Writing on New Year's Day, I am conscious of old things passing away and new beginnings. Today, for example, I am filled with new year's resolutions and the determination to keep them, even though I don't have a stellar track record in this regard. Still, January 1st marks the dividing line between old failures and possible successes, and for today, at least, I will focus on the new self I aspire to become.
For me, a symbol of what could be a new world order is the party that is in progress in our family home. After the success of our Christmas Day luncheon for my 95 year old mother's Filipina caregiver and her friends, my sister, Anne, and I invited Jenny to host a New Year's Day party for her community while we would have a "picnic" at the retreat center where I am staying. In this way, our presence wouldn't interfere with their enjoyment of the day and they would be free to speak their own language.
For those of us who have had the privilege of growing up in the First World, it is hard to imagine what life is like in a country in which a quarter of the 105 million population lives in poverty, with more than nineteen million living on about $1.25 per day; nor can we ever fully comprehend what it is like to have to leave one's country simply to support family back home. Sadly, many Filipinos end up at the mercy of unscrupulous employers, often overworked, underpaid and even abused; at the same time, however, they support each other, finding comfort in their close-knit community and in gatherings such as the New Year's Day party happening in our dining room.
On this first day of the year, let us look beyond the outward trappings of the Christmas season with all its glitter and commercialism and focus instead on core values of kindness, generosity and gratitude. Let us remember all those who, like my mother's caregivers, serve so lovingly despite their own hardships. Only then can a new world order be born.
Blessings for 2020!
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.
What happens to us when we cease to be star gazers, or, worse still, when we imagine there are no stars worth following? What happens when we gaze at the heavens and see nothing but darkness or when we are convinced that what lies ahead holds no joy, no beauty, no purpose? I believe that a life without a star to follow is a life without meaning -- that we cease to live and merely exist instead. Not only do we descend into hopelessness, despair and self-loathing, but we also cease to reach out to others except in a way that can only be called "parasitic" -- in other words, unable to find joy in our own lives, we drain energy from those around us by constantly complaining and sharing our misery with them. At first, well-wishing friends and relatives may be sympathetic, but over time, they "have enough" and are no longer willing to listen. This, in turn, means that the person who is starless is now isolated, even alienated, and, definitely more despondent.
This week, while looking for a quiet spot to get some work done, I encountered a stranger who no longer followed a star. She was sitting alone in a dark conference room, cradling a cup of tea; I only noticed her when I switched on the lights and was startled by her presence. As soon as I had introduced myself, she began sharing a litany of physical ailments ranging from cancers to heart attacks, from diabetes to joint replacements; then the topic switched to the difficulties of her living arrangements, the relatives who longer spoke to her and the foulness of the weather. Gathering up my books, I left the room and searched for another spot.
I am not proud of my reaction. In retrospect, perhaps I could have listened longer, expressed more sympathy or left her with some message of hope. Instead, I fled. The darkness that enveloped this woman was palpable and nothing I said seemed to make a difference. As I left the room, she asked me to turn off the lights. All I knew was that I was not going to join her in the darkness....
In life, there are those who follow stars and those who allow their stars to die. In some cases, the death of a star has to do with the events that befall us -- tragedies, major losses and disappointments, unexpected setbacks, "bad luck" ... Even when life presents challenges, however, we are still surrounded by stars -- those celestial lights which beckon us towards Bethlehem and all that it represents. To be star gazers and star followers, we need to be resilient. We need to believe that every star leads to somewhere of consequence, and that every star has the power to illumine the darkness, no matter how pervasive it happens to be. We need to trust that just as the Star of Bethlehem beckoned the Magi, so there is a star that beckons each of us, calling us out of dullness, mediocrity and routine, guiding us to the Holy One through whom all creation will be transformed.