by Geoff Olson
What a rotten, misbegotten year. And me with a pre-holiday column to write after passing a kidney stone.
2016 brought us more pipeline politics, fentanyl overdose deaths, police shootings, terror attacks, and the biggest buildup of western military and naval forces on the borders of Russia and China since Word War 2.
It’s safe to say the defining moment of 2016 came with an election win for a figure who embodies of all that’s fake and fear-mongering in Rome 2.0. I knew our neighbours went through the looking glass early last November, but with the CIA protesting foreign interference in the election of a right-wing president (how ironic is that?) they’re in full Jabberwocky territory.
On the cusp of Christmas, “goodwill toward all men” is looking shaky for an estimated 65 million displaced people, most of them generational jetsam from the Cheney-Bush invasions, NATO destabilization campaigns, and Obama drone wars. Didn’t the Good Book tells us the meek shall inherit the Earth? From where I sit, they’ll be lucky to inherit a month’s worth of rations.
Truth be told, some of the the First World meek – the ones raised by helicopter parents and given prizes for participating – have grown to be rather obnoxious lately. Their insistence on university ‘safe spaces’ and the inclusion of trigger warnings in texts is precious enough, but their demand that instructors address students by a whole new range of personal pronouns is worthy of a Kurt Vonnegut plot-line.
So what’s a newspaper scribbler on a deadline to do when trying to extract a ray of seasonal cheer from 2016’s cesspool of dark silliness?
I suppose I could avoid the problem entirely by knocking off a generic piece about about the pagan beginnings of Saint Nicholas, and how early 20th century Coca Cola ad campaigns rendered him as the rosy-cheeked, red-and-white-garbed Santa we know today.
I could digress on the astronomical theories that the Star of Bethlehem in the New Testament was actually a comet or supernova. Or rehash the Christmas truce of 1914, when German, French and British forces climbed out of the trenches to mingle and exchange gifts, and in some places have a friendly game of soccer.
Or I could muse on today’s Consumers for Christ Crusade at shopping malls, and how the entire retail economy hangs precariously on Yuletide potlatch.
How about a short meditation on the passage of time? I remember my parents handing out Christmas gifts from under a tree decorated with the cheap tinsel and plastic ornaments, with me and my sisters bouncing off the walls, gooned on candy canes and shortbread cookies.
Thanks to my parents, I learned that time is not just linear but cyclic: holidays return like comets, lighting up the drab passage of days.
Ceremony is important in whatever form we observe it, as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Wiccans, agnostics, atheists, or whatever. Annual traditions are cultural efforts to tame time.
Old Man Chronos eventually wins, of course. My parents died ignobly and terribly a few years back. When their son and daughters follow them into the earth we will take our memories of them with us. Our parents will then be truly gone.
Not to bum you out with the bleeding obvious, dear reader, but every one of us comes into being and then vanishes from this realm like fragments from a dream. Even the pyramids will be consumed by stellar fire at some point. We and all our creations are – to use a term cribbed from Ecclesiastes by the seventies rock band Kansas – “dust in the wind.”
And damn improbable dust at that. The number of potential human beings, calculated from possible genetic combinations, far exceeds the number of subatomic particles in the universe. People pop into the world of appearances with best-before dates – so why shouldn’t we reciprocally honour our cosmically unique and unrepeatable existence?
Given our short stretch here, does it not make sense to treat others as one would wish to be treated ourselves? To choose the power of love over the love of power? And in a world spinning out of control, to extend universal compassion beyond the holiday season?
Just asking a few big questions, while trying to figure out what sort of holiday column to write.
The Vancouver Courier, Dec. 15 and 29