Vol. 4    No. 25
December 10, 2009 Archives

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   It’s been a difficult time for most of us. Some people have gone from fully employed to underemployed as they
scramble to make ends meet. Others have hit the unemployment rolls or have been driven deeper into the
chronically unemployed. Some have had to delay retirement as their 410ks dropped precipitously in value as the
stock market plunged and have been slow to revive as the stock market hovers close to 10,500. Some retirees
have had to come out of retirement because their pensions took a dive and they found themselves not able to
make ends meet.
   Massive numbers of people turn out when job openings are announced. The demand for help at food pantries
has grown significantly. It seems that one cannot read a newspaper or read the news at an Internet site without
coming across another story about another multiple slaying. The percentage of children who receive psychiatric
drugs has increased dramatically. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to take on the aspects of 100 year
wars. And health care reform seems to be getting watered down so that it isn’t too clear who is going to benefit
from the reform. To tell you the truth, it can get down right depressing.
   These are hard times for many of us. I can’t remember a time when I felt so vulnerable to the economic
currents raging around me. And it has been difficult for many people I know.
   Yet, in these darkest of times, I also see signs of warmth and humanity. The city of Madison didn’t cut its
human services budget during a fiscal year calling for austerity. United Way met its goal, which means that
every day people continue to give in spite of the economic challenges that they are facing. As I go about the
community, I see simple acts of kindness that strangers grant to strangers. I see people helping people during
difficult times. I feel the support that we give to each other, the support that people have given to me. I see
people resisting the human tendency to become selfish during difficult times and looking out for each other as
brothers and sisters.
   The worst moments in my life are when I think just about myself in some brutish fashion, that it is just me
against the world. Life is most cruel when I think of myself in isolation and that I somehow have it worse than
anyone else and so, I should hoard and act as if no one else exists in the world.
   But the most beautiful moments — often occurring in the same time and space as the worst — are when I
open up my eyes and realize that I am not alone at all, that I am surrounded by love if I just take the moment to
see and realize the goodness of the people around me. And I have to be grateful for those realizations.
   In November and December, it seems as if all of the religions of the world have holy days and days of
observance. While some of the great tensions in our world seem to center around religion, I can’t help but feel
that our religions have in common many of the same themes of renewal and hope, each expressed in their
unique and historic ways. There are ties that bind us as people if we choose to look. There is more that we have
in common than the things that drive us apart. In my moments of truth, I have to respect all of these religions
and the perspectives and states of being that they give us in navigate this beautiful and sometimes treacherous
life.
   My own special time is Christmas, the magical time that I grew up with of Christmas carols and family and
gifts. No matter what was going on in my personal life, Christmas is a time of renewal, when the troubles of the
world are suspended for a moment in time and my spirit is renewed. It is a time when my life transcends the “rat
race” and I and those around me live a higher life that God has called us to. In spite of the cold outside, it is a
time of warmth, of brotherhood and of kindness to others, when most of live the maxim “Do unto others as you
would have them do unto you.” It is a time I look forward to each year. It is a time I need to cleanse and renew
my spirit.
   For many of us, this holiday season will be difficult. We need to reach out to each other in true fellowship. So
no matter what your religion and traditions are during this holiday period, I wish you meaningful and happy
moments. I wish you peace and love and kindness. I wish you Happy Holidays!
Reflections/Jonathan Gramling
                          Happy Holidays!