Good Cheer Platform 2023

Amy L. Miller, MSW, Interim Director

We had a program recently about Aging and Death in which a member mentioned life as being composed of seasons. I’ve been thinking about that a lot in the context of our human life cycle. When a person is safe, fed, and housed, they are free to traverse the seasons of life and explore the richness of each. This is my hope for each of us today and every day. So on this day, nearing the shortest and darkest day of the year, in what one might argue is a dark time for humanity, let us find inspiration in the hope for a light-filled future.  

The Spring season is well-represented in our children, who remind us of the freshness of youth. Anything is possible in spring. The first fragile flower buds push through, and if nurtured well, begin to grow. Our children, in the spring of their lives, are potential personified. There is an innocence and a simple beauty to Spring. Our children signify the hopes we have for a kinder and more just future for all.  

Warming into Summer, our early adulthood is sometimes a little too hot and a little too wild, to where there is comfort and relief in the slide into the Autumnal season. Autumn is confident. Knows itself. Autumn is here for the transitional beauty it embodies, but is mindful of its role of ushering out the heat of summer in preparation for the coming cold. There can be fear in the coming winter, or curiosity. 

I remember a poem I wrote when I was a late teen when I actually didn‘t know what I was talking about there in the spring of my life, but certainly thought I did. I wrote about the trees in the fall. I only remember these lines,  

The limbs twist and wave in the way of an arthritic old man  
Who knows he has just seen his last fall into winter transition  
And hopes it will not be a cold one.

We all wish for a not-terribly cold winter. The winter of life is the epic conclusion. It’s the shuttering down. The quieting. It’s a reflection of a seasons past.  

But winter is also the time for rebirth and renewal. The shortest days of the year that give way to lengthening days in preparation for another spring. We don’t know what happens after this earthly life, but that mystery is part of the beauty of it.   

Regardless of where you are in the season of your individual life, we are together in the midst of a tumultuous world where the greatest gift we can offer one another is the glow of our warmth. Peace on earth seems an impossible dream, but even while that is true, we can co-create a peaceful microcosm amongst ourselves.  

Here at the Ethical Society of St Louis, we do not rely on outside sources to tell us who we are, what to think, or how to be. I read something from former Christian pastor Jim Palmer recently that I’d like to share as a meditation to bring with you into the new year:

Many religions teach that human beings are born sinners and need to be saved to be good. Consider the possibility that this view abdicates personal responsibility. First, it implies that our misdeeds in the world are inevitable because they are a product of our flawed condition. Secondly, it puts the onus on an outside savior to fix it. 

Here’s an alternative mindset: 

  1. I was born a human being. 
  2. I have the capacity to be an instrument of goodness or corruption in the world. 
  3. I am responsible for my actions and their consequences. 
  4. My life experiences have wounded me in ways that contribute to the harmful things I do in the world. 
  5. I can take responsibility for who I am being in the world by addressing the root cause of my destructive and harmful mindsets and actions. 
  6. I am not perfect and never will be, but I can make a determined effort each day to tend to my liberation and wholeness. 
  7. I may face times or situations when I need help, and I will seek the help I need. 
  8. Even on the best days I will stumble and see ways I messed up, but I will offer acceptance, patience and compassion to myself, knowing that self-love and not self-condemnation will aid my growth and wholeness. 
  9. I accept that all human beings are in the same boat I’m in, and I will be ready to offer compassion to others in their challenges and struggles to be the best human being they can be.

The winter solstice reminds us of hope and light and joy as we enjoy the lengthening of days. It reminds us that these relationships between us, the ropes that tether us to one another and to life, and the ways we treat each other are the cornerstones of human relationships. We are all in the same boat. As such, we have a responsibility to each other to ensure safe passage. No one is safe unless everyone is safe.  

With any luck, we will all come to the winter season of our own lives with a sense of purpose and satisfaction for having lived in accordance with our values and in service of the light within each of us.  

I’d like to close with a poem called “The Shortest Day” by Susan Cooper.

THE SHORTEST DAY BY SUSAN COOPER  

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world 
Came people singing, dancing, 
To drive the dark away. 
They lighted candles in the winter trees; 
They hung their homes with evergreen; 
They burned beseeching fires all night long 
To keep the year alive, 
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake 
They shouted, reveling. 
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them 
Echoing behind us—Listen!! 
All the long echoes sing the same delight, 
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land: 
They carol, feast, give thanks, 
And dearly love their friends, 
And hope for peace. 
And so do we, here, now, 
This year and every year. 
Welcome Yule!