One Day or Another

Although normally a time for celebration, Mardi Gras, I’m told, was subdued this year.  Today is Ash Wednesday but many of us feel like we’ve been living a year of Lent already.  I once told a fellow office worker on Ash Wednesday, “I think about death every day, I don’t need a yearly reminder.”  Looking out at the old snow, melting, freezing, refreshed with occasional flurries, I’m reminded of the cycles of nature.  I’ve been watching the turn of the year’s wheel.  Over the solstice I looked into Yule, and just a few days ago considered Imbolc.  The wheel of the year is a symbol for modern earth-based religions seeking to be kept in sync with nature.  It is a cycle, slowly turning.  Death, in this way of thinking, is part of a larger system.  It seems appropriate to consider it this Ash Wednesday.

I say it’s Ash Wednesday but it would be more correct to say “for many Christians it’s Ash Wednesday.”  Cultural imperialism is difficult to shake.  With the pandemic still embracing us tight we haven’t had much reprieve from thoughts of death these many months.  Thinking of the wheel of the year, however, may bring hope.  A wheel in motion spins around to a new beginning that, in the nature of circles, is equally at every point.  New beginnings are offered every day.  While we’ve never been in a year of isolation before, there is nothing that hasn’t been before.  Self-aggrandizing dictators, world-wide pandemics, calls for social justice and fairness, have all come around before this.  They may come around again.  The main thing is to keep it moving.

It moves, in fact, without us.  One of our human foibles is being species-centric.  When we discuss, in a pique of teenage angst, of “destroying life on earth” we really mean destroying humankind and perhaps many other species as well.  Not all.  With a kind of collective insanity we go about warring against our own kind, exploiting all other species we deem valuable, and talk as if that’s all that matters.  Today, for some, it is Ash Wednesday.  For others it is World Human Spirit Day.  For many of us it’s just another workday among many very similar, cut from the fabric of a year that has no even spokes to keep it rolling.  Beneath our feet this orb spins on, regardless.  The cycles continue, with or without us.  How wonderful it would be if we could actively contribute to their progress.

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

 


Leadership

After four years it finally feels safe again.  We can celebrate Presidents’ Day, although now and forever with some trepidation.  Even as Republicans still protect the insurrectionist Trump, democracy has survived his tenure of horror.  Many Americans don’t realize just how close to Nazi Germany we came.  There are many who hold party above the good of the nation, something our founders, one of whom we celebrate today, feared.  The outdated safeguards of democracy, such as the electoral college, have been used more than once to “elect” presidents the American people did not want.  One guess as to which party this has only favored.  Democracy, we’re now being told, is fragile.  It shouldn’t be.  Only the designs of a party scheming for personal enrichment makes it so.

Today we can at least take a breather and be glad that we no longer have a bigoted, sexist, classist, racist incumbent.  We have a female Vice President of color.  We are on the long, slow road to recovery.  The senate, clearly recognizing Trump’s danger to the nation, voted to acquit him because Republicans fear not being reelected if they stand up to him.  Our democracy’s not out of the woods, even this Presidents’ Day.  Until the GOP learns to grow a backbone we’ll be in constant danger of collapsing.  Anyone with back trouble knows how it can stop you in your tracks.  Of course, once you’ve made a deal with the Devil, there’s no getting out of it.  Most Republicans could benefit from just a touch of folk wisdom.

When one party sides with armed thugs who’d have happily killed them if they’d been found just a little over a month ago, our grounds for celebrating today remain on thin ice.  The GOP, which has no moral compass left, has decided that bullies and armed bandits are the way of the future they’d like to see.  Although Trump lost both popular elections they’d still vote for him a third time and support him again if he incited another insurrection.  It’s Presidents’ Day but we’re still on the edge of a precipice.  When a political party refuses to learn from its mistakes, and indeed, tries to build upon them, our celebration of democracy must, by definition, be subdued.  We do have grounds for hope.  Efforts to get the coronavirus under control are starting to take effect.  We have a sane human being in the Oval Office.  Until the GOP disavows evil, however, we’ll continue to live in fear.

 


Love or Saints?

One of the many oddities of life at Nashotah House was that we never celebrated St. Valentine.  I wouldn’t expect a mostly male and neurotically homophobic community to mark Valentine’s Day as for lovers (most of the faculty and many students were married, however), but the saint’s name wasn’t uttered in my years there.  Of course, commercialization of holidays does taint them somewhat.  It’s difficult to take a day seriously when you’re being told that how much you spend will be the sign of how special it will be.  With St. Valentine’s Day, however, I believe the topic was much too close to something the church had long feared—sexuality.  I’ve often pondered how this strange obsession evolved.  Judaism, from which Christianity sprung, isn’t the origin of this antipathy to being fully human.

The trouble likely starts in the Bible.  The New Testament, in particular.  No mention is made of Jesus having been married.  Paul, in his usual way, made it an issue but fell short of outright condemning it.  His words would help convince the Roman Catholic Church that mandated celibacy was a good idea.  Clearly, however, Augustine of Hippo, who lived after Valentine (depending on which one you elect to follow) saw the whole enterprise as flawed.  Making up the concept of original sin and tying it in with sexuality was a certain means of creating a problem.  Not that Christianity is the only religion that promotes celibacy, of course.  But when it came to Nashotah House there was really no concern about what other religions taught.  Even on February 14 no collects were recited mentioning the saint who must not be named.

The history of saints’ days is a fascinating one.  A few of them made it into pop culture—after Presidents’ Day there’s no national holiday until Memorial Day in May, so who can blame people for looking for reasons to celebrate while still waiting for spring?  Saint Patrick wasn’t similarly given the cold shoulder at Nashotah in my years there.  And although it moved around quite a bit, you could usually count on April for delivering Easter.  We didn’t celebrate Presidents’ Day.  Nor Martin Luther King Day—not being Catholic his canonization process was a non-starter.  The long, cold stretch between Epiphany (now Insurrection Day) and Lent was one devoid of popular holidays.  I suspect that despite the number of saints (and there are lots of them) the singling out of Valentine was considered to be asking for trouble.  That was many years ago.  Oddities, however, have a way of remaining in long-term memory.


February Festivities

One of the more commonly overlooked holiday complexes comes around Groundhog Day.  It may seem strange to be thinking about spring right now, but it’s on everyone’s mind.  (In this hemisphere anyway.)  When seasons actually begin is a matter of perspective, and that’s not just a north-south hemisphere divide.  With our scientific outlook, we take the path of equinoxes and solstices.  If you look closely, however, there is a set of seasonal holidays that falls midway between them, dividing the year into eight spokes.  These cross-quarter days were recognized in some cultures as the early inklings of a new season beginning.  If Halloween (Samhain) marks the start of winter, this holiday, Imbolc, is the beginning of spring.  The day had many associations, one of which was watching a groundhog (or other animal) to see if the weather would begin changing sooner or later.  Spring itself is inevitable.

The popularity of Groundhog Day owes quite a bit to the movie of that name.  The film is more complex than its classification as a comedy might suggest.  Although the day itself does deal with the cyclical nature of, well, nature, repetition isn’t an inherent theme in the holiday.  Neither is it part of the related Christian celebration of Candlemas.  Indeed, I tend to think Groundhog Day has the makings of a horror story.  Being stuck in time could represent a terrible fate for many.  Interestingly, Phil Conners (Bill Murray), after having been stuck in this same day for a considerable amount of time, suggests to Rita Hanson (Andie MacDowell) that he might be a god.  He is immortal and he knows everything that is to be known in Punxsutawney.  He can predict things before they happen (of course, he has become Punxsutawney Phil, in a manner of speaking).

A philosophically rich movie, the story has appealed to adherents of several religions.  That, in itself, is amazing.  The endless repetition could represent samsara to those of south and east Asian religious inclination.  The learning to be kind, and even forgiveness aspects, appeal to those who want to find a Christian message in it.  Not bad for a holiday nobody gets off of work, and which frequently falls in the middle of the week.  The holiday complex of Imbolc, Candlemas, and Groundhog Day represents what had once been a more prominent season than we currently recognize.  Revivals of the more ancient celebrations have begun to appear, but the endless repetition so valued by capitalistic systems has nearly captured us all.


Taste of Gilgamesh

The Epic of Gilgamesh is considered a world classic.  Some would designate it the first novel written and others an example of how basic human concerns haven’t changed for thousands of years.  The ancient scribes and story-tellers, I suspect, anticipated none of this for their tale.  It was a religious story, perhaps taken as literally as some now take the Bible.  However you understand it, the Epic is part of the foundation of civilization itself.  I have to admit my Akkadian is rusty—I never had the opportunity to teach anywhere that I could regularly exercise it.  Still, I’m pretty certain that no one involved in one of the many versions of the tale that have survived would’ve expected it might end up on a rolling pin.

Back in December I wrote about Farrell Monaco’s Gilgamesh Epic column 5 rolling pin.  Her blog, Tavola Mediterranea features culinary archaeology—a good fit for these foodie times.  Having somehow found my blog, she kindly sent me a Gilgamesh rolling pin.  It was, in fact, one of the packages I wrote about a few days ago that was tracked as delivered but never arrived.  There’s no telling how long it will take to sort the Post Office out after Trump tried to destroy it so he could start the steal.  I was told it had been delivered in early January—not in time for Christmas itself, but still in the gingerbread season.  I called our local PO with the tracking number and was told it had been delivered.  If sent to the wrong house I’d have to rely on the kindness of strangers.

Last week, after I’d completely given up hope, it arrived.  Since, like many overfed Americans, I’m trying to wean myself off holiday excess back to my usual austere diet, it may be the next Christmas season before I get a chance to use it.  Still, the thoughtfulness of the gesture is deeply appreciated.  Anything that connects us so palpably to our ancient forebears is truly a gift.  If my career (if that’s what you call it) had gone a slightly different way, I might’ve ended up spending it with Gilgamesh.  As it is, I still turn to the Epic for inspiration now and again.  I wrote a couple of articles in the last couple of years where Gilgamesh makes part of the argument.  Now I’ve got something tangible to prove it!  Take a trip over to Tavola Mediterranea and see what wonders edible history holds.


Ship Shop

I support the US Post Office.  As someone who still prefers print to electronic, having something actually delivered remains a thrill.  I have to confess, however, that electronic bills are much more convenient.  In any case, with Trump’s war on the mail (he seemed to hate everything), and lack of interest in the Covid-19 pandemic, shipping has been slowed down considerably.  People stayed at home and had Christmas shipped this past year, and, combined with the idiotic cuts to the Post Office budget, things were (and continue to be) delayed.  In this extended season of shipping I’ve had two packages that tracking services have told me had been delivered but, in reality, weren’t.  At least they weren’t delivered to me when the tracking indicated they were.  Of course, package thieves do exist.  I suspect that, if stolen, my items raised an eyebrow or two.

Most recently I had a notice of a Saturday afternoon delivery.  Said item wasn’t there when I checked my mailbox about half-an-hour later.  Someone could’ve idled on by and taken it in that time, I suppose, because the USPS said it was “in or near the mailbox.”  Now, my mailbox is down at sidewalk level.  The porch is a short distance away.  When I went out on Saturday it was in neither location.  Back before Christmas Amazon did the same thing, telling me that a package (small enough to fit easily in my mailbox) had been left in “a secure location.”  So secure that I couldn’t find it.  I even went outside in the dark with a flashlight after watching a horror movie to search for it.  That one, it turned out, had been delivered to an honest neighbor who brought it over after daylight returned.

The tracking notice that says “delivered” means nothing if the package isn’t actually there.  Hide-n-seek instructions simply aren’t helpful.  The way our mailbox is situated the only “near” is on the open ground.  Pandemic life is difficult.  If 45 had had any compassion for the average person needing a lifeline (rather than his self need to be in the spotlight) he would’ve strengthened the Post Office rather than gutting it.  Many people rely on it for the delivery of their medications.  For some of us it’s more a matter of awaiting some token of our preserved sanity.  As it is the tracking notice claimed I had items never received.  This may be a parable for the Trump Nightmare Administration after all.  Then, about two weeks after it had been officially delivered, my package arrived one day unannounced.  Parable indeed.


Welcome Home

It feels like we’ve got our country back.  I’m not talking about just Democrats, but all Americans.  The last wicked four years felt like a nightmare to millions.  May such evil never happen again.  Many thoughts are vying for attention in my head with the end of the Trump era.  We now have only our second Catholic president, following a heathen one (I fear this may insult heathens, my apologies if it does).  We have finally, after far too many years, have a female vice-president, having been robbed of our first female president by the electoral college four years ago.  Like many Americans, I came away from the inauguration yesterday with the feeling of relief that a person with human sympathies, who doesn’t pathologically rely on lies, is in the White House again.  Listening to the oath of office I wonder how 45’s hand didn’t burn off on the Bible four years ago.

The inauguration is, of course, a ceremony of civil religion.  The family Bible upon which President Biden (how right that feels!) placed his hand is an American institution.  Quite often families have had a particular Bible in which to keep family records and important data (in the days before the internet collected all that).  Not only that, but Biden was actually able to quote the Bible, and not from one of those verses everyone knows from overuse.  What a difference from the cynical, lackadaisical holding up of an unread Bible after teargassing non-violent protestors for a photo-op.  No matter what his detractors may say, Joe Biden actually is a Christian, something that cannot be said of the former incumbent by any meaningful use of the word.

On the night of January 19, Biden began the new administration with a moving candlelight vigil for the 400,000+ Americans who’ve died from Covid-19.  Until that moment, the White House did not care about them at all.  The program included a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s iconic “Hallelujah.”  Interestingly Cohen’s ambiguous line was altered to “I know there’s a God above,” for Americans of a certain stripe need that kind of reassurance.  Compassion.  This is one of the central messages the Bible offers.  We should care for and love one another.  It has been four years since Americans have heard that message.  The evil times through which we’ve suffered are not gone for good, but never has an inauguration been so sorely needed by a country that likes to think itself chosen.  At least we have our country back, no matter party or creed, and that is worth celebrating.


BLM, MLK, and Justice

Martin Luther King Jr. was a martyr.  The word martyr means “witness.”  Given what we’ve all seen done by the Republican Party over the past two weeks, let’s hope they at least know the meaning of the word repentance.  King died trying to set people free.  Half a century later we’ve had to witness a sitting US president praising an armed mob, some of whom were carrying confederate flags, storm the Capitol.  Then, that very night, we watched Republicans still attempt to repress legitimate votes in order to keep white supremacy in power.  The set-backs of the Trump administration will take years to overcome.  King stood for equality.  He called for fair treatment.  He knew his Bible.  Now those who cynically hold the Good Book up for the camera can’t quote it but can tear down everything it stands for.

We need Martin Luther King Day.  This year especially.  We need to be reminded that all people deserve fair treatment.  Justice isn’t a meaningless word.  The color of one’s skin is no indicator of inherent worth—that belongs to everybody.  Throughout the country there are heartfelt memorials to King.  The various Trump towers—often segregated and reserved for the wealthy—are monuments of a different sort.  There is power in symbols.  Those who praise and crave money above human need will ultimately be remembered for how evil seeped into their bones.  How hatred of others and narcissism defined their rotten moral core.  Today we try to focus on a good example, but present reality keeps getting in the way.

Four years ago I joined about 1.3 million marchers in Washington, DC.  The Women’s March, as estimated by government officials on the ground, was more than twice as large as the media estimates still tout.  I’ve puzzled over this for four years—why when an oppressed group makes a stand officials and pundits feel the need to downplay it.  King made a stand and he had a dream that one day we wouldn’t have to make marches on Washington just so that everyone could have the equal treatment they deserve.  Human rights are the only rights we have.  Even as some haters are planning further acts of violence to object to a humanitarian president, we are given a necessary reminder that all people deserve fair treatment.  Black lives do matter.  Why has half a century not been enough to assimilate that simple message?  We need to sober up from the drunkenness of irresponsible power.  We need to learn the simple fact that nobody should be killed for being black.  That whiteness is toxic.  That we need to call out those who would use privilege to claim otherwise.


Year Book

I have to confess that I’ve had trouble letting go of the holidays this year.  Actually, that’s kind of normal.  The let down from “sacred time” (however that may be understood) to “ordinary time” is often a rough transition.  Anthony Aveni discusses this, among other things, in his short study, The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays.  Not a deep history, but a thoughtful consideration of the seasons of our celebrations, the book informs and entertains.  There are surprisingly few books that cover the holidays, despite their centrality to modern life.  What person in business doesn’t look forward to the third quarter?  Who doesn’t anticipate a little time off work, punctuated throughout the year?  Aveni is one of the few general purpose books that you can go to for background on several seasonal holidays.

Aveni is somewhat of a polymath, being both an astronomer and an anthropologist.  He clearly has a special interest in first nations studies as well, as The Book of the Year occasionally dips into the rituals of Latin America.  A number of holiday traditions are explored here, leaving the reader wanting more.  I find the question of why we celebrate the way that we do a fascinating one.  Many of our customs have unexpected roots and many of them were transformed along the way by the church.  An unusually high number boast recent developments that we tend to think of as foundational to their essence.  The holidays as we grew up with them likely stay in our minds as the default way they should be.  Interestingly, bringing them into continuity with ancient customs reveals a steady evolution, mostly from sacred to commercial.

Since I wrote a book (unpublished) about the holidays several years ago (and have read a number of the same), I’ve always dug into books like this whenever I can find them.  Holidays are the heartbeat of the year.  Many of us look for something to help pace us in the reckless spinning vortex that we call capitalism.  Our lives are all interconnected, and the holidays also have subtle intricacies as well.  As they wind down, they tend to point both back to the previous red-letter day and forward to the next one.  Aveni doesn’t cover political holidays very much.  He does mention Martin Luther King Day, the next federally recognized day of rest.  As Aveni points out, the end of the Christmas season can stretch as far as Candlemas, so I guess we still have a few weeks to go before it’s all officially over, in sacred time.


It Happened on Epiphany

Photo credit: Martin Falbisoner, via Wikimedia Commons

Can you spell treason?  It does begin with the letters “T-R-.”  The events of yesterday made it difficult to sleep securely in “the land of the free” as thugs took over the capitol building in Washington, and even after that Republicans still contested the electoral votes from Pennsylvania, preferring a treasonous president to a democratically elected Joe Biden.  As all of this was playing out, Georgia gave control of the senate to the Democratic Party.  Like many Americans born in a democracy, I stared at the news aghast yesterday as Republicans, fully in the public eye, tried to dismantle the very system by which they themselves were elected and even went so far as to claim they were patriots for doing so.  They draw the evil courage to do this from their “Christian” faith.

Yesterday was Epiphany, a Christian holiday.  To see Republicans—claiming the name Christian—attempting to overturn democracy on that very day was sickening.  To my mind it will live on like 9/11 as one of the most dangerous days in US history.  When asked to get the crowds that he personally incited to disperse, Trump released a video on Twitter telling his followers that the election was stolen and fraudulent but they should go home.  Pouring gasoline on a fire he himself lit, sending both houses of congress into hiding, his snakes-in-the-grass continued to support the myth that Trump hadn’t been defeated.  When the smoke clears this American thinks it’s time to dust off laws about treason and start applying them again.

Congressional leaders, and the president, swear to uphold the Constitution—hand on the Bible.  In the most closely watched election in history, with no evidence of fraud, when the loser wouldn’t concede his party backed him.  The Republican party has been infected with evil, I fear.  Even after seeing the turmoil that their posturing caused, they tried to discount the votes from my state just to keep a very dangerous man in power.  Our democracy didn’t die yesterday.  It died four years ago.  Claiming the name “Christian” without ever reading the Bible or attending church or caring about their fellow human beings, the Republican party has gone down in infamy on the feast of Epiphany.  The electoral vote count by congress is a mere formality, and I, a native and resident of Pennsylvania, am outraged that anyone claiming the power of a democratically elected office—disputing the very process that gave them any influence at all—questions my right to vote.  Why hasn’t treason been invoked?  Four years under the influence of the Evil One has shown its effects, and it happened on Epiphany.


Manifest Duty

As slaves to Mammon our celebrations are frequently curtailed.  In agricultural culture, winter was a time when fields couldn’t be cultivated (at least in northern climes) and thus the twelve days of Christmas could be relaxed without much consequence.  The history of this holiday complex is fascinating, and while many of us have been back to work for a few days already, today, Epiphany, is the “official” end of the season.  Twelfth Night, in some traditions yesterday and in others today, was a day of celebration, the twelfth day of Christmas.  Ancient pre-Christmas holidays such as Saturnalia lasted several days.  Today’s business world frequently gives a Scrooge-like single day off and many of us spend our hard-earned vacation days to fill out the week that is inevitably slow at work otherwise.

In Christianity, until recent times, Epiphany was a bigger holiday than Christmas.  Of the two it was the original day for gift-giving,  That makes sense in the commemoration of the visit of the magi that Epiphany represents.  They were the first givers of Christmas gifts.  Since Jesus was Jewish the idea of a manifestation, or epiphany, to the gentiles became an important marker.  Magi are styled as Zoroastrians from Persia.  The story occurs only in the gospel of Matthew and clearly wasn’t intended to coincide with the arrival of shepherds and angels.  As the Epiphany story grew to include Christmas it also encompassed many of the shadowy events of Jesus’ early years.  His questioning of the teachers in the temple was a kind of epiphany, as was his baptism.  All these things came together during a fallow time and were sufficient reason to take it easy for twelve days between the end of December and the beginning of January.

Some of our employers have expressed surprise that things continue to run fairly smoothly with workers reporting remotely.  These same people also seem surprised that people come back from several days off refreshed.  I suspect that they are also astonished at how well their computers work after being rebooted.  Time off is sacred time.  Whether we dress it up with elaborate stories of kings, wise men, sages, or magicians traveling great distances to see a baby in a foreign nation or whether we make it the day when one cousin baptized another, Epiphany grew into a major feast in medieval times.  Today it’s just another work day.  And with it the end of another holiday season will need to last us until near the end of yet another year.


Comedic Horror

Spoofs can be a great way of preventing us from taking ourselves too seriously.  Extra Ordinary is a film I’d completely missed until my wife made a gift of it.  We weren’t quite sure if it was a horror film or a comedy, and genres aren’t always helpful here.  I would call it a spoof on possession movies, something of particular interest after writing Nightmares with the Bible.  Apart from being a bit of much-needed silliness after a terribly serious year, it’s also a demonstration of how genre can be helpful in knowing how to interpret what we see.  Not knowing anything about the film, it begins with the statement that it’s based on a true story.  There’s an interesting history behind that phrase, but when it comes with a spoof it only adds to the fun.

Extra Ordinary follows the adventures of Rose Dooley, a driving instructor who was raised by a ghost-hunting father.  Blaming herself for her father’s death, she’s taken on an anodyne career that she feels is safer.  A particularly desperate widower whose daughter is targeted by a hapless Satanist, brings her back to her true calling.  Although there are some horror-comedy scenes (that’s an entire sub-genre often eschewed by horror fans who don’t like to laugh at themselves) the witty dialogue and crude jokes make it fun rather than anything to be worried about.  Possession occurs in a specific way to move the plot along—Rose has to have a partner (the widower Martin Martin) accept possession by the ghost in order to send it to the beyond.  Although there are clever takeoffs from The Exorcist, the idea of possession is much different.

What is evil?  The film asks the question directly (if comedically).  Although washed-up rock star Christian Winter has become a Satanist, the demon in the film is Astaroth, a later development from the pre-biblical goddess Astarte.  As discussed in Nightmares with the Bible (for which this film could’ve been profitably discussed), there’s a confusion among demons.  (Beelzebub is also mentioned by name.)  The element that ties them together with the human condition is clearly sex.  The frantic search for a virgin, and the communal shaming of unwed mothers makes that obvious.  Although deliberately campy, Extra Ordinary answers the question of evil by noting that it is a person using their powers (magical, in this case) for their own benefit rather than for the good of others.  There is a moral to it, after all.  And if we can’t laugh about the human condition once in a while, we deserve to be spoofed.


Non-sacred Time

It’s difficult to say goodbye to the holiday season (although, according to its origins it’s not over yet!).  While the church still recognizes a couple more days until Epiphany—which until recent times was more important than Christmas—the secular “work world” is back to usual after New Year’s Day.  2021 started with a bonus, giving us a long weekend as well.  In any case, getting back to normal time is always a difficult transition.  For those of us who spent many years in academia, the holidays began about mid-December, and in my case, stretched fairly well into January.  Now, using a combination of vacation days and floating holidays, I’m able to set up a mini semester break of a couple of weeks.  Although I have trouble sleeping in, I was still able to spend the days with family and not worrying about business.

There is a difference in the quality of time off.  Some, I suspect, are eager to get back to work.  For me this first Monday back is difficult to face.  Some would argue that the difference in time quality is merely a subjective projection.  There is nothing scientifically changed from the last two weeks to the reality of the first Monday back.  This is one of those places where religion steps in as the more understanding boss (such instances are rare, so appreciate them while you can!).  Sacred time is taken very seriously by any number of religious traditions.  Even our beloved weekends have a basis in religious observance.  Holidays, even in a secular setting, are opportunities to recharge.  For me the spring semester was something I never dreaded.  We’ve allowed capitalism to take precedence over sacred time.

The problem with ordinary time is its mundanity.  Looking back, I’d been anticipating the holiday season with its time off for well over a month.  A full twelfth of the year.  To help with the transition, with my family I spent some weekend time cobbling together a personalized Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge.  Knowing I have good books in the future helps immensely, although I have much less time to read when work takes up much of my waking time.  Even that new start can’t be scientifically measured.  It’s something unique to human minds.  January begins with endings.  No matter how difficult 2020 may have been, at least it ended with a relaxing couple of weeks with family and no pressures to sit in front of a computer screen for over nine hours a day.  There will be more holidays ahead, and each one of them will be sacred time.


Impatience

It’s only human nature, I suppose.  We see our own circumstances and fail to appreciate how others have equally (or perhaps more) complexity to juggle.  I’m thinking ahead to work on Monday.  The week before the holiday break the most popular question posed to me in my work emails was, “Why haven’t I received my copies of X yet?”  It’s a fair question.  What it betrays, however, is a lack of comprehension of just how complicated a business publishing is.  I should be flattered that we make it look so easy!  To begin with, publishing, and printing, are nonessential businesses.  Most of them may be up and running at, at least partial capacity, but the flow of materials to printers didn’t stop just because a pandemic hit.  It simply did what backlogs always do—it piled up.

Publishers have very intricate and, for the most part, efficient operations.  If a blockage occurs at any point—even the end point—other things back up.  Have you ever seen a toilet overflow?  I have, and it’s not a pretty sight.  Add to that the fact that many academics, unable to travel or do their other privileged activities, decided to finish up their books and send them in early.  Everybody should be happy, right?  Have you ever overeaten?  The happiness lasts only until your brain catches up with what your body has done.  I can’t speak for all publishers, but this combination of more input of material than expected and the inability to *ahem* process it has stressed the system.  Schedules exist for a reason.

Covid-19 has affected everything.  And continues to do so.  As we live through this pandemic we find our coping mechanisms.  Once we reach a level of uneasy symbiosis with our situation we stop thinking about how others might be dealing with it.  I think of those who’ve been out of work for months now and who’ve been evicted from homes because of what the wealthy can call force majeure and hire lawyers to argue.  Indeed, the coronavirus outbreak is the very definition of force majeure and the response we all ought to have is compassion and kindness to one another.  It’s not easy to think of other people before meeting our own needs—it’s not human nature.  Species that learn cooperative, altruistic behavior, however, are those that thrive.  As we say goodbye to a year of willful government inaction—the Trump administration knew of the danger well before it hit, but doesn’t believe in science—let’s vow to do what our leaders won’t.  Show compassion.  Recovery will occur and let’s hope we come out of it better than we went in.  This seems a good mantra for the beginning of a new year.


Seeking Renewal

Now that many are breathing a sigh of relief that 2020 is finally over, I stop to ponder time.  Measuring time, although most forms of life do it in some way, is a human organizing principle.  Calendars were originally religio-agricultural devices.  In order to keep the crops on their seasonal cycles, the gods were invoked—there was nothing secular about their world.  It’s not known who invented holidays or even the concept of a new year, but it is clear that it was a fairly early idea.  Different cultures today still celebrate New Year’s Day at differing times of the year.  Having it a week after Christmas helps to make this a holiday season, but it is no guarantee that a sharp break in continuity will come after a bad year.

Lots of bad stuff happened in 2020, but clearly the circumstance that made it a “bad year” was the Covid-19 pandemic.  Here in the United States it became a full-blown crisis because of the cause of four years of ethical famine, Donald Trump.  Those who can see beyond their religio-politics know that he is a man who spent his entire career looking out for nobody but himself.  Such people do not work as public servants and are downright terrible in a crisis.  The pandemic quickly grew into a crisis and we spent nearly ten full months out of twelve isolating ourselves.  The other crises of the year (generally pointing fingers at Washington), such as the important resurgence of Black Lives Matter and the California wildfires, were exacerbated by the pandemic about which our government did nothing.  Lack of interest has led to death numbers that have become a Stalinistic statistic.

As much as we like to think nature bends to human plans—our calendars—we have no idea what 2021 might hold.  We’re left with a country that has been neglected for four years.  Our Republican-controlled senate can’t even agree to provide any kind of relief to average people without adding riders and conditions to make our situation even worse.  Still, I’m optimistic.  New Year’s, whenever it is, marks change.  I’ve been noticing for over a week now that the sun is rising earlier than it had been as we descended into December.  The light is beginning to return.  While we can expect nothing good from the White House for twenty more days, we can look beyond that and know that change is on the way.  The division of time may be an artificial construct, but it can, if we allow it, become a sign of hope.