Alarms are sounding every day, every hour. And we can’t turn them off. Here in Southern California there are brush fires raging, and fierce Santana Winds pushing them farther in every direction. Sirens scream by, helicopters whir back and forth making water drops when the winds allow them to hit their target. Smoke sits like a lid on the San Fernando Valley, depositing ash everywhere. We are all coughing, noses running, and suffering from headache and nausea. Kids still go to school, most places, but have to stay indoors. And they come home coughing, eyes red-rimmed, and complaining of feeling terrible. The humidity sits at 6%, 7%, or 9%, parching everything. It feels like a war zone. And yet we go on.
Political news has become so scary our kids run out of the room when it comes on. Those of us who remember bomb threats and drop drills are reliving the anxiety. Our leaders have a very different reality. They don’t see the effects of those budget cuts they scribble casually and then turn into legislation. Looks good on paper to them. Makes them look good, they think, to their constituents. Maybe that is true. But if it is, their constituents must be the very wealthy. The rest of us will suffer. It feels like a war zone. And yet we go on.
The winds do shift. The Santanas give way to a moment of calm, and water and fire retardant are dropped effectively. Sometimes there are moments of sanity in our politics. They are brief, but they happen. So much easier to hear the wild alarms, though, that keep us living on the edge. So much easier to be drawn to the terrible, the frightening. We live distracted lives. In rare moments of balance and rationality we realize we are living in a war zone, but there is also more. We have a new awareness of how critical our voices are and we learn how to use them. We write letters, we sign petitions, we make phone calls. We march. We finally understand that our vote is our voice, and we help others to understand that too. And so we will go on, as we can, as we must.
As for me, I am keeping Christmas, or Solstice, or Hanukkah, or Kwanza because I believe they all celebrate life, community, new beginnings, light where and when it seems impossible. The traditional foods that celebrate this season find their way into our festivities. And gratitude always sits at the table with us, right alongside fear.
Fear has its place. Because without it we might not see the dangers we can avoid, the rational protections we can put in place. But it must not be at the head of the table. We can be grateful for those who raise the alarms because they are the ones who help us make a plan to deal with what could overwhelm us. We can be grateful for those who respond to exigencies, both political and quotidian.
We can do what we find to do that will contribute to a saner world, a healthier world, a safer world for our children and their children. It seems hard to count some of those things as helpful. But each gift of kindness, no matter how small, can tip the balance. And so we light candles, decorate our homes, prepare our festive banquets, encourage our children, spend precious time with each other. But fear must stay in its rightful place.
We go on celebrating living, and loving. If not now, when? We do what we can to make the world a better place. Because that is what we do. We go on.