The world is gloomy. We are in a crazy-making no-win situation in the Middle East. We still have 30,000 nuclear missiles in the world’s arsenals, when less than a dozen are enough to blow our home planet Earth and every living thing to smithereens. We are pushed to use new electronics in previously simple machines. Everything comes with a sizeable instruction book to make myriad features work, yet we struggle to figure out how to connect with an actual human being in a simple phone call. We now live long enough to experience breakdowns in our bodies and our independence slipping away bit by bit as we lose the ability to take care of ourselves.
This hopeless muddle has been my sorry frame of mind while thinking about writing a New Year’s column. Because I felt far from ready for a fresh year’s start in a weary world, I watched DVD movies instead. One, a documentary, “Nobelity,” features nine Nobel prize winners discussing all aspects of our world, from economics, environmental issues, physics, nuclear threats, and population explosions to hope and love and astonishing actions to save our planet and our peoples. One such action involves children planting 30 million trees in Kenya through many years to reforest lands that were devastated by development. The trees rise majestically, transforming carbon dioxide to oxygen, enriching soil, providing cover for animals, reversing damage, and bringing hope. I began to hope, too.
The other film, “Joyeux Noel,” is based on actual events. It is set in the wartime trenches of Europe in 1914, where enemy forces are separated by a space of “no-man’s land” that seems not much bigger than a football field. On Christmas Eve, a tenor in the German Army sings into the clear night air a beautiful Silent Night. His tune is caught on the other side by a Scottish bagpipe player and the pipes accompany the tenor, who, surprised, picks up a small Christmas tree on the German fortress and sings his way into no-man’s land. This simple act leads to a meeting of all the German, Scot, and French soldiers, who drink, laugh together, and share family pictures and stories, collaboratively bury their dead, and worship at a spontaneous Christmas mass. Soon there is no way anyone will shoot to kill anyone else. Commanders on all sides are rattled because such fraternization ruins their local war and threatens the larger war.
Both films are a powerful reminder that ordinary people can make a difference.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Jody Williams, who has led the campaign against land mines and war, says that one person can change the world by getting off “your butt” and doing something. Anything.
Desmond Tutu, another Peace Prize winner, says to adopt the attitude that we are all connected, all family. Who can drop bombs on family? he asks.
Sir Joseph Rotblat, once involved in nuclear technology and another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, offers steps to disarmament with a goal to a truly safer world.
Wangari Maathai, also a Nobel Peace prizewinner and founder of the Green Belt movement in Kenya, reminds us of the need for patience, commitment, and persistence.
One person can and does make a difference. Think about what you have already done. If you have come out to one other person, you have educated that person, you have given him or her something to think about and pass on. You have undoubtedly done much more. I know some of you who work hard to heal others, to organize events that matter to someone, to persevere in seeking civil and human rights for our community members and for others. Every single one of us makes a difference.
My resolutions this year have nothing to do with losing weight or taking more exercise or even eating better, though these all are good resolutions. Mine are simple acts to which I can commit and follow through. If you wish, you are free to borrow them and remind others that there are humans who care about other human beings.
I resolve to smile at someone every day and greet people with a cheerful voice or a friendly nod. I particularly want to smile at strangers I meet along the way, especially those who look gloomy.
I resolve to really look at people I normally give only a glance because I’m embarrassed or a little afraid. I’m talking about street people who look scruffy or those who seem threatening. I may not be able to help financially, but I can give another human the dignity of attention—and myself a different perspective and attitude.
I resolve to keep helping people improve their lives. I seem to have a talent for listening with compassion and making it easier for people to sort out problems in their lives. I shall continue to do so.
I resolve to keep filling my self with love by simple acts. Listening to music, singing, dancing a happy jig, giving an anthropomorphic voice to plants, animals, and objects in a silly duet my son and I have done since his childhood, or enjoying a foot rub from my loving partner, who enjoys my daily devotion to him. I shall look for opportunities to nurture my soul and keep myself fit for the challenge of making the world better.
So be it in this brand new year.
©2006 Kay Mehl Miller. Kay is the author of Talking It Over: Understanding