We live in strange and disturbing times.
This is what happened to us on Sunday, the 13th of December.
We live in a small New England town of about four thousand people. Yesterday we joined perhaps two hundred of our fellow citizens for a concert at a local church. The big pull was to hear a Christmas Oratorio at three in the afternoon. There would also be, on the program, a selection of music played by our local bell choir.
The church filled gradually with the usual long-time-no-see greetings between friends and neighbors. The pastor greeted us and we were off.
We heard a Baroque selection first. The orchestra was comprised of music students largely from a nearby college with a few local technicians filling in. The chorus behind them was partly from the same college, but also filled by local basses and tenors, sopranos and altos. The soloists were all college music majors. Our local prime musician played the harpsichord, as well as the organ and piano.
The man behind the performance was new to most of us, a musician of many years’ experience, wreathed in curly white hair, jacket off, baton held firmly.
After the opening, we were invited to stand and sing a Christmas carol. We did. It raised our temperatures and spirits and expectations. We sang later a second carol and finally a third, in front of and after the bell choir. A lovely young woman, who also played the violin in the greater ensemble, regaled us with bel canto which was thrilling.
The oratorio itself, by Camille Saint-Saens, was very good indeed. The soloists, all college students, were uniformly impressive.
Cutting to the chase, the afternoon was a grand success and sent us home feeling not only seasonal but hopeful as well.
Later, we crawled into our bed to watch “Homeland” on Showtime, a program we had only come to recently. No spoiler alert here, but to say that by the end of that hour, we were terrified.
Granted, “Homeland” is fictional, a series based on what has happened and what might happen in the MidEast and in Europe, not to mention at Langley and in D.C. No one knows better than another writer how lines are crossed, how imagery and speech coalesce to carry a message, how truthful the scenario might come to be in the time that approaches all theatres of war.
We were enthralled – a nice word, as opposed to scared stiff. We were also convinced that what had been imaginatively portrayed as make-believe could in fact some day be real. Sleep was impossible. The actors, the writing, the actions we witnessed were so convincing we could not put them from our minds. We stayed up answering our own questions about probability, about obvious holes in the plan, about the horror of seeing and the real terror of imagining. The awfulness of what we had been shown paled in comparison to the terror we felt in thinking ourselves caught in Germany with the thousands of putative victims of “Homeland’s” terrorism.
The two completely idiosyncratic experiences are with us still. From the first, good cheer and hope for the coming year. From the second, absolute certainly that ISIS cared more about killing than we did about not being killed.
We did not feel alone. We imagine our friends and neighbors, millions of Americans we do not know, are torn daily between the hills of hopeful destinies and the depths of despair at war.
Yet we are most certainly alone, each of us, in silence, in confusion, in anger and joy. We do have hope. We witness the never-ending political debates because we do, because we care what kind of man or woman is going to lead us (united, we hope) into the future but mindful of our nation’s glorious past. We care how we are perceived by others, by the world. We care about helping the world find its ways to lives like our own: free to feel, to think, to act for the benefit of our family, our country, the world at large.
But fear dogs our steps. We cannot know how much of it is real or how much imagined. There is too much we do not understand about other people, their customs and countries. And we fear we don’t, or won’t, have time to learn. Our would-be leaders are of no assistance here. They know no more than we do, no matter what they say or promise.
If as theoreticians hold, the world was once mostly land and broke apart into continents and islands only after millions of years, we find ourselves watching without the first sensation of control as those continents and islands break apart even more sharply, leaving too many of them in mid-ocean, rudderless, prey to winds, currents, and climates we both disdain and deify.
Push/pull. Approach/avoid. Breathe freely/choke.
This is not fun!
And for the New Year? Reason versus madness.
In the same way we all used to say, in down moments, Well, I can always get a job, now we find we cannot. Surely “they” will come to their senses: now we find they may not. Next year will certainly be better. Not so.
2016 is a dark room through which we hope to pass unmolested.
God Bless Us Every One.