The winter solstice has passed and the shortest day of our year recedes into the winter of 2013, but the darkness remains. This is the darkness of an accumulation of great sorrows that the American Heritage Dictionary defines as "mental suffering caused by loss, disappointment or misfortune... ."
This is the sorrow of despairing expectations that life could be hopeful for the great, great majority of people for whom the quality of life continues to decline.
It is the sorrow of a shrinking middle class who are prompted by the advertisers to assume the posture of gaiety that portrays the lifestyles of the rich and famous, one percent of our population who own more than fifty percent of the world's wealth. It is the sorrow of the masses of people trapped in the slums of poverty, illiteracy, disease, hunger, hopelessness, meaninglessness; among some of these, the only alternative for a way out appears increasingly to be the route of violence.
It is the sorrow of educated, professional, conscientious persons who have played by the rules but now find themselves side-tracked in a dystopia, a world of change that bewilders, rejects, closes doors, and opens few portals where one can return to the dream of a sustainable income with benefits that might make possible a respectable life for oneself and one's family.
It is the sorrow spawned by a technology that exposes the most private domains of the human spirit and quantifies our thoughts, feelings, sensations, intentions, fantasies, prayers, creations, and dreams.
And it is the sorrow of many who recognize the finitude of our resources within the delicate biosphere of our marvelous planet earth whose sun itself is finite and will one day exhaust itself.
These descriptions of our great sorrows are not meant to deny the many positive accomplishments and efforts to improve our quality of life. Nor is this litany of the sorrows meant to contribute to the very darkness itself by adding what could be described as one more voice of doom.
At least, I do not see the present darkness as a portent of doom. However, I do believe that we must find ways to be honest about the realities of our time and place. We are confined within a paralysis that prevents truth-telling. We are trapped within an ideological capitalism that prevents the empowering reciprocity of free markets, government, individuals and institutions within a responsibly participatory democracy; we are locked within fundamentalist religions that imprison minds and breed contempt for the truly religious experience of wonder and awe; and we are land-locked within political systems that simply serve themselves rather than the people and the planet, systems that monitor approval ratings and seek not the common good but re-election for more of the same.
We can talk about these matters without anger or blame or mistrust. But first we must admit our pain and deep sorrow. All anger is secondary. There is so much anger in the world! And, hence, so much darkness, because anger turned inward becomes personal depression and collective darkness. But the anger always -- always -- begins with pain.
For example, we take our granddaughter to a Christmas carnival to ride the merry-go-round, enjoy the would-be-festive lights, drink hot cider, and be with the hundreds of other kids who have come for the event. But we can only go through the motions. All of us are going through the motions. There is no real joy at all. It is a marketing extravaganza with bored, exhausted employees and bored, exhausted parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and kids who try to rise for the occasion, game-up and enjoy themselves. Squeezed together and herded like sheep through the stalls, we feel the pain of disappointment and the discomfort of trying to pretend that we are happy. The depression (anger) is palpable.
We all are going through the motions, perhaps as valiantly as we can. We are trying to be light and to find light filtering through the cynicism, despair, anger and great sorrow that grip our society. This is the darkness beneath the facade of gaiety that we try to produce in response to the jingoisms that have drowned out the jingle bells of a simpler time and life when the pain was just as real, but it was not disguised as happiness and sold as the next best thing that we all must have.
So -- how can we not despair? Why are these particular sorrows not portents of doom? For this reason: something remains. When the artificial lights go out, when the whirling cacophonies of the machines go quiet, and when the shrill voices of the vacuous manipulators go silent, we still have each other. When the planes land and we meet loved ones waiting just beyond the security point; when our cars finally arrive after hours of a long drive and we see family eagerly waiting at the doors with expectant faces; when we get a message or hear the voice of a cherished old friend we have not talked with maybe for years -- in those moments, no darkness can dispel the light that fills our souls.
Across the miles and the years, in the countless meetings and reunions and reconnections with loved ones, a great joy sounds through the darkness of our sorrow. For the moment that is enough -- more than enough to make possible new beginnings and a hope for tomorrow.