Happy New Year (I Hope It’s Not Too Late)

It’s deep winter, a new year, and I’d like to leave you something warm.

I was going to pound out some diatribe about political correctness. About how kindness is not censorship, about how being conscientious is not the same as being cowardly, about the validity of social justice.

And, in fact, I did. But we’re going to save that for another day.

Right now it seems cold enough for just a hug.

Structural violence means the folks in Flint, Michigan, have been poisoned by their own water. Some loud man with unique hair has suggested we create camps for people who have differing religious views than he does. Another structure, another violence, all cold politics now, presidential races heating up, generational gaps getting wider. Ideas changing, and we’re all crawling along that moral arc of the universe we’ve heard so much about. 

And we know we’ve been here before, and we know we’ll be here again. New trauma, new tragedy, new victory, and out of all that, always new politics, somehow one step behind the rest of us. With the power to strengthen or divide but always waiting, maybe, to hear what we have to say.

What I want to say is this: as far apart as we seem (and sometimes it certainly seems that way), we’re also very close. Genetically, we are 99.9 % the same. We resemble each other to a tee.

This debate about political correctness that never seems to go away is sort of analogous to the cooperation we experience every day, between our own hearts and our own brains.

(Starting now, this is not a political metaphor. More analogous to the poor chap who sticks his foot down his throat, which is all of us, every day. This is where the hug begins).

Sometimes, you know, the heart spews heinous glop, because it has to. Good for pumping blood, after all, like that’s all it’s good for, even though sometimes our very best hearts can sing.

Other times, it needs the brain to tell it to shut up.

Love is like hate, or resentment: all loud, maddening immediacy, explosive feelings that need a language before they deafen us.

And sometimes that brain needs some of that blood, because love can’t be quantified. It tears and gnaws and aches in endless loops and impossible depths. Love is like hate, or resentment: all loud, maddening immediacy, explosive feelings that need a language before they deafen us.

That language is at its sharpest, at its best, when it is thoughtful, but urgent. Honest, but careful. Precise. Not cautious, but compassionate. Full of heat, but articulate.

Considerate, like it remembers others, because when we consider others as ourselves, we know we are the same. We should appreciate their slips, also try not to slip ourselves. We don’t need more pain, and as a rule of thumb, we should do our best to minimize it. Across the board.

This prejudice against pain is one of our best commonalities. Others include the happiness we feel when we smile. The burning anticipation we have for those we love. Less pretty things, too: our selfish ambitions, our moments of weakness. Our cowardice and our fear. We share all that, one happy, screwed-up family. Because we are broad, we are complex, and we’ll never be so close as those brief moments when we recognize the beautiful bredth of that circumference. There is this place where we meet in the middle, where our hearts and our minds sing together. The warm nucleus of the human experience we all huddle around.

What can’t be lost is this: just because you have a brain doesn’t mean that what you say is smart.

Just because you have a heart doesn’t mean that you are kind.

And just because you’ve been smart, or been kind, doesn’t mean you are both or either all the time.

Chances are, you’re a lot like me, and I’m a lot like you: smart, but not. Kind, but awful, and the point of this whole conversation, I think, is to elevate ourselves to something better.

Because we can. Because we’re a miracle, the human miracle, born from God or nature or some unfathomable mystery we can’t wrap our small, broken, clay, resilient minds around.

The specifics of that mystery are personal and maybe not as important as the fact that most of us have contemplated it, most will continue to, and ultimately the whys matter less than the hows. How we’ll navigate the future. Hopefully we’ll do it together.

So let’s proceed on the presumption of our sameness. Let’s enjoy ourselves, enjoy each other, enjoy the new year.

Another chance, after all. To start again. Born from the cold as another person, if you want.

Just don’t forget what made the person you were last year good to begin with.

Because sometimes the things you believe are shortcomings or scars actually twinkle like pretty lights in the dark.

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