Life, Death, and Their Unveiling at Christmas

Christmas rips open facades.  It uncovers what lies beneath.  Wheat and weeds grow together.  Cold and hot water are gushing from the same spring.  Joy and suffering bring the same tears.

Those that have eyes that see and ears to hear are caught in the complexity of life and death.  Both life and death are inseparable when you look closely enough.  Both grief and laughter depend on one another when you listen attentively enough.

My friend Emily feels this pull when she says “I nurse my peaceful baby and read of other children orphaned and undoubtedly disoriented and terrified.”  My sister Naomi laments the struggle of celebrating her birthday when our mother has recently passed asking “how can one celebrate the day of their birth when the person who gave them life is just gone?”  My friend Dan rightly recognizes the pain that is is felt during this time of year: “For a lot of people, Christmas is a reminder of the family they don’t have (and maybe never had) a reminder of the ways in which they are unable to provide for children that they hardly (if ever) see, and a reminder that a great deal of peace and joy are absent from their lives. A lot of people relapse during this season. A lot of people commit suicide.”

Our Christmas tradition has been buying my dad a nature documentary and then letting it play for the day while the busyness of Christmas happens around us.  Nature documentaries have always grounded me.  Reminding me of the way that life and death are wrapped inseparably with one another.  One animal’s life is completely dependent on another’s death.  An ecosystem is only healthy when death and life strike a healthy balance.

There is something about being human that makes us want to escape this cycle.  We can watch it unfold in front of our eyes.  We can conceptualize pain.  It’s a shared trait to want to avoid suffering and death.  What horror it is to want to avoid something you also know is unavoidable or to long for something you know will never come. This is the curse of  humanity.  We know we are naked.  We know we are alone.  We know time is irreversible.

Someone asked why Elon Musk doesn’t put his focus on curing cancer.  He said that if we got rid of cancer we’d only extend the life expectancy rate by a few years.  He was more interested in getting us on another planet in case anything happened to the earth so that we could actually save humanity as a species.  How does one look at the world so large when a person in front of you is suffering?

They say that capitalism actually reduces violence, promotes social values and has brought more people out of poverty than any other system.  It took twenty minutes to get into the Wal Mart parking lot.  There is 13.5 million Syrians that are being deeply affected by power and greed that capitalism makes possible.  One of Israel’s primary exports are weapons. Shareholders love Christmas because of how much money they make.  Others say that the inequality that is rampant is because of capitalism and will eventually leave to catastrophes, especially environmental ones.  While some are playing with billions of dollars, others are voting in Trump because they see him as a savior to restoring their meager jobs.

The smiles on kids faces opening gifts are as real as the tears in a refugee’s eyes watching their parents die.  These things are connected more than we want to know.

I once met a twin in an incubator who was born so premature that her mother couldn’t hold her for weeks.  Her sister had died at birth.  The parents were struck with the burden of joyful celebration of life while simultaneously grieving a horrible death.  How does one navigate such a dichotomy?

My goal for Christmas has been to try and learn gratefulness and joy in my subjective experiences while simultaneously staying close to the experiences of others.  If anything, this is what makes us human.  Grieving the loss of one while rejoicing in the life of another. Lamenting pain while observing seeing ecstasy. Only when we can do this at the same time, will we ever see the connections that are underlying the differences and be able to see and hear each other. Can we be grateful for life while being complicit in death?

Maybe peace comes by the refusal to ignore anything at all.  Both life and death can be held close to our hearts.  Maybe peace can come in the midst of grief and sadness.  We must figure out a way of seeing both.

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