mothers.  Is that not an incredible violation?  Breastfeeding must be the most fundamental human act of nurturing; it should be sacred and safe.  Now breastfeeding is still best and mothers should definitely keep breastfeeding, but we should protect it.  They [government] should protect it.  I thought they were looking out for us.

And of course, the people who bear the biggest brunt of these toxic chemicals are the factory workers many of whom are women of reproductive age.  They’re working with reproductive toxics, carcinogens and more.

Diamond earrings will not reduce the effect lethal chemicals have on the body.  A silk scarf, even on sale will not soothe the lesions from skin cancer.  Even those fortunate females not exposed to deadly poisons in the workplace cannot escape the contaminants placed into the environment.  Emotionally, they may work to escape.  After all, there is always the best American distraction, shopping.  Let us head for the exits quickly after the work day ends.  Let us leave the our worries behind, if we can.

A lot of the toxics leave the factory as products, but even more leave as byproducts, or pollution.  And it’s a lot of pollution.  In the U.S., industry admits to releasing over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals a year and it’s probably way more since that is only what they admit.

So, that’s another limit, because, yuck, who wants to look at and smell 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals

a year?

So, what do they do?  Move the dirty factories overseas.  Pollute someone else’s land [and use their resources!] . . .

  • 75% of global fisheries now are fished at or beyond capacity.
  • 80% of the planet’s original forests are gone.
  • In the Amazon alone, we’re losing 2000 trees a minute. That is seven football fields a minute.

Americans seem to believe what is out of sight, exists no more.  If we cannot smell the stench, there is none.  If we cannot feel the dirt the air, water, and ground must be clean.  However, as inhabitants of this planet, we must recognize that this is not so.  The third astronomical body from the sun, houses us all.  Every tree, plant, reptile, amphibian, mammal, insects has a purpose.  Each entity helps the other sustain life.

We must accept that not only Americans live here on the home we call Earth.  Persons, and all other life forms on every continent need and want a pristine wilderness.  A crystal clear lake is more than beautiful.  A blue sky is not but a term used in poetry.  Trees, flowers, the flora feed us all bug and beast.  Each entity is important and must be honored more than the frivolous fabrics that fill this nation.  [Is the baby a bundle of joy or is the signature blue box from Tiffany’s even better.]

Science tells us, in this huge planetary home contamination cannot be contained.  Every river and sea connects to another.  Air flows.  Landmasses shift; they are filled.  Dust is in the wind.  Nothing in nature is static.  The more stuff we create, the more we need to accommodate.  Americans try to adjust to the reality of consumption.  We build bigger homes to hold all our stuff.  Then we clean these structures.  We want no visible waste.

  • Average U.S. house size has doubled since the 1970s.
  • Each person in the United States makes 4 1/2 pounds of garbage a day.  That is twice what we each made thirty years ago.
  • For every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb.

Americans must stop and consider the force that drives us . . .

Consumption

. . . This is the heart of the system, the engine that drives it. It is so important [to propping up this whole flawed system] that protecting this arrow is a top priority for both these guys.

That is why, after 9/11, when our country was in shock, President Bush could have suggested any number of appropriate things: to grieve, to pray, to hope.  NO.  He said to shop TO SHOP.

We have become a nation of consumers. Our primary identity has become that of consumer, not mothers, teachers, farmers, but consumers.  The primary way that our value is measured and demonstrated is by how much we contribute to this arrow, how much we consume. And do we!

We shop and shop and shop.  Keep the materials flowing.  And flow they do!

Guess what percentage of total material flow through this system is still in product or use 6 months after their sale in North America.  Fifty percent?  Twenty?   NO.  One percent.   One! In other words, 99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport -99 percent of the stuff we run through this system is trashed within 6 months. Now how can we run a planet with that rate of materials throughput?

Dear reader, you might say as I did.  This could not be true.  I keep what I buy.  I use each item until I can use it no more.  Well, except for the clothes, I purchased and never wore, or the closet hook I never hung or returned.  Then, there were the  sunglasses someone left in my home.  After, two years I took those to Goodwill.  Reluctantly, as I reflect I realize, in years gone by telephones lasted for more than a year.  Hark back to the day when you could buy a new battery for far less than the latest gadget cost.  I must admit much goes to the dump.

It wasn’t always like this. The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago.  Ask your grandma. In her day, stewardship, and resourcefulness and thrift were valued. So, how did this happen?

Well, it didn’t just happen. It was designed.

Shortly after the World War 2, these guys were figuring out how to ramp up the [U.S.] economy.  Retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution that has become the norm for the whole system.  He said: “Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption . . . we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

And President Eisenhower’s Council of Economic Advisors Chairman said that “The American economy’s ultimate purpose is to produce more consumer goods.” MORE CONSUMER GOODS???  Our [economy’s] ultimate purpose?  Not provide health care, or education, or safe transportation, or sustainability or justice?

Consumer goods?

Researcher, and Author of The Story of Stuff,  Annie Leonard asks, “How did they get us to jump on board this program so enthusiastically?”  She offers one explanation.  However, we know the pattern began long before the post world War II Age of Productivity.  Edward Bernays eloquently persuaded us to consume long before his followers found a way to increase our expenditures.  The strategy was so subtle, the operations so oblique, Americans did not realize they had been hypnotized.  Perchance the glow from the diamonds their mothers received upon their birth obstructed their vision.

Nevertheless, over time industrialists did learn to avail themselves of the opportunities Bernays created.  Manufacturers and marketers encouraged emotional decisions.  They expand a consumer driven environment and increased their profits.  Companies found ways to ensure there would be a greater “need” to buy.

Well, two of their most effective strategies are planned obsolescence and perceived obsolescence.  Planned obsolescence is another word for “designed for the dump.”  It means they actually make stuff that is designed to be useless as quickly as possible so we will chuck it and go buy a new one. It’s obvious with stuff like plastic bags and coffee cups, but now it’s even big stuff: mops, DVDs, cameras, barbeques even, everything!

Even computers. Have you noticed that when you buy a computer now, the technology is changing so fast that within a couple years, it’s [your new computer] actually an impediment to communication.  I was curious about this so I opened up a big desktop computer to see what was inside.52 And I found out that the piece that changes each year is just a tiny little piece in the corner. But you can’t just change that one piece, because each new version is a different shape, so you gotta chuck the whole thing and buy a new one.

So, I was reading quotes from industrial design journals from the 1950s when planned obsolescence was really catching on. These designers are so open about it. They actually discuss how fast they can make stuff break and still leaves the consumer with enough faith in the product to go buy anther one.  It was so intentional.

But stuff cannot break fast enough to keep this arrow afloat, so there’s also “perceived obsolescence.”

Now perceived obsolescence convinces us to throw away stuff that is still perfectly useful.

Perception is truly our reality.  What we believe drives us, to the mall, the dump, and back to the mall again.  Most of us are quite comfortable with what we know.  The familiar, we believe is sagacious.  It is tried and true.  Customs are to be revered and celebrated.  People are to be cherished, and we can only show our appreciation through the gifts we give.  However, maybe, we need not bequeath as we do now.  After all, what is now a tradition was once a novelty.  Indeed, the old was new not too long ago, and the newer can become our convention.

Americans might recognize the wrath of Mother Earth.  Each of us may realize she is not happy as her globe warms.  Her children have not honored her.  We have not been good stewards of the environment.  While we gifted ourselves, Americans thrashed and trashed the nature that gave us life.  Perchance, it is time to truly honor others.  Let us give greenerly, not greedily.

You might think this would spoil the fun.  The fervor that is Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza or Ramadan would be lost without the glitz and glitter we have come to expect.  Holiday gatherings can be a challenge.  Time with the relatives is not an option you relish.  Tis true . . .

The holidays have always been an emotionally combustible time for families, bringing together a sometimes volatile mix of siblings, crotchety grandparents, and ill-behaved children.  But in recent years, a new figure has joined the celebration, to complicate the proceedings even further: the green evangelist of the family – the impassioned activist bent on eradicating the wasteful materialism of the holidays.

Otherwise known, at least to skeptical traditionalists, as the new Grinch.

This Grinch, however, is not out to spoil Christmas, but merely to use it as a platform to advocate ecological responsibility.  Perhaps emboldened by the “Live Earth” benefit concerts and Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize, this is the family member who is the first to point out, over the bountiful Christmas dinner, that the 2.6 billion holiday cards sold each year in the United States could fill a landfill the size of a football field 10 stories high, or that those conventional lights on the Christmas tree contribute up to nine times as much greenhouse-gas emissions as the leaner-burning L.E.D. models; or that some Christmas-tree growers use as many as 40 different pesticides, as well as chemical colorants, on their crops.

The question that an increasing number of families face is whether the proselytizing green member of the clan adds spice to the proceeding, like, say, a cup of whiskey in a bowl of eggnog, or an explosive element, like that same cup of whiskey tossed into the fire on Christmas morning.

IT’S not just the greens who feel this emotional tug at the end of the year: A 2005 survey by the Center for a New American Dream showed that 78 percent of Americans wish the holidays were “less materialistic.” At the same time, the average American spends about $900 on presents each year, according to the National Retail Federation.

Still, to some ears, the call for less excessive consumption during the holidays sounds almost un-American.

“The point of the holidays for many people is the joy people get in giving,” said Kenneth P. Green, a resident scholar on environmental issues at the American Enterprise Institute.  Environmentalists who scold their families are simply making “ritualistic gestures that won’t solve the problem,” he said.

Mister Green is correct.  Change will not come if we condescend for a day, an hour or even for a season.  If we are to genuinely give credence to what we say we believe, Americans must look at every choice they make.  We must ask ourselves what we value, a baby, or a bauble.  When we destroy the environment, ravage the land in search of diamonds, demean those that mine for the mineral, are we giving a gift and to whom?  

If we wish to appreciate another, might we bestow upon them that which honors their life, ours, and all lives?  Perchance, this season the best present we could give is consistent conscious awareness and compassionate action.  Let us give the gift that keeps on giving; love thy fellow man, the planet, and you.

We need not forego traditions; nor would it be wise to go without remembrances and relics that are not necessarily “needed.”  If we accept that what we purchase must be good for the Earth, our neighbors, ourselves, and the babies born seven generations from now we will produce and consume with reason.  Perchance, that is the lesson we must learn.  Mature love is an intellectual engagement.  Immature fondness is but an immediate gratification.  Love thy self and those that share this planet with you.

I wish you peace, prosperity; I hope for goodwill to all men.

The Story of Stuff, Sources, and Shopping . . .

Please Enjoy the Century of Self . . .



Century of Self

Home Is Where You Put Your Stuff – A Christmas Story

copyright © 2007 Judith Moriarty

[Commentary followed by A Personal Reflection of Christmas Past]

“In Manhattan the income gap between the rich and poor is greater than in Guatemala, and within the U.S. is surpassed only by a group of 70 households near a former leper colony in Hawaii.”

~  Gap Between Rich and Poor in New York City Grows Wider, By Sam Roberts.  The New York Times. December 25, 1994

What is a home?  It is easier to understand homelessness by taking a minute to define a home.  A home is a space of our own that is considered to belong to us.  We may not have a whole house, a whole apartment, or even a whole room, but we have our own space.  It is secure: we know where we are going to sleep tonight; we know that ‘home’ is going to be there when we get there.  It is safe.  Although no safety is perfect, we have a way to lock our home, to control who comes in when we are there and when we aren’t.  We can leave our belongings at home and have a reasonable expectation of finding them safe when we get back.  We are sheltered from rain and cold.  We have a means to warm ourselves.  We have a bed.  We have a way to store and prepare food.  We have cold and hot running water, a toilet, and a shower or bathtub to wash ourselves.  We can come and go at our own choice.  Home is where you put your stuff.

While the media portrays (deliberately) the homeless as ‘losers, drunks, addicts, the mentally ill, and parasitic segment of society – too lazy to work’; this is a rather shallow simplistic view!  It lumps everyone suffering a crisis into the same stereotype.  True, many are homeless due to drinking, drugs, mental illness, and poor work ethics.  But then, many are drunks and dope addicts, who aren’t homeless.

At one time people were identified as the ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ poor.  A family down on their luck, due to a death in the family or crisis of unemployment etc were seen as ‘worthy’ of intervention.  The able bodied, who found themselves homeless, were seen as bums – or lazy ner’ do wells.  FDR’s New Deal – and WWII saw many government housing projects built.  These were seen as a stopgap measure, until people could recoup their losses/ and for veterans returning from war.  They were mostly occupied by whites.  These folks went on to gainful employment, and in many instances became homeowners.  The project, during the 60’s onwards, became dumping grounds for the poor (mostly minorities).  Repairs and maintenance were disregarded.  These ‘hives’ became despairing hovels filled with crime.

Today many of these projects are being torn down or left vacant.  Vouchers for housing have been cut, with many of the working poor left with no place to secure affordable housing.  Even in the best of times, a person (family) could be on a waiting list for years before there was an opening.  The crisis in America (all communities) today is affordable housing.  New York City sees an approximate 10,000 families suffering homelessness (not counting single people) each night.  Meantime the un-homeless, contrive different programs, consisting of rules -regulations – and policies, which even a legal student couldn’t decipher.  Everyone is agreed that society needs (besides its bankers – brokers – professionals – etc) laborers, clerks, mechanics, janitors, window washers, nursing/hospital personnel, teachers, etc.  With rent in many urban areas (even rural America) running upwards of $750.00 to $1000.00 a month (not including utilities) its not hard to see why those making $15,000 to $25,000 a year can easily find themselves homeless.

Once upon a time in small town America; steel mills, paper mills, textile plants, manufacturing plants, the auto industry, sheet metal shops, tool and die shops, farming etc; had people, while not living opulent lives, able to afford the necessities of life.  Rents – fuel – medical care – prescriptions – schooling – taxes – cars and homes were affordable.  People weren’t made to choose between food or buying exorbitant prescriptions.  But then the pharmaceutical, insurance companies and HMOs weren’t writing the legislation!  One could afford a visit to the ER or doctor’s office.  A Department of Education didn’t exist; throwing down mandates from Foggy Bottom (Washington) demanding increasingly draconian policies, regulations, testing, and social engineering  (putting the costs on beleaguered tax payers).  It takes money to create obedient, illiterate,  passive, groupthink drones,  for a future in a Wigget factory or the military.

This ‘mudslinging’, identified as ‘debates’,  has shown how far removed those running for office are from the people.  NOTHING of any merit (either party) has been accomplished.  It’s a game for clowns and opportunists, with  each (except for a few) trying to grab the  golden ring,  on the gaudy,  maniacal,  carousel,   that represents today’s  politics.  Only in  America, do we see  the few  with their  multi-millions,  and  backers of  special interests,   able to  secure  media  attention.  If the truth be told, the owners of the world have already chosen the next puppet.  All this campaigning is mere theater.  Note how the few, with any credible message,  have been quickly marginalized.  Government is now corporate owned and corporate controlled – with the herd encouraged to vote (feminists) for the first woman, or the war crowd,   with their law and order mentality,  for a Giuliani (911 brought him fame and fortune).  Our energy policy ( plotted behind closed doors by oil men) sees oil that was at $28.00 per barrel in 2000 now close to $100.  The golden ring means many things to many people.  Especially good fortune!

The majority of those running for office are well heeled  and have long ago lost  connection with work-a-day citizens (or the poor).  The Clinton’s arrival in Foggy Bottom now sees them as multi-millionaires.  President Bush,  who failed in every family backed business,  is now sitting on easy street.  In a land of 300 million,  we’re supposed to believe, that per chance Ms. Clinton wins, (she will – it’s in the bag) we’ll have us 28 years with a Bush or Clinton in office!  What’s wrong with this picture?  

Many of those in Congress/the Senate;  including the various candidates,  have secured lobbying jobs for their offspring (family members).  Trent Lott is jumping ship.  It’s reported that he’s now going to ‘cash in’ (work for a lobbying firm for big bucks).  That’s what its really about ——–self-interested – grasping greed.  The only thing this gang of hustlers managed to accomplish,  is voting themselves yearly cost of living raises, and tax payer subsidized health care.

President Bush/Vice President Cheney (Washington politicians) aren’t worried over the cost of hospital care.  No  drone in some cubicle reports to their physicians,  that such and such a procedure isn’t covered.  They are not demanded to have cash in hand when seeing a dentist.  Never be poor and have a toothache!  You’ll die before receiving aid.  Any medical crisis or ache or pain sees Washington politicians (bankers – Federal Reserve officials, lobbyists, corporate robber barons etc, being   afforded the best of medical care.  President Bush advises (having a physician on hand at all times)  that Joe citizen and his family go to the ER.  True!

Try being poor or homeless and getting  medical help in Super Power nation, U.S.A.  Try being a senior citizen, or a struggling family,  trying to secure special medications, chemotherapy, or hospital care.  Strom Thurmond once spent a month in a hospital resting up!  Today the poor will die on an ER floor (Los Angeles) of a perforated bowel,  while staff walks around them!  Today the poor are made to sit from morning to evening in a free clinic for help (most of these are being closed).  Mostly though, people just die.  They die in freezing, rat-infested tenements, in abandoned homes, in their cars, and under bridges.  They die in rural America,  in homes without heat.  They die in shelters and on city streets (dumped there by hospitals.) .  They die in decaying, unheated tenements owned by slum landlords.

These Washington hucksters aren’t worried over their pensions (also seeing yearly cost of living raises) or heating their homes.  Besides their lucrative salaries,  they receive all kinds of perks – from medical to housing allowances, fees for their offices, and exotic vacations,  which they call ‘fact finding missions’.  They don’t care because they don’t have to.  How many ‘debates’ do you see being held in an empty steel mill – paper mill – abandoned downtown Detroit, the empty Maytag factory, a shelter, or soup kitchen?  They voted these trade deals,  which have emptied America of livable wage jobs.  That’s why they stay away from the real America!  They are serving their corporate sugar daddies  by  ignoring the slave labor  that is being imported (thanks to NAFTA’s failure) to America.  These candidates  voted for the bankruptcy laws that are now  impoverishing  Middle Americans in a crisis.  Corporations are safe to in declaring bankruptcy and that’s all that counts.  They voted (Hillary told Silicon Valley she’ll bring in more) for hundreds of thousands of guest workers (professionals) to replace American workers.

And people wonder why homelessness is increasing at such a drastic level?  Today in America,  from Seattle – Oregon – to New Orleans,  people are now being housed in tent cities!  Detroit is filled with thousands of vacant buildings (hotels) and people are living in tents!  Why aren’t these newest housing projects of the 21st century being shown on the news as we spend 2 billion a week on war (estimated cost 1.6 trillion+).  With winter blasts upon us,  try to imagine yourself in that abandoned car – a tent – or living under a bridge.  Try to imagine yourself watching (New England) the crowds from the city zooming by,  on their way to exotic ski lodges – spending hundreds of dollars a day;  to ski down a mountain – drinking,  and gouging themselves on exotic meals.  Workers at these various resorts are imported guest workers.

It’s hard to imagine living in a land of such wealth under such deprivation.  It’s absurd.  Maybe that’s why people avoid looking at the  homeless?  When I’m  looking at you, (laying in a doorway) I begin to see me?  Who are the homeless?  Today, many folks are only a few paychecks away from joining the ‘unworthy poor’ (new label when you lose out in the race).  Millions of homes are in foreclosure; due to the greed of bankers – mortgage companies and politicians,  too busy feathering their own nests to deal with the crisis.

Who are the homeless?  They are the foster children  whom its assumed reach instant adulthood at age 18.  It’s the numerous abused and battered wives, (children)  who’ve escaped a house of mayhem and possible  murder.  With institutions closed down over the past few decades, its the mentally-ill.  Regional crisis centers were supposed to open,  but it never happened.  People haven’ t stopped becoming mentally ill – its just that now,  we jail them or they end up on the street (those without family).

We spent the money meant for the mentally ill/housing etc;  on raises for Washington – billions for war  – exotic vacations – golf courses – space stations – crumbling levees – studies of the sex lives of beetles  – bridges to nowhere – a museum for Woodstock – and mercenary forces ($1,200 a day) etc.  There just wasn’t any left over for everyday people!  Who are the homeless?  It’s Virginia a senior citizen I found on a park bench,  who lost her home due to the catastrophic illness of her husband (he died).  When she went for help, she was offered a bus ticket out of town (greyhound therapy).

Who are the homeless?  It’s the homeless veterans ( approximately 192,000) of all wars.  It’s James (Korea) who I found under a bridge (his nephew had stolen his SS checks).  It’s Billy the young man I found in a city park in a johnny-coat soaked with urine.  Billy with clubfeet, spina bifida, and a colostomy,  had been dumped on the street by a hospital.  Who are the homeless?  It’s Martha crippled with arthritis, Danny a foster boy, Henry and Joe, WWII veterans, Mr. Elliott, beaten to death in his wheelchair (WWII naval photographer) by an illegal immigrant dishwasher, looking for crack money.  The stories go on and on.  No the homeless are not all ner’ do wells on welfare having a half dozen kids!  There are numerous lazy, drunken, drug addicts of wealth.  You don’t hear the label ‘worthy or unworthy rich’.  President Regan, from the warmth of the White House said that the homeless preferred the great outdoors.

Depending on the luck of the draw in life;  the rich or well-connected citizen,  is protected from the harsher elements of being set outside the city gate.  Wealth and a proper  family  name (or profession) exempts them from being  labeled (except as eccentric).  If you’re a starlet – gladiator sports star – relative of a politician – or Al Gore’s son etc; you don’t end up in jail .  You end up in a $48,000 seaside rehab center  to escape the ‘stress’ of a  life.  Forget all the advantages these folks  were offered.  The stress of being coddled, pampered, and excused,  from any and all responsibilities,  takes its toll – so we are told?  Drunk or no drunk, heck  instead of ending up in a shelter  you could find yourself in the White House.  It’s all in how the life’s  cards are dealt !  Most of the rich and famous you see on the nightly news, involved in  numerous drug or drunken events,   would be laying in the gutter today  if not for money!

Homeless for Christmas


It was a cold – sleety night  in a large corporate Ct. city.  Gentrification had torn down neighborhoods (affordable housing); to make way for glass towers and a huge windowless mall,  consisting  of upscale boutiques and specialty stores.  The homeless were not permitted to roam its various floors seeking warmth during the days.  

I had written a play,  “Homeless for Christmas” which I put on in the pocket park entryway.  The manger scene consisted of Anna (Mary) a Native American Indian ( homeless due to sexual abuse) – Carlton ( Joseph) from Jamaica, and  Matthew (Baby Jesus) my three-month-old nephew.  Alicia (littlest angel) stood behind them in her white gown with tinsel halo.  Mary was attired in an old lace curtain and Joseph in an Indian blanket.  The three Wise Men,  could be seen approaching from the far end of the park,  with their shopping carts,  bearing gifts for homeless Jesus.  They were three homeless veterans.  As the crowd of homeless folks sang.  ‘ Away in a Manager’ the three veteran Wise Men presented the Holy family with gifts of canned food, a blanket, and a bouquet of poinsettias .

A few shoppers stopped for a moment  but then rushed on to buy those last minute gifts in the climate controlled  mall.  When the play ended,  we passed out (the vets and myself) toys to the numerous homeless kids and those  from the tenements.  Disney had donated $10,000 worth to me.  This was their way of saying they were sorry.  A month before  they had come out with a homeless doll called, ‘ Steve the Tramp’.  Steve carried a large board (with plastic nails).  On the package it said, “You’ll smell him before you see him.”  I organized a protest at the mall  (called all the media).  I made a huge poster depicting Mickey Mouse with huge bulging blood shot eyes  holding a spiked board.  My sign read, “Mickey Rat – You’ll Smell Him Before You See Him.”  Disney  took the doll off the market immediately and had a truck deliver tons of toys!  Protests do work ( at times).  I have to say they (Disney) have to be commended for their prompt action.

After our gala play and Disney toys  event, the kids  returned to the decaying tenements (far from the mall) .  The remainder of my homeless  crowd returned to the dingy shelter.  There’s nothing sadder during the year than to spend Christmas at a shelter.  There’s something about the hustle and bustle, holiday crowds, festive lights and Christmas caroling;  that makes the humiliation, the hopelessness, the alienation,  all the more painful.  I could relate,  as I remembered when my dad (factory closed) relocated us from the mountains of Pennsylvania to Connecticut.  He had secured a job in a Catholic hospital as their boiler room engineer.  We arrived in Ct with nothing but our meager suitcases of second- hand clothes.  I hated Ct from the first moment I saw it.  I promised myself when grown that  I’d leave.  I did.

We had to stay in a single-room occupancy hotel until my dad could save enough to get us an apartment.  That took some months.  I remember that Christmas.  I  pushed  aside the cheap plastic curtains on the one window  and watched the shoppers laden down with gifts.  I had decorated the plastic tulip plant on our dresser with some tinsel,  from the manger scene at  a nearby church.  It’s a surreal kind of feeling being on the outside watching others go about life’s routines – joys.  You feel like your  watching a movie – unable to join the happy actors on stage.

A shelter is a place where nobody owns anything and no spot is special.  It is dreary and joyless.  The noise is deafening and the stench from unwashed humanity unbearable at times.  If despair had an odor,  it could be found in a shelter.  Christmas (small town America) was once a time of neighbors on downtown streets.  In the luminous glow of Christmas lights, children played catching snowflakes on their tongues.  There was a hushed silence, as neighbors gathered around the Nativity in the park and  sang ‘Silent Night’.  Today the parks are empty.  Many Nativity scenes in the climate of political correctness (ACLU with nothing better to do) are gone.  All religious language is now banished.  Christmas is now the   Holiday  Season;  with  grotesque elves  –  cartoon  balloon parades  –  and  safe secular songs.  It’s  now  secular holiday  with  the focus on retail sales.  The biggest issue now,  is how to choose amongst all the toxic toys imported from China!

Perhaps it’s the deprivation, the poverty, the degradation or just plain awfulness,  of a small family huddled in the darkness of a stable,   that is abhorrent to some in today’s materialistic world?  There was no room in the Inn, but there was room in the stable.  The Inn is the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly/moneyed, the rallying  place of the popular.  The stable is a place of outcasts, the ignored, the forgotten, the almost impossible things.  Divinity is always were we least expect to find it.

I remember a past Christmas at the shelter.  The faces; white, black, and  some gray ; from weariness or illness.  They were  etched in stoic longing and loneliness.  The remnants of the donated food (office parties) lay untouched on plastic trays.  The muted sounds of “Joy to the World,”  echoed forth from a blurred black and white TV.  Some covered their ears, some wept, some hummed along, eyes closed.  Perhaps they were remembering a time long ago when they belonged and were loved?

Teresa, her bruised face swelling from a beating on the street, lay in a crumpled heap on the bench.  As I put a blanket on her thin shaking body, I wondered that she hadn’t been killed as yet?  (Note – Teresa was murdered five months later for her canning money – near the city’s yacht club).  Henry, an elderly Black gentleman, brandishing his cane through the crowded community room,  looked like an escaped scarecrow on the lam.  In a whirlwind of decaying leaves, falling off his outlandish attire,  he demanded better service or the Mayor would hear about it.  Martha, eyes rolling back in her head, clutched her Christmas package of socks and gloves in her crippled hands, all the while singing her own song that had no beginning and no end.  Margaret (middle aged) her dirty blond hair pulled back in a severe bun – thumped her Bible damning everyone to hell for their sinful, slothful ways.  Having no dentures, she’d worked diligently one night cutting strips from a two-liter Pepsi bottle.  With a razor blade,  she cut the appropriate notches,  so that it had the appearance of teeth.  She painted them with white- out, then affixed the flexible strips to her upper and lower gums with denture adhesive.  As long as she didn’t eat, she was fine.

Richard, pacing back and forth, became more and more agitated with each dire warning from Margaret.  He finally turned, and in  his affected French accent,  pronounced that the finer hotels he was accustomed to staying at,  would never allow such rabble in their establishment.  Richard had existed on a family trust fund for years.  It  ran out and he was left stranded on the streets.  

Daniel, a small fastidious man, like a nervous ferret, hovered in the shadows of the outer hallway.  Daniel felt that as long as he kept his distance, he wouldn’t be identified as being a part of the unwashed and unwanted.  Frank with his thick coke glasses  was once a prosperous businessman.  He suffered a mental breakdown and now imagined himself a secret agent for the CIA.  Every morning at 4:00am, he would leave messages near the transformer at the train station.  In turn, he told me, he’d get directions for his next job  from the obituaries in the New York Times.

In a world of liposuction, health clubs, marathons, gated communities, designer clothes, decorators, tented wine parties etc, those seen as flawed  are relegated to the outer darkness.  In a throwaway society, life’s rejects (seconds) are tossed – much like litter.  We’re a disposable society.  The intimacy of small town America is gone.  We now exist in isolated cocoons: of poverty – wealth – war – prisons – raging protests, and daily messages of fear.  I suspect,  that  should the nation suffer a crisis ,  that only the homeless will survive.  It’ll be just another day for them.

Christmas ends:  All was silent in the shelter as the midnight service drew to a close.  A last burst of song washed over the heaps of broken humanity from the Washington  Cathedral choir ———“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep; God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!  The wrong shall fail.  The right prevail.  With PEACE on Earth, good will to men!”

JM

  • Gap Between Rich and Poor in New York City Grows Wider, By Sam Roberts.  The New York Times. December 25, 1994
  • Christmas. Why Do We Celebrate on December 25? ©


    ‘Tis Christmas here and abroad.  I love the holiday and marvel at the traditions.  I recognize that many dream of a “White Christmas.”  There is talk of sleigh bells ringing and people singing.  Chestnuts are roasting on open fires, and Jack Frost is nipping at our noses. 

    Among Christians, in countries far and wide, ’tis the season.  People rejoice as they celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus.

    In churches and among the devout, I hear conversations and characterizations.  The religious speak of Jesus and his divine conception.  It is said “the son of G-d” was born in a manger.  His parents, Mary and Joseph realized there was no room at the Inn.  Thus, they sought shelter from the cold.  “Our Lord Jesus” was, perhaps born on a stormy day in winter.  At least, that is the tale, the legend that is frequently told. 

    I did not doubt its veracity until I thought . . .

    Today, Christmas Day, December 25, in Bethlehem, Israel the expected high temperature will be 63 degrees Fahrenheit.  The low will be about 44.  The skies will be mostly sunny.  In other words, in 2006, the weather in Christ’s birthplace will be wonderful.  The conditions are typical for this time of year.

    As I reflect on what I know of the time, the place, and the stories I am told, I find myself confused.  I ask why does the folklore vary from the facts.  What is true?  What is convention and what is conjecture?  Could much of what we believe be both?  What I wonder most is why? 

    Why December 25?

    For the church’s first three centuries, Christmas wasn’t in December-or on the calendar at all.

    By Elesha Coffman.  For ChritianityToday.com

    It’s very tough for us North Americans to imagine Mary and Joseph trudging to Bethlehem in anything but, as Christina Rosetti memorably described it, “the bleak mid-winter,” surrounded by “snow on snow on snow.”  To us, Christmas and December are inseparable.  But for the first three centuries of Christianity, Christmas wasn’t in December-or on the calendar anywhere.

    If observed at all, the celebration of Christ’s birth was usually lumped in with Epiphany (January 6), one of the church’s earliest established feasts.  Some church leaders even opposed the idea of a birth celebration.  Origen (c.185-c.254) preached that it would be wrong to honor Christ in the same way Pharaoh and Herod were honored.  Birthdays were for pagan gods.

    I ask you dear reader, to read on.  Ponder religious practices.  Assess for yourself; are Christians pagan or pious?  What is faith and what is fantasy?  What do you think?

    I need to share my own thoughts and feelings.  They haunted me throughout my night’s sleep.

    Initially, I wrote this quickly.  It was very late in the evening and I was extremely tired.  I penned this post after returning home from a holiday gathering with family.  The persons I dined with are my best friends, as well as relatives.  The gathering was glorious and joyous.  It always is when I am with these members of my family.  I came home and read a reflection by Brad Michael Moore. 

    “Keechi” carved out his Christmas experience.  Mr. Moore wrote from his heart.  His four year-old still surviving soul spoke in The Night Before Christmas 1956 (C)  Brad Michael Moore was responding to the musings of possum and those that shared their Christmas memories after reading a Possum Tale piece, Down Home: Childhood Christmas ©.  The words touched me.  His writing was not characteristically Keechi.  I felt the fears of a child coming through.  It seemed, as a very young boy, Brad felt great trepidation during the holidays.  His desire to meet with Santa was deep; yet, his fear was greater.

    I was fascinated and still am.  After my reading, I thought it important to provide a place for further pondering.  My intent was to offer san Open Thread, an opportunity for holiday reflections.  I did as I often do when presenting a stimulus for thoughts, I searched for events in history that occurred on this day.

    I stumbled on “Why December 25.”  I was mesmerized.  I penned a point and went to sleep.  I dreamt.  Visions of sugarplums did not dance in my head.  Holiday heartbeats did. 

    I realized, the date does not matter.  The holiday celebrations may be commercial.  Some may honor the birth of Christ, acknowledging the dictums of the Church.  Individuals think the specific date set by theologians is holy.  Others may not.

    There are those that consider Christmas a day off.  For many, Chanukah is special, whether it coincides with the Christian festivals or not.  Kwanzaa, Ramadan, and atheist get-togethers are no less important.

    What truly is essential, be it on December 25, 26, 27 or any day of any year, is that we share with people.  That we honor relationships.  That we embrace the glory of all life, every life, today and tomorrow.  I believe if we are to progress, to evolve, or just to enjoy what the world has given us, we must not dwell on the details.  There is so much more to  life.  A date is a date; one is just as special as the other. 

    Each day we have a choice, actually many.  We can choose to come together in love or we can join in resentment.  We can rebel or realize.  We can believe or begrudge.

    I think for me, a holiday, an honoring need not be a date set aside.  Life would be so wonderful if we reveled and rejoiced daily.

    Namaste
    May you enjoy your celebration of Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or a delightful Hanukah.
    May you and yours share a blissful Kwanzaa, a glorious Ramadan, a spirited Winter Solstice, and exultant everyday!!!!

    The spirit and history of Christmas celebrations . . .

  • Religion: The Birth of Jesus. By Jon Meacham.  MSNBC News.  Newsweek December 13, 2004
  • Weather for Bethlehem, Israel. UK Net Guide.
  • Why December 25? Christian History & Biography.  ChritianityToday.com
  • The Night Before Christmas 1956 (C) By Brad Michael Moore.  December 24, 2006
  • Down Home: Childhood Christmas ©. Possum Tales
  • The Official Kwanzaa Web Site
  • Ramadan on the Net
  • American Atheist
  • Down Home: Childhood Christmas © – Possum Tales

    (We all have our memories, traditions, and tales. Please share stories of Christmas with Possum . . . – promoted by Betsy L. Angert)

    Holiday times tend to be special for each family and even for each individual.  In my childhood each holiday season was met with its own series of happenings in the household.  Today we are well inside the holiday season so today I offer a remembrance of Christmas long past.  Pull the easy chair up close to the fire and snuggle up for another of possum’s tales.

    Christmas in my childhood was always a time of family and sharing times.  We were a joyous if not very religious bunch who really had fun during those days.  The season began with the Thanksgiving weekend.  About that time my father would fish out the outside lights for the house and begin to hang them on the edge of the roof.  This was in the days of large bulbs and heavy wires so the chore was not an easy one.  My dad was not usually taken to the use of profanity, but climbing that ladder many times, stringing the lights, and replacing the faulty bulbs often seemed to drive him as near to cursing as any other event in life.  By the end of the day the house was well lit on the front side for all to enjoy.  The bulbs were sometimes but not always replaced if one happened to burn out later, but for the first day all were lit.

    As the days passed by gifts would begin to arrive from distant relatives.  We had cousins, aunts, and uncles in town, but our grandparents were in Florida at the time.  As younger children we were allowed to open gifts from the grandparents upon arrival.  That meant we sometimes had presents to enjoy as early as the first of December.  For us kids that just heightened the excitement and anticipation of the season that much more.

    Grandparent gifts were always somewhat fraught with peril.  Somehow when they sent clothes their gift always seemed to fit a younger and somewhat smaller child.  That seems logical now since we saw them only once a year or so and we were growing children, but in those days those gifts were not the most popular.  Other gifts such as toys and games were more appreciated by us kids than were the clothes.

    Tree cutting time was another fine event.  We picked the first good weather day to head into the fields in search of a tree.  At about age 12 or so I was put in charge of my two brothers for the expedition.  We headed out the back door and into the surrounding fields in search of the perfect cedar tree.  Mother always wanted a cedar tree in those years for reasons I have never been able to fathom.  In later years reason prevailed and she gave up those scratchy things in favor of Scotch pines. 

    But back to the expedition.  We boys were dressed in winter garb with a hand saw (the ordinary wood cutting type, and not a timber saw of any variety) and off to look for a tree.  Being the young and rambunctious types we were (folk talk about all boy-that would have been us when were out from under pretty close supervision) we tramped over fences and through the fields with careless abandon.  Our part of the country had lots of cedar trees growing along the fence rows so we had lots of trees from which to choose.  Naturally that meant we found three different trees to which each of was unalterably attached.  Somehow or other we’d finally decide on the one to take home.

    Then began the sawing.  We’d crawl up under that darned scratchy thing and work in shifts as we never had a really sharp saw.  Finally the tree would come down and we’d start for home.  Now we were faced with dragging the tree back over those fences and through those fields we had traversed earlier.  We always managed to find the one tree farthest from the house.  By the time we got home the tree had suffered somewhat and we were scratched on all our exposed parts, but Mother somehow always saw our yearly find as the best tree she had ever seen.  Amazing how mothers can be sometimes.  Her constant support of her children continues pay benefits to us as adults to this day.

    Tree decoration was another complex affair for us.  We began with strings of those old large bulbs that have been displaced by the LED lights of today.  We used multicolor lights and were always trying to make sure we didn’t have too many of the same color right together.  Ornaments were either simple homemade items such as strings of popcorn and cranberries or the oldtime, translucent, red glass balls.  The light shone through those balls to make a marvelous sight.  That memory remains indelible to this day. 

    Once all else was on the tree the tinsel came out.  Those were the days of single stranded aluminum tinsel.  In our household we threw the tinsel on the tree in small batches (usually 3-5 strands per toss, but sometimes more if we boys were tired of that venture).  We had obsessive friends who strung their tree with single strands, but we never were that perfect in our household.

    By the time of Christmas eve we had gone through the ritual of the coconut cake baking (homemade from a real coconut and the stuff of another story), worked over the divinity and homemade chocolate fudge candies along with numerous cakes and cookies, had enjoyed the tree for days, and were watching a pile of wrapped gifts mounting under the tree.  On Christmas Eve we played traditional music on the record player and continued eating goodies until we were all stuffed.  We children were banished to bed by about 10PM, which was a late night for us farm boys.  In those years we three boys shared a common bedroom; so we kept one another awake with mounting excitement. 

    A single major present was always given to each child according to his wishes that year.  These were left under the tree, unwrapped, by Santa.  Knowing that was the case led to nighttime adventuring for us boys.  We spent all our waking time after we thought our parents were asleep trying to sneak a peek into the living room.  We would take turns in the effort.  Most often we were caught and sent back well before we had any real information.  Still the stoked imaginations ran wild and the adventures kept up.  We had an early rising deadline of 6AM most years, but the parents usually gave in about 5AM and let us into the living room while they headed for the coffee pot. 

    After attacking our individual main gift, we three took a bit of time to rip the packaging off the wrapped presents.  On some occasions we even slowed down long enough to see what the parents had under the tree.  One pretty amazing year Mother got a rabbit stole from my dad.  The joke that year and for years after was he charged the jacket in the store and Mother had to write the check to pay the bill as she was the household bookkeeper in those days.

    Once affairs settled enough we’d have breakfast together.  Most years my dad had to go to the office or maybe make a farm call (he was a farm call veterinarian worthy of more stories in the future).  Once all the work was done, we’d usually mount a hunting expedition.  That time of year was rabbit season and most years we’d end the day with our Christmas dinner of game we had killed earlier in the day.

    Some years we shared the day with our cousins once we were all in our teens, but as younger kids we usually had Christmas Day to our own family.  In those days Christmas Eve was often a time of wider family sharing.  All in all the memories of good times and family remain very strong to this day.  Those were really marvelous days for which I am eternally grateful.

    Crossposted at Never In Our Names. and Daily Kos