Meaning in the Darkness
For some people, the story of Christmas brings light to the darkness of winter. The reminder of a savior, born in the most humble circumstance -- whose sacrifice would, forty years later, save all mankind from our sins -- is an inspiration to generosity and a source of wonder. For me, it hasn't been that for quite some time.
I don't have any particular problem with other people using the Christ-story to build a holiday which is wonderful for them, but it's not the right thing for me. The innocent child, the prince of peace, lying in a manger has never reduced me to tears -- the story feels a bit, to me, like arbitrary words which translate to "Now it is Christmas; be happy!" And yes, Christmas is a happy time. But I'm not sure I feel it as a meaningful time...
The Secular Solstice was different. It was missing the familiarity built on years of repetition, and the community of people coming-together-once-more (though I recognized many more people there than I expected I would, which was wonderful...). If you've been following along at all, you'll realize that these are nontrivial aspects of a holiday. But Ray told a story -- in one of the darker parts of the evening -- of a world where humans were alone on this rock. Where there was no one to make sure that the world treated us fairly, and no guard rails to stop us from accidentally tripping and falling and scraping our leg and contracting gangrene and dying.
I wanted to post an extract from the speech, but I couldn't pick just one. The orignal words from which Ray abridged the speech are here.
That story marked the darkest point of the evening, but it didn't really get appreciably lighter until after more stories, and a song about overcoming winter. And gradually, the lights came up. And there were more songs, and an essay written by Carl Sagan about just how small our world really is (original version here). And then we went our separate ways.
The evening left me with an intense appreciation for the strength of human determination, a sense of awe for how far our species has come thus far, and an inspiring hope for what we might achieve in centuries to come. It was just about the perfect thing for the middle of winter.
Next year (I'm at least 80% confident that Ray has already started thinking about the 2014 solstice), It'll be even bigger. It's different to imagine how, but it'll probably be better, too. So if you're at all intrigued by the idea, I'd strongly suggest joining me in New York on the weekend of the 13th of December, 2014. (More details forthcoming eventually...) At the least, I'll be dragging my family along, but having more friends there will make it all the better.
And with that, happy winter, however you celebrate. Good job on making it this far, and remember that while the nights are still getting colder, the days are getting longer.