HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated December 25, 2011 12:00 AM
Mass burials, over-stretched funeral parlor services, a dearth of coffins and formalin. There were bodies that were going to be dumped in the landfill in Cagayan de Oro, for lack of space to keep them anywhere.
It is six days before Christmas as I write this. A pall of gloom has severely dampened the nation’s spirits. The Christmas spirit seems to be farther away than ever. On Twitter and Facebook, there are those who have become very sensitive and see even the President’s attending the Christmas party of the Presidential Security Group as tasteless and insensitive.
I will not delve into anything remotely connected to politics. It’s Christmas, and that’s the last thing I wish to do. But it is important to ask real questions during a situation like this. Should we be celebrating Christmas when there is so much suffering around? Is it inappropriate, insensitive, immoral to have a good time when many of our brethren are cold, homeless, starving — in great need?
My mother used to tell us about a bleak Christmas during the Second World War when there was very little to eat. Of course, it also meant there were few gifts to give and to receive. What they had on the table was a simple, humble meal of fish and a prayer of thanks that they were all alive, unhurt and together. When I heard such stories even as a boy, I felt they had a spiritual dimension.
A good friend of my wife Lydia who spent a year in Iran during the revolution recalls what Christmas was like in a society that did not recognize or celebrate it, and was/is at times even hostile to Christianity and its celebrations. She had just married an Iranian. Everything was alien to her. She barely understood the language, customs, geography, religion and culture of the place. The city of Tehran was experiencing severe rationing and each person was entitled to only one egg a week. Her father-in-law, sensing her discomfort and sadness, went out of his way to buy her a tiny potted tree that she could trim to simulate a Christmas tree so she would feel better.
What also comes to mind are the many OFW families in the Philippines who will not have a complete cast during noche buena since at least a mother, a father, a brother, or a sister will be missing. The irony is, the “abundance” on the noche buena table and under the tree are courtesy of the ones who are not there.
There are also the policemen and policewomen, firemen, doctors, nurses, security guards and others who must render necessary service, spending the night at their stations making themselves available to people who may need help. They should really be celebrating with loved ones, but whether they like it or not, they show up at their jobs and do the sacrifice for all of us.
We all have our different feelings about this season. We all have our reasons — both profound and shallow — to justify losing not just one’s faith but also one’s good cheer during Christmas.
Natural tragedies, calamities and the horrific acts of violence and terror inflicted by man against man can completely alter our perceptions about life. The simple everyday grind of the season — the debilitating traffic, the never-ending expenses, the uncooperative weather — can also make our celebration of Christmas less than perfect. In fact, it can be a big hassle. Such things can diminish our enjoyment of and the meaning of Christmas.
In the west, there has been the trend to secularize Christmas. No religious icons in department store displays and corporate greetings, but only secular ones like Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, mistletoe and other holiday décor are used. This practice has been gaining ground for some decades now, much to the chagrin of Christians. However, while it may be the fashion for many in the west to take away the Christian aspect in the celebration of the season, the message remains the same — and that is to behave differently. Amid the commercial onslaught and the revelry is a call to spread good cheer among our fellowmen and hope for a better world.
“Peace on earth and goodwill to all men” remains the mantra of Christmas whatever your religious affiliation is, or even if you do not have any. I came across a quote whose source is unknown which goes, “The message of Christmas is that the visible material world is bound to the invisible spiritual world.”
The spirit lives! There are people who profess to no religion or creed but work in shelters, or extend financial, material help to the needy for the simple reason that it is the season for giving. That has to be a good sign.
There will always be suffering in the world and the call of human existence is to make sense of it and deal with it as best as we can. Some will find solace believing in a God who has a reason for everything and that these are all for our own good. Others will embrace freedom in the insight that it is useless to fathom the mind of a nonexistent god and that we must simply be philosophical and deal with the meaninglessness of suffering.
Wherever you may find yourself and whatever the condition of your spirit may be, it is my wish that this Christmas you feel a lightness and grace that will open you up to the goodness that is happening amid the suffering you may encounter or witness. As we pack relief bags and send cash donations for the victims of the flashfloods, let us pause to appreciate that the stars still shimmer in their magnificence. The sunsets are still awesome. There are also many good people in the world sharing the gift of service with laughter, love, generosity and compassion.
It may all be a question of where we are at, or what we wish to focus on. I have had good, “perfect” Christmases and some others that I do not wish to remember or revisit. This year, as I am present and humbly accept the gifts of family, closeness, friendship, revelry and love, and the few material things thrown my way, I am focused on the spirit that animates my consciousness and concern for the poor in spirit and those who suffer. And Lord knows, there are many in our homeland today.
On a personal level, I also extend glad tidings and prayers of hope to those I may be have been in disagreement with on many issues throughout the year and those who I do not particularly like, and especially those who may not like me for one reason or another. It may be the only time of the year when most of us can awaken to a little more positivity, bigness of spirit and hope than we presume we are capable of.
“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love,” the American essayist Hamilton Wright Mabie once wrote.
Maligayang Pasko sa ating lahat!