New Year’s Musings

I hope your winter holidays were filled with warmth and joy.

We are in the midst of a cloudy, chill early January morning. We are promised rain later, each drop putting further distance between us and the long summer drought.

We are in the gap between Christmas and Epiphany, having passed the Western New Year celebration and said goodby to 2020. We look back at the challenges posed and met in the last year, grieve for the terrible losses we have collectively suffered, and nurture hope for the year to come.

New Year’s Day we made our customary journey to the ocean. Rather than walking the few blocks down to the harbor, we traveled to a park about an hour from here, picnicked in the car, and took a good many photographs as a storm approached. Near the water a solitary dandelion bloomed.

I enjoy American football so watched bits of a few games this bowl season. College football is a Holiday tradition that has nothing at all to do with the holidays, save some possible throwback to ancient games of the solstice. Somehow enough college teams remained sufficiently healthy for some games to be played. 

I have been thinking about those moments when memories of past lives press themselves into our awareness, pushing contemporary anxieties out of the way with a firm, “We have all been here before.” It seems unlikely most of us have lived many human lives, although some may have. Rather, there is a flowing stream of awareness stretching as far back, and forward, as one can see. When we are gifted with an awareness of the great sweep of continuing consciousness, everything changes. After all, what is left except the possibility that this time around we might be more kind and loving?

For several years we have used the same perfectly lovely synthetic Christmas tree in order to fend off family allergies. We would prefer a real tree, maybe one we cut ourselves. Complexly, that involves taking a life, even as it encourages the growth of other trees and the sequestering of more carbon. Thinking about this I am reminded of my father’s insistence that no part of any sacrificed being be wasted. We live a paradox: all lives are sacred yet we cannot live without taking lives; our continued existence is dependent on the death of other beings.

There is a sacred agreement implied in the notion that all lives are holy: because we are all sacred and connected, we must hold one another dear. For those of us who hold this view, every action is imbued with weight, and it is impossible to simultaneously be aware and sacrifice any lives wantonly. (Sadly perhaps, awareness comes and goes….) This stands in sharp contrast to market capitalism which views all lives as commodities and threatens the destruction of our species, along with uncountable others.

The Christmas story says Herod killed all Jewish males under the age of two in the hope of destroying the Messiah he feared would topple his reign. Of course this ploy failed, but did so at the cost of immense suffering. This year we find ourselves besieged by many would be Herods and the fate of the world once more hangs in the balance. It is good to remember that even this madness must pass.

18 thoughts on “New Year’s Musings

  1. Very good, but wasn’t it Herrod who killed all the male babies? Ceasar is new to me

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  2. We do have a live Christmas tree and it’s sad taking its life, and even sadder to see the pre-cut trees sitting in the farmstand late on Christmas Eve and not chosen. I’m not sure why it’s so sad … a cut tree has lived on average 7 years among other trees, in the fresh air, experiencing the things a tree experiences, maybe even hosting a bird’s nest. Then it’s killed. That’s sort of like us, isn’t it? Not that we’re killed intentionally, hopefully, but we die after an allotted time and that was never going to change. Maybe it is, as you say, the “sacrifice” aspect of it that changes things somehow, gives weight to our killing, though I don’t feel that when I remove a non-native plant from the yard — I don’t feel it as heavily, anyway, probably because I think I am also performing a “good” for the birds and insect and other plant by supporting their lives.

    There’s something about being “chosen” that seems to matter to me, too. I want the Christmas trees that are already cut, and even those growing happily in their field, to be chosen, honoured, loved, appreciated, seen for the beautiful beings they are. Not passed by. But like many who are sacrificed, they would actually benefit, in terms of longevity of life, from being passed by, unchosen.

    In any case, we don’t waste our Christmas tree — it will remain standing as long as it keeps drinking (it’s been 5 weeks so far and we’ve gone into March before, when it’s almost sadder because the tree gets new growth! like it doesn’t know it’s already doomed, its fate sealed … but again, that’s like us, doomed to death from birth but most of us don’t let that stop us growing and becoming) . And after we take it from the house, its carcass will either be placed in a cozy spot under other trees to serve as animal habitat (that’s what we usually do) or we have the option of having it composted at a nearby farm, where the compost is used to maintain the life of soil and of other living beings. Still, it all feels sad and makes me really want to honour its life. Thanks for posting your musings.

    • Thank you, William! What a splendidly thoughtful response.
      Yes, everything is both simple and complex. We know that trees are awake, conscious, but I have little concept of how one might think, certainly not the way we do.
      I am glad you care for the tree, honoring it and meeting its needs as best you can. Maybe that is the best we can do. I remember one of my teachers ranting humorously about vegetarians who imagine they are superior because they don’t eat animals. He was totally serious when he stated that carrots are conscious. Of course they are, everything is, so we do our best to care and be kind. Hopefully our ashes will feed others as they have fed us. And yes, sadness comes with awareness, as does curiosity and joy,. What a thick, complex stew. May we be like the Christmas tree that returns life to the forest and continues the cycle of awareness.
      May you and yours be safe and warm!
      PS: Do you have a blog?

  3. Very nicely written, Michael. I was thinking yesterday that I hadn’t seen a post from you in a long time and was hoping all was well. Good to hear from you and I send warm and joyful blessing to you and your community – and hope for a safe and healthy year ahead.

      • Likewise here, when a smaller team gets drawn in the cup against one of the giants (I’m talking here about what I think you call ‘soccer’) nearly everyone, impartial, roots for the underdog.
        And also these days I follow a small, non-league club whose average attendance is around 130. At this level, your interest and support is really valued.

      • Yes, the small clubs are great. I watch European football as well (soccer). Our national women’s team is quite a treasure, the men’s team not so much. I also enjoy cricket although I do not, nor likely ever will, understand it. Mostly I just read…. LOL!

  4. According to Wiki, Herod did indeed order the murder of first-born sons in attempt to put an end to Jesus. As we know, he failed. Anyway… glad you got to spend some time at the ocean, a beautiful place to greet the new year.

  5. I enjoyed pondering your thoughts about Christmas trees Michael. We always have a synthetic tree because I don’t like the thought of killing a tree for the sake of a few weeks. Wishing you all the best for the coming year.

    • Andrea, I wonder whether the trick is to be thoughtful and appreciative. We have to eat and breath and bed warm and all htose impact other organisms…
      Here’s hoping this new yea treats you and yours well.

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