I'm not sure why it is that the holidays seem to be the only time of the year we are even vaguely aware of our connection and obligations to humanity, and our need to be better than we are. I guess we're all just so busy the rest of the year living our individual lives and fending off real and imagined assaults of one sort or another that it doesn't really occur to us that we are part of a greater whole.
We often seem unaware of--or choose to ignore--the fact that life comes with obligations, not only to our family and our employer, but to life itself. Membership in the human race is not free; there are dues. That we actually owe anything for the privilege of being alive never seems to occur to most people, and is only even peripherally acknowledged during the holidays with the receipt of a mental "Past Due" notice.
We all go through life alone and the Prime Imperative of humankind--which surely must be imprinted somewhere in our DNA--is survival of the species. Our being totally separate individuals is somewhat blurred by the fact that most of us are fortunate to have others emotionally close to us with whom we form strong bonds. But even so, the general tendency is to look out for ourselves, frequently at the expense of others.
It is difficult at times, even for those aware of our obligations to our fellow human beings, to meet them. The sad fact is that too many of our species are loathsome, utterly despicable animals ruled by bigotry, hatred, greed and selfishness, apparently devoid of any of the nobler qualities we like to think of as being synonymous with being human. That many had these negative qualities forced upon them in their formative years is a reason, but not an excuse, for who they are. We must deal with them with some degree of understanding and, hard as it may be, extend to them the tolerance they would not reciprocate.
Living, as we do, within our own little cage of flesh and bone, our personal problems tend to be magnified. It is difficult to leaven them with the knowledge that we are not the only humans to have experienced them, and that no matter how severe our specific problems may be, there are many who suffer equally and probably far worse.
The holidays are often a time of sorrow for those who have suffered the loss of those whose love and companionship eased their way through life. Yet there is often a note of selfishness in this sorrow. It is we who grieve for them--they are beyond grieving. Rather than feel sorrow that they are no longer with us, we should focus on how infinitely lucky we were to have ever had them at all, for however long we did. Though they can no longer live for themselves, we can devote our lives to living for them. Though we are no longer able to do things for them, to show them friendship and kindness, we are able to do it for others. Often the simple gift of a smile or a kind word can mean more than we can imagine to someone who may not have received one in a long time.
Economic times are hard for everyone. But surely we can each somehow find $10 for a local food bank, or an animal shelter, or some other worthy cause. Just because we may not be able to receive gifts from those loved ones now gone, there is no reason why we can't give in their name. The money we would have undoubtedly spent on them could be given to the needy in their name. The dead are alive in our hearts--why not keep their memory alive somewhere other than there?
None of us is a saint. We are all selfish and greedy to an extent...it all goes back, again, to the Prime Imperative: survival. It's part and parcel of being human.
Life is full of obligations. Each month we get a phone bill and a telephone bill and a cable bill. None of us likes paying them, but we do it. Why should feel we can ignore the debt we owe for our lives?
None of this is easy. But where did we ever get the idea that it should be?
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1 ).