It is hard to believe that another year has passed. So much has happened during this past year. Our world continues to be challenged by the on-going threats of terrorism and violence. Thousands of families continue to mourn, thousands of children are parentless. As a nation, we are moving forward. Hopefully with a cautious reserve, to work more aggressively toward peaceful alternatives in the Middle East.
As the New Year begins, there is a profound awareness that we need to live and act differently.
Unfortunately, bias crimes are up. Teenage violence is escalating. The use of designer drugs is escalating in all quarters of communities among all ages. Abuse, scandal and corruption have racked the heart of many religious communities across the country. The voiceless continue to cry out and have their voices fall on deaf ears. The bureaucracy continues to be more focused on procedure and regulation rather than on empowering people to freedom and self-reliance.
The President's "Faith Based" initiative to support religious groups doing charitable and human service work is potentially a dangerous and misguided effort to excuse the federal government and local communities from shouldering responsibility for the genuine poor and needy among us.
However, in spite of that landscape, as the New Year begins there is so much to be grateful for, so much to hope for and still so much that needs to be changed and/or improved.
Each holiday season I am amazed at the depth of people's generosity, from the ever growing outreach of Charlie Russo's Christmas Magic, that started as a family's expression of Christmas and grew to a program that touches thousands of little children around Suffolk County to our local churches and temples with their outreaches to our schools and colleges pitching in to touch people in need. This year has been especially touching. The many hands and hearts that come together are breathtaking and at times overwhelming. I only wish we could bottle that spirit of generosity and tap into it throughout the year.
People genuinely give of their treasure, even though these are difficult economic times. Equally impressive are the growing number of people stepping forward to give of their time and talent. So many charitable efforts are effective and successful because of the generosity of people's personal human gifts that cannot be assigned a price tag.
This year I have seen firsthand the exceptional generosity of some local physicians and dentists who went the distance and then some. Also, a growing list of retired teachers making a profound difference, giving their time regularly to work with some very hard to reach young men and women.
Each New Year, we all begin with a resolution that we hope to keep. Being who we are, by day two or three, we have broken the resolution or even forgotten what we have promised to do differently.
As I was thinking about this New Year, a few things came to mind. I have become very sensitive to the lack of tolerance and respect for those among us who are different, whether it's because of color, religion, sexual orientation or economic status. In many quarters, the intolerance is not overt, but rather very subtle. This is oftentimes much more infectious. Every semester in my sociology class at Suffolk Community College, my students share horrific stories of hate, discrimination and blatant prejudice.
So my first recommendation is that we work harder at respecting all people, no matter what their race, color, creed, religion or sexual orientation. Respect costs nothing. It shapes everything. There is no need to gossip or speak disrespectfully to anyone. People in public service (including religious people) need to be more respectful. Those in need of those services need to be more respectful. Respect should be freely given without condition or judgment.
We all have to work harder at being less judgmental of the human circumstances and situations that we don't understand. We should never judge a book by its' cover. We should never judge another by the color of one's skin, the clothes one wears, the piercings or tattoos one has or the lifestyle one embraces. If we judge less and respect more, the violence that is infecting our communities will be substantially reduced.
My second recommendation is that we need to work on patience. We always seem to be in a hurry to get to no place fast. In our racing, we sometimes fail to appreciate the richness around us. We miss so much. Our technology and active lives are cheating us of so many significant connections with people. Some of us are missing out on some important moments with our children. Others are missing opportunities to strengthen relationships with friends and loved ones. The possibility for new connections, new opportunities and new friendships gets lost in the race to do everything yesterday. We all need to slow down and smell the flowers before they die.
My last recommendation is that we all need to work harder at giving of our substance and not of our excess and to be a people of gratitude. There is not a charity alive that would not accept a material donation, big or small, but this recommendation is not about giving materially. Americans are known for their material generosity. We all could work harder at sharing our talents more creatively and courageously.
It is clear to me that the government is never going to get the formula right. It will continue to set people up for failure and enable people to be dependent on social welfare rather than enabling them to be more self-reliant. Welfare reform was supposed to transform or at least positively reconfigure the social landscape for the poor. The poor are voiceless. We need to be their voice.
We have so much abundance. This Christmas, thanks to a little guy, I realized that we need to be more grateful. At the 4 o'clock Christmas Eve service I had the privilege to preside at, over a thousand people gathered, most were under ten. During the reflection I asked for some of the little people to gather around the manger and help with the Christmas message. One of the questions I asked was "what are you grateful for?" At that age, children are not bashful. They said everything and anything and it was wonderful.
One last voice wanted to be heard. J had on a beautiful blue velvet suit and a new bow tie. He was about five or six. He had a baldhead, big blue eyes and a contagious smile. When I called on him, he jumped up and said "life."
What I did not know then that I know now, is that J wasn't supposed to be with us this Christmas. He is battling a rare form of leukemia. He has defied medical science and he knows it. He is here, strong and vibrant.
His story and that contagious smile just put everything into perspective. We need to be grateful, especially to the people that bless our lives in big and small ways every day. We need to tell them. Now!
We know that life is not the same. We have been painfully reminded that we are all vulnerable and not invincible. All life is sacred, but temporary. We will not live forever. Thus, whatever we can do to make life better, we need to do it now. We may never pass this way again.
So as the New Year unfolds, think about it, pray about it and act positively! Realize that you can make a difference that counts. Happy New Year!