I despise end of year Christmas stories of hope.
Often they appear in the guise of newspaper pieces about regular people doing decent things for one another – imagine! -- and the comforting stories about the dog that saved its master, or the old man who works three jobs and still has time to serve soup at the homeless shelter. As if these people exist only at the end of the year, or that the value of what they do can only be measured when the gigantic white tinsel snowflakes are bolted into place on the light poles of the mall parking lot -- which is, really, how most of us know the holiday season is upon us.
This year in particular, I note that there are many editorial or special feature pieces, both in newsprint and on TV, which basically promise, “It’s been a horrible year, but if you ignore everything else, here’s a story that proves the incredible valor of some people.”
Well, it has been a horrible year. It's especially been a horrible year for those of us who follow the news and get ourselves het up about all those things that are going to destroy our socio-political structures, boil up the earth, and verify the vapidity of our intellectual pursuits. A Big Orange Baby got elected President, the Arctic oceans are hotter than ever, and we are all plugged in to our phones. Sadly, no story about an old man serving soup to hungry homeless while doing down three jobs is going to erase that for me. Those stories, like so many others, are just another version of catastrophising.
But hope, the thing with feathers, is necessary to keep our equilibrium. Where do we find it if not in the stories of regular people doing amazing things?
Probably in stories of regular people doing regular things.
According to every news outlet and every social commentator, we are at each other's throats. Lunatic religious elements are trying to murder each and every one of us, our political leaders to a man and woman are utterly useless, the economy that has turned around for 1% hasn't turned around for 99% at all, most of us are going to be without healthcare (again) very soon, and everyone knows their neighbor voted for the wrong guy.
Yet, most times in a parking lot, if I let someone in and take the space I was eyeing, they give me a nod or a wave of thanks.
When you chat with the cashier at the coffee shop they usually say 'good morning', and they thank you if you put your change in the TIPS jar.
You ask people directions they'll try and answer.
You start up a conversation with anyone in a line anywhere -- anywhere -- it invariably works. If it's about the weather or idiots in Washington, it always works.
We nod to each other and smile at each other and for the most part we're reasonably decent to one another.
These are regular people doing the regular things we always do; there's no "end of year" miracle story here, Except I think it is. It's largely a miracle in the face of the idiocy of the world around us, manufactured, for the most part, by assholes we don't know, will never know, who will never talk to us.
The very fact that people get together and work in a church choir amazes me. The miracle of community theater, where everyone has "real" jobs, aren't getting paid, are struggling at a skillset they may not have been given by God, and work till midnight rehearsing "Good Morning Baltimore" is mind-blowing. People who crowd fund for a high school student who has just lost both parents in a car accident, or the fact that people look for their neighbor's lost dog; amazing.
Your political leaders know nothing of this. Nothing. Believe me on that. Most of people writing wise pieces for the New York Times haven't the foggiest idea about it. Certainly anyone with a corner office anywhere in a Manhattan glass tower is clueless. My guess is the editor who said, "Yeah, it's Christmas, let's run a tear-jerker about the old man with three jobs who helps out at the homeless shelter" has never glimpsed this.
It's been a miserable year and our world is a hot mess. We have screwed things up beyond all repair. We are being led by Morlocks. Many of our own lives are constant struggles and we have no one to blame but ourselves, and we know it.
Yet we nod to one another in the supermarket, we thank the people who pour us a coffee, we chat pointlessly with strangers, we give up our seat on the bus.
We continue on, feebly, yet inexorably, with all the power of a polite glacier of decency that can't be stopped.