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David Cox | Out of winter

Rarely have I known a year to pass that everyone was happy to see go by. Anno Domini 2008 leaves the reputation of being really, truly bad. It’s the economy — I won’t say “stupid” because we’re not that dumb to miss it. But also, the end of an administration which by now for most people cannot come soon enough; wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (though the latter seems to be improving); terror in India and, now, an exploding Gaza. ’Tis truly the winter of our discontent.

What a great time to be alive!

I mean that sincerely. For one thing, the darkness of the prevailing mood parallels the darkness of this time of year. But religious folk long ago placed key holy days at this very time, all with an emphasis not on gloom, but on light: Think of the Hanukkah menorah, or the lights of the Christmas tree, and, by extension, the lights in windows of homes throughout our community on the longest night of the year. Just yesterday, many Christians celebrated the Epiphany, remembering when wise men from the East found the baby Jesus—and did so by following the light of a star. In other words, in this darkest moment, humanity looks to, and rejoices, in light itself, and all that light betokens. As a gospel-writer declared, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Now, then, is the time for that basic human yearning that we call “hope.”

Moreover, even though they occurred in that awful year now ended, events give genuine reason to hope. Supremely, the election of Barack Obama has roused hope throughout the world. Many of the students I taught last term chose to write of their hopefulness, even though most of them supported someone else for election in November. Indeed, I’ve seen it with every new presidency: for all our political divisiveness, still we hold high hopes for whomever becomes our new President.

There is still more. The economic worst may possibly be over: not entirely, of course, and surely not for those who face foreclosed homes or failed businesses, or the aftermath of either. But some important lessons have been relearned: that as essential as daily bread may be, “one does not live by bread alone” especially if bread is defined as a whopping stock portfolio. That, while capitalism remains the best economic system we mortals know of, untrammeled capitalism can be as harmful as any other: power corrupts, and hubris does it every time. That, for all the individual freedoms we prize, we all still need community. And that government, while far from the solution to every problem, still can play a constructive role in society — so we had better make darned sure it is honest, effective, efficient, and practical.

Of course, times remain genuinely tough for many an individual, family, business, nonprofit, church, government. The wars continue. So do foreclosures. Time is short before President Obama disappoints someone, as he surely will. Let’s be honest: We are no more out of this mess than we are basking in the sunny warmth of summer.

But both are coming: From that basis of hope, we can then move forward in confidence that this winter of our discontent shall soon pass, and, in the labors of our people, we shall be better for it; and you and I are part of bringing this to be.

What a great time to be alive!


– Column by David Cox