In a 19th Century bible that lives on a shelf in my sister’s living room, there are letters to Santa. It’s a good place for them, since the Bible chronicles the genealogy of their mother’s ancestors. The letters were written by children who grew up in that house in the decades since their family became only the second to live there in its 100+ year history. It’s been too long since I treated myself to sitting by the fireplace and re-reading those wonderful testimonies to the insights of children, teenagers, young adults reflecting on a year soon to end and another soon to begin. They reveal wit, wisdom, more hope than fear, and a vision of their world that was wider than just their family’s concerns and their local world.
Tonight, I sit at more than 700 miles away from that comforting and inspiring fireside and try to capture the spirit embodied in those letters. Not coincidentally (you who have joined me in our weekly Sunday morning walks in our urban village know I don’t believe in coincidences) this is the winter solstice, when the shortest day joins the longest night of the year for those who live in the northern hemisphere. The letter I write to Santa will surely be touched by that interplay of light and darkness.
In the early hours of the Winter Solstice morning here in our urban village, we will be able to observe a unique miracle, streaming live from Newgrange in Ireland’s County Meath. Five millennia old, this Neolithic site was built long before the Pyramids of Giza rose in Egypt. And it was only in the last decades of the 20th Century that its complexity became clear. At first it was thought to be a passage grave: a Dolmen-like structure in which a long, narrow passage led to a round open space. But then, archeologists concluded that the grassy, domelike structure was not simply an add-on over the ages but an integral part of the site. That, along with the absence of remains and the discovery of a keyhole-like roof box atop the narrow passageway that created a path for light to travel to the central chamber. At the solstice, for some 17 minutes, light enters through the roof box to illuminate the central chamber. There, it seems to celebrate the coming of light, unique in its power to an agrarian culture. For 5,000 years and counting, a long darkness yielded to new light; clarity replaced misinterpretation. The power and validity of solidly based tradition made new sense of an existing reality. What was vital to tillers of the land, is now symbolic of a 21st Century’s power to harness nature’s light to power the planet.
There’s my clue, Santa! I see how I can write this letter to you when I am feeling more than a little “in the dark” and even afraid. That’s no atmosphere in which to write to you in the spirit of two generations of children who maintained hope in the face of all the changes that define the path from child to adult.
As I approach the watershed moment of Christmas 2017, I look back at some of the “places” (physical, mental, moral, poignant, hopeful, admiring and dubious) we have visited together since the Winter solstice of 2015.
We have applauded a brilliant negotiator who led a parade in New York and even more significantly a pilgrimage to peace in which George Mitchell served and then departed, recognizing that the peace belonged to, and would only be best kept by, the people whose lives it had touched for centuries. We have lamented phrases like “alternative facts” and applauded an alternative wall that formed a barrier for discouragement as a democracy raised a wall and swung wide its central gate to release the power of creativity and generosity to set a new course for recovery from economic collapse to an amazing economic recovery. They opted to achieve that through expenditure of resources through the generous bestowal of support for the arts and artistry of a people. We have mourned the passing of a life-long educator who put aside personal gain to operate in an environment neither she nor her community owned but which both respected for its unique culture. She became a champion of how differences can be harnessed in hope, to honor the power of diversity.
But what of this year now ending, and the one that soon begins?
Like the children of a home that has bridged a century and remains ready to face a future testifying to the value of elegant endurance, I will begin by welcoming you and thanking you for coming to promise that giving is at the heart of this season. Although I use the title “Santa” you have partners everywhere, all of them heroes of light and its victory over darkness. Some are as brave as the Maccabees who bet and won on their earth providing sources of light. One as humble as a child born in a stable and committed from the start to be a healer. Another, an Abraham willing to risk this first born to ensure a future that embraced a wide diversity of descendants that would circle the globe. But why am I explaining this to you? You obviously “get it.” So, let me get on to a short list of a staple of Letters to Santa: some requests for gifts longed for from the heart and that I somehow know will banish the dark of anxiety and replace it with liberated, liberating light.
Santa, please continue showing me that not everyone has his/her price. As I grew dizzy seeing legislators who had loudly expressed skepticism suddenly flipping and starting to sound like sycophants. There must have been reasons other than money to explain the whiplash phenomenon. For example, anyone who has concluded that voting is based on the profit motive and/or stating quite openly and with no embarrassment that government can be won by the highest bidders, will have to think again. It turns out that two men and a woman who are the three wealthiest members of the US Senate all voted against a plan that suggested that it was a good idea to abdicate public service for private profit.
Santa, please reassure this grown up child whose parents were never too busy to remember her needs. Please give me the gift (before January 1 when the neglected deadline for facing up to the Children’s Health Insurance Program comes due.) In the spirit of a New York newspaper editor of the past century, please confirm my optimism that there really is a Santa and that he wants no harm to come to 9 million children because the alleged grown-ups were too “otherwise occupied” to protect them
Please, Santa, don’t misunderstand the citizens of this great-hearted country who are still working on their feelings about immigration. I can’t believe that they meant for their government to name Puerto Rico a foreign country in order to increase import/export taxes. Write off any misunderstanding as a consequence of staff reductions in the State Department.
And please Santa, keep inspiring the newly endowed wealthy at the head of our global/multinational corporations. Remind them that they can become better than “one trick ponies” by continuing to pass out bonuses (and enshrine the impulse by permanently raising the wages of the weekly/monthly paycheck echelon of their employees.) And let us expect the best of all the foreign investors to benefit from the legislation’s new plan for redistributing wealth. Help us to help all of these recipients of a massive Christmas gift of a plan to guard against the sluggishness of trickle-down economics and not allow it to become treacle down as a wise person of my acquaintance styles it.
Santa, I hope you have the power to erase fear. I’m beginning to see that the things I lament in myself and in my fellow citizens mostly fit comfortably under the heading “FEAR.” It’s fear, isn’t it that makes us form “teams” and to name the ones not wearing the team jersey (or baseball cap) as “OTHERS?” Pity the fearful; but don’t follow them into sub rosa committees within committees. Encourage us/them to realize that dialogue is a more effective tool than backroom, locked door strategizing. Help us write prescriptions for open-minded, respectful use of the uniquely human power to talk to one another, a medication that can be consumed as needed.
Remind us all when we risk succumbing to fear that it is not invisible to our fellow humans. When it generates bullying and innuendo designed to discredit open statements of hard won evidence, it is an undeniable sign of fear. And as we would be wise to keep in mind, it is the truth that makes us free. So why would anyone be afraid to follow the pilgrimage searching for truth?
Please, in all your identities, help us to make heroes of the people who put gold bars in the Salvation Army kettles and $200,000 checks annotated with a request for anonymity. Keep restocking the bank accounts of people like the comedic performer who invested hundreds of millions of dollars to buy up and write down the medical bills of people who had not hope of being able to do so in the foreseeable future.
And Santa, please help me be brave enough to dream big and trust unreservedly in the hope that we will be worthy of our checks and balances form of government and not succumb to fear in all its negative power.