A no-list new year.

The week between Christmas and New Year is an extended version of Easter Saturday: the hiatus between “then” and “what is to come”. I suppose for many of us it’s a time to sort the wrapping paper into the ripped-beyond-redemption and the can-probably-reuse piles. It’s a time to finish off the left-overs (if there are any). It’s a time to either throw away, or put into the rarely used cupboard, the what-were-they-thinking presents. Not that any of my family members ever give me something undesirable or useless, or just plain “what-the-hell-is-it?!” (Phew! Dodged a bullet there.) I guess, most of all, this week is a time to regroup, ready for the New Year celebrations. Is anyone writing a New Year’s resolutions list? I don’t bother. In fact, I never got into the habit in the first place. Oh, okay…I used to resolve that this year I’d finally become thin, ethereal-looking and able to wear a size 10. Never happened. Ever. New Year resolutions are a waste of time. Writing one of those lists is a futile exercise that will damn you to a hellish existence of guilt, frustration and, possibly, self-loathing. Don’t do it to yourself! I’m not saying that one should never have aims or goals. And, I’m the first to encourage people to follow their dreams. I’m just saying that as soon as you write a list of I-wills or I-shoulds, you’re heading for disappointment. Proper goals/dreams/aims should be slightly beyond our reach to force us to stretch ourselves and make an effort but, at the same time, they should still be achievable. They shouldn’t be rigid laws, demanding impossible levels of perfection. When I was a kid (back when I rode my pet stegosaurus to school) we would write a resolutions list as a class assignment. I’m sure it was just one of the ploys to keep us busy in that last strange week of school before the holidays. Even then I could never think of anything sensible or achievable to write. I’d put the perennial next-year-I’ll-be-thin (doomed to failure right there). Sometimes I’d put, when I grow up I’m going to be a lady. Hahahaaaaa. Yep, that worked out just fine. Usually I’d promise to be nice and polite and never say a bad word and to never cheat at games and… Oh you get the drift. In the New Year I’d finally become Miss Perfect.    sigh. Life isn’t neat and well-ordered. You can do all the planning you want but life has a habit of leaping out from behind a door and shouting, Surprise! There are more important things than writing lists. (I know that all you list-writers are now gasping with shock and horror. I’m sorry. Just pray for me.) Let’s just get on with living, loving, dreaming and doing and I’m sure the other stuff will sort itself out. Start this coming new year in a sane, healthy, stress-free way: be kind to yourself. And, remember, if you muck it up there’s (God willing) another new year coming in about 12 months time. You’ll get another chance. We’re all pilgrims on the journey of life. Thanks for helping to make my part of the trip interesting. Happy New Year!...

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It’s not all tinsel…

I’m just a tad annoyed with the Mayans. You’d think they could have found a bigger piece of rock to carve their calendar on and we could have been spared the latest hullabaloo. I’ve done my best to have a bit of fun with it but, let’s face it, it’s really irritating that they chose to finish their world on December 21st. It’s far too close to Christmas, Mayans! Here I am, getting into Advent mode, and your silly doomsday thingee totally ruined the ambience. Of course, it was exacerbated by the shooting in America and the knife-wielding psycho in China. Both whack-jobs went berserk in a school. Thankfully a good number of the Chinese victims survived because the guy used a knife. It might have been different if he’d had a decent gun. The bad thing is that both cases involved little children. I say let’s get Biblical with these fellas and find some decent-sized millstones for their necks. Of course, the death of innocent children around Christmas time isn’t a new thing. Back when Jesus was a baby, sometime between 4 and 2 BC, Herod the (HA!) Great ordered his soldiers to slaughter every boy 2 years and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. It’s the reason Jesus and his parents became refugees in Egypt for several years. I expect they weren’t the only ones to flee. I sure hope they weren’t the only ones. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live through such a thing, although I expect the people in Sandy Hook, Newtown could tell me. So…Christmas time isn’t just about bright stars, pretty stables with glittery snow on the roof, drummer boys and ho ho ho. It’s not all tinsel, holly and pretty baubles. The birth of Jesus is a message of hope, peace and goodwill but it’s set against a backdrop of injustice, brutality, oppression and poverty. It’s time we let go of the Hallmark and Disney version of Christmas and tell the truth. The first Christmas wasn’t shiny, pretty, cosy and sweet. It was gritty, dangerous, troubling, dirty and tough. It was real. The world still needs a saviour. We still need to embrace the angels’ message: peace on earth and goodwill to all people. I hope you spare a prayer or two for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. I hope you spare some cash for the hungry and dispossessed. I hope you treat your world a little better, and be grateful that you are alive to enjoy it. As you celebrate Christmas this year, I hope you experience a touch of joy and kindness as you share some love and peace.  ...

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Light a candle

Too many children died this week. In Connecticut, in the USA, a disturbed young man was so angry, so manic, that he decided to shoot his mother. But, that didn’t appease his rage so he dressed up like a commando and went to his mother’s workplace: an elementary school (we Aussies would say a primary school). He then walked into her classroom and shot the little kids and the adults who tried to protect them. 27 dead, including the shooter.  “What was he thinking?” There is no rational answer. It reminded me of a similar incident, several years ago, when a disturbed young man decided to kill all the little girls in an Amish school. There was no rational explanation for that, either. Or the Columbine High School shootings several years ago. Or, when a young man killed 16 children at a school in Dunblane, Scotland in 1996. Or, the Beslan school massacre that ended with the death of 380 people. Too many times, too many children have borne the brunt of adults’ rage, selfishness and insanity. While the adults are fighting it out in Syria, small children are either being killed, maimed or being made orphans. In many parts of the world, small children are stolen from their homes and trafficked to sexual perverts, or sold into slavery, or turned into the abomination that is a child soldier. In many poorer countries of the world, small children are forced to pick over rubbish dumps, or make bricks, or are chained to looms, or are sold into prostitution because their families can’t afford to feed them. How can we let this happen to our children? Why do we fail to protect the most vulnerable members of our society? There is much about this world that is breath-takingly beautiful. There are many, many people whose hearts shine with goodness. But there is also a dark, creepy, sordid side, which is always the result of wickedness in the hearts of men and women. Some may think I’m naive – even foolish – for being inspired by the Christmas story, but I don’t care. Think what you like. The idea that God entered our world in the body of a Jewish bastard child of a young, poor, insignificant young girl; born in a stable in the lowliest and dirtiest of circumstances; welcomed into the world by his overwhelmed parents, a bunch of smelly shepherds and a few foreign astronomers, gives me hope. I think that sort of a God knows what it’s like to do it tough. He knows what it’s like to be rejected, to be hungry, to live in difficult circumstances, to be devastated by grief, disappointment and loss. He knows the grief and pain that results from lost innocence, mindless brutality and evil left unrestrained. That’s the God I try to follow. I believe in love. We can’t light up the world, but we can light a candle in our little corner of it. We can’t rescue every child, but we can love the ones we know and give aid to the people who are doing their best to stem the tide of darkness. We can make it our mission, regardless of creed or ethnicity, to spread love, joy and hope in our communities. Maybe, just maybe, we might make a difference.      ...

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Presents? Yippee!

Well, blog-readers, doesn’t another Saturday whizz into existence when you’re busy doing stuff? There I was, having a sleep-in; the Old Boy had gone out garage-saling; the Wonder Dog was taking the opportunity to stretch out in the Alpha male’s spot on the bed, and I was dreaming about Archie Roach having trouble with his new job as a radio announcer. (I refuse to explain the machinations of my imagination.) Then Archie, in his lovely gravelly voice, said something about writing blogs and suddenly reality stuck its hairy face in mine.(Or, it might have been the W.D.) Blog day! Again! Someone recently told me they don’t bother giving presents to their grown-up kids for Christmas. “After all,” she said, “it’s not their birthday.” A nice young man came to fix something at our house a couple of years ago. We got chatting and somehow he found himself telling me that his birthday is on Christmas Day and no one in his family has ever given him a birthday present. Their thinking is, ‘Why double up?’ If he was my kid, he’d always get both a birthday present and Christmas presents … dagnab it! In fact, I reckon Jesus would be the first to say, Celebrate your son’s birthday! What’s the matter with you people? One day, when my kids were very little, we saw Santa on his big chair, with kids lining up for a photo on his knee. (My two had recently heard about “stranger-danger” so they wouldn’t go near him.) My son (5) asked how Santa could be there, in a shopping centre in our country town, when he should be back at the Pole getting ready for the big ride. And, how come there were lots of Santas everywhere? (I didn’t ask that question until I was 12, for goodness sake!) I told them about the original St Nick and how what he did was so nice that all these hundreds and hundreds of years later, people like to remember him by dressing like him and giving gifts and blah blah, hope-I’m-dealing-with-this-okay… They seemed to buy it, so PHEW! A little closer to home, my daughter (3) said, Why does Santa give out presents?  I told them that Christmas time is when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, and we always give presents at birthdays… right? She said, Then why don’t we give presents to Jesus? I told her that the only present Jesus wants from us if for us to love him and to love each other. I said that he’s very happy for us to give each other presents on his birthday and to share in the fun. The 3-year-old said, Isn’t that just like him! Yes, it is. We’ve tried to model a generous spirit to our children. For example, one year we surprised a family of seven with a baked ham. The father had been out of work. (We’ve never bought ourselves a leg of ham; too expensive.) Another year, another family, it was a small trampoline. The parents had promised one to their kids. But when the little girl needed expensive stuff done for her eyes they had to use the money they’d saved and so, no Christmas presents. So, even though it’s not our birthday, we still give our grown-up kids as well as our grandchildren, presents on Christmas Day. We unwrap the gifts with great glee and throw paper bombs at each other. When the kids were still living at home, we always had a birthday cake with candles. We’d sing “Happy birthday” to Jesus, and blow the candles out together. And, if that young man was one of us, we’d also have a birthday cake for him. As for dear Archie Roach…going by his efforts in my dream, I seriously urge him to never consider being a DJ on the radio. Stick to your gorgeous singing, mate.  ...

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Happy Christmas?

I had my monthly dose of medicine via the stomach jab yesterday and I’m feeling crabby, so I thought I’d wade into the Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas debate/argument/verbal war. I’m in the right frame of mind for a good stoush; at least while I still have the oomph to care about anything. The problem, as I see it, stems from political correctness being taken too far. I don’t know that it’s actually the law in the USA that you can’t say Merry Christmas any more and everyone has to say Happy Holidays, but there’s certainly an overwhelming social pressure to do so. The thinking is that saying Merry Christmas to someone who isn’t a Christian would be offensive. Therefore, according to the all-wise “they”, the solution to that possible dilemma is to offend the Christian by forcing them to ignore their significant religious holiday in favour of everyone else’s. (This is called “enforced turning the other cheek”.) Now, I know that there are other significant religious celebrations going on at the same time of the year: Hannukkah and Kwanzaa to name two. I don’t see why people who celebrate them can’t greet me with the appropriate salutation for them. God bless ’em, I say, and Merry Christmas to all. I also know that December 25 isn’t the exact date of Jesus’ birth. I know that the early Christians appropriated this date for the celebration of the Incarnation of Jesus, to sanitise a “pagan” celebration: the Saturnalia (a Roman religious event). They didn’t want to join in the drunken orgies associated with that particular festivity, so instead they chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus at that time. I expect that, once they started wishing people a happy and blessed Christmas, there was an outcry: It’s not Merry Christmas, it’s Sodden Saturnalia. Don’t steal our holidays! If the point is not to say anything offensive, then I think there should be a law against the following expressions: You’re fat; you’re stupid; you’ll never amount to anything; F— off!; motherf—-r; don’t tell anyone, kid, it’s just our little secret; I hate you; war, and the use of a deity’s name as a swear word. But, that won’t happen because the USA (and UK, and Australia and other places) have such a thing as ‘freedom of speech’…which you can exercise most of the time, unless it doesn’t suit the people in charge. I think everyone should climb back down off their soap-boxes and take a few deep breaths. Non-Christians: if someone wishes you a Merry or Happy Christmas, take it in the spirit it’s given. Think of it as a seasonal form of “have a nice day”. Is that really so offensive? Christians: not everyone believes in Jesus. Why are you surprised? You can’t force them to celebrate something that means nothing to them. Why do they still get to party? Because the government has made it a public holiday. If it helps, think of it like this: some people have never stopped celebrating Saturnalia. I can’t believe all the hoohah that goes on about this. Why can’t we put our energy into stopping the practice of child labour, child soldiers, animal abuse, corporate greed, exploitation of the poor…? Now they’re the sort of things that I find offensive. Happy Christmas/Happy Holidays/Happy Life to you all.  ...

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