(Picture: My neighbours dressed for their own special day)
As we near this Christmas season, when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, we find a celebration that has morphed into a celebration of consumerism unhinged. It is the pinnacle of sales and profits for those engaged in the capitalist world of retail, the time when business make their profits for the year and shoppers are exhausted.
This year, humanity collectively faced both crumbling social foundations around the world and the angry forces of a de-stabilized climate causing incalculable damage to infrastructure and natural environments alike. Humanity is finally realizing it is gazing into the face of extinction.
One could argue that the two world wars of the twentieth century provided the possibility for the destruction of civilization and the extermination of most of the people on earth, but fortunately wiser heads eventually prevailed. Developed societies, despite their flaws, provided relative peace in much of the world and societal and technical advances not witnessed in human history.
Since then however, we have seen the resurgence of populist leaders and their complicit supporters, promising to destroy the very basis of the societies built since the wars of the twentieth century.
These leaders promise to create even more wealth with environmentally destructive processes. This, despite the reality that the world has more than an abundance of economic wealth. Unfortunately, it is held by a very few who drive their agendas to get even more.
One must wonder where any God fits into this picture. Especially the Christian God being celebrated at this time of year, who is understood to have come to earth to spread the news of caring, sharing, compassion and love. He, who fed the poor, cured the sick and comforted the suffering, did His work with no church, no religion, no wealth.
One has to wonder whether the children of the next generations will live to see the wonders of life, the world and the universe that we, even in the poorest of places, have had the good fortune to witness. In fact, it is in the very poorest of places you see the true wonder of life and humanity that is possible.
Which takes me to my own year since transplanting myself from one of the most prosperous countries in the world to live in one of the poorest. Most of you have had a glimmer of my life this past year from my very scarce newsletters and updates.
Just prior to the beginning of this year I moved into the house I built, which has provided me stability and comfort and afforded me a place to share and help others not so fortunate, especially the children, many of whom congregate here.
The year for me has provided its own vortex, not unlike that of the rest of the world, but not because of politics, but because of the necessity to acclimatize to a whole new natural environment and people with a much different mindset and a value system that is often literally foreign to me.
These comments are not meant to be diminishing, because it has been refreshing to realize that in such a poor place it is quite safe, people are friendly, attentive, caring, and inquisitive and the political environment appears quite stable. In some ways it is like a paradise for me, compared to other places in the world, despite the economic poverty. The spiritual wealth here is different and rich allowing people to survive in very difficult circumstances. One might say God is alive here.
Change always was and always will be challenging, perhaps more so when you reach my age, as my struggles often seem much more difficult and sometimes look insurmountable. One just has to buckle down, do what needs to be done and get on with life and living.
We live in turbulent times, more disruptive than ever seen before. One can despair and anguish, which will change nothing, or do something, difficult as it may be, to bring balance back into our lives. And balance is so important, as I learned once again in September with the recurrence of my inner ear affliction.
There is no one to do it for us, no God that will appear and rescue us, nor protect us from the hyper-competitive sociopaths taking over governments in so many countries, or the climate dysfunction that in our greed we helped create.
We were born equipped to take on most of the ills that life and the world throw at us, and with the instincts to find those that can assist us. In today’s world, riding out the tempests and storms of nature and flawed leadership are just some of the challenges we face.
We must remember that in a democracy, leaders are elected by somebody, and in dictatorships leaders that seize control had help and many were complicit. They can be overthrown the same way as is evident in places like The Gambia.
What is most important to remember is that every generation faces its own trials, tribulations and dysfunctions. Every time in history that these were resolved people vowed, “Never again”. But in human existence, ‘never’ appears to be a very short time, mainly because human memory tends to be very short.
In my normal humble fashion at Christmas and in the spirit of giving, I wish to share a gift with you, one that I would ask you to share with others. My gift to you is one of insight, one that has been gleaned over the years and amplified since coming here. There is no one in this world who has nothing to give another, no matter how deep their poverty, dysfunctional their lives or severe the disparity they may feel. The kindness of a thought, the sincerity of a wish or the gentleness of a touch are gifts that can be shared and valued by someone in need.
The value of human interaction is so fundamental to life that it is priceless. A new-born baby knows this instinctively, a child practices it every time they approach us with their little hand reaching out to touch us.
In a few weeks we will all step into a whole new year, one that is full of promise, laden with challenges and ripe with opportunity to do good. Let’s not walk in fear, or shirk our responsibilities, but hold each other’s hand and march with determination to take back our humanity that has slowly been eroded by self-serving individuals, institutions and governments. We do this not for ourselves, but for the children of the world who deserve a life, one that is rich in wonder, as well.
May the spirit of life move you to make the changes that are needed to bring this wonder and beauty back into your life and replace the fear and anguish that sometimes overwhelms.
Have a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled warmth, compassion and care.