Here at the blessed end of 2008, one of the most difficult years in living memory, we must all be looking to the new year with a mixture of dread at what else might lie ahead and hope for a return to peace and prosperity.
While 1968, a year of war, riots, and assassinations that coincided with a number of personal crises in my own young life, still ranks as the worst year in modern American history in my experience, 2008 is right down there near the bottom.
Yes, 2008 saw a historic presidential election, but it also saw unceasing wars abroad, escalating terror threats, the sudden credit crisis, and, in its wake, the collapse of financial markets, record unemployment, dwindling government resources and falling prices – welcome in the short term, but possibly signaling catastrophic deflation and depression to come.
Looming on the horizon are also the prospect of war with Iran, serious questions about the security of our electric and telecommunications infrastructures, and the largely ignored problem of global warming. It’s one thing for the polar ice cap to melt, quite another for the tundra to thaw, releasing frozen centuries of sequestered CO2 into the atmosphere.
Being both skeptical and pessimistic by nature (oh, you noticed?), I don’t look for quick resolutions to any of these problems, but I do believe we can get through the perfect storm of political, economic, and environmental calamity – if people of good will band together.
Here in Maine, we are used to bad things happening to us, remote, malevolent forces impacting the simple, blameless lives we seek to lead in this harsh, beautiful landscape. In the near future, we should be prepared for an influx of people fleeing here to escape the violence, crime, poverty, pollution and congestion where they now live, whether it be the Middle East or the Mid-Atlantic States. We must be prepared to welcome and care or them as we care for each other. Government is not going to be able to do so.
At night, when I stand out on my back porch, I look first up into the heavens at the celestial array of distant stars and planets twinkling above, indifferent to all that is human. I then look out into the snowy woods, where deer shiver in their yards and turkeys roost unseen in the branches. Most nights, I see a light in the forest, a steady point of light that at first might be taken for a fallen star. I know it is just the porch light of a neighbor on the far side of the woods, but for reasons I cannot quite explain, it makes me feel hopeful. I hear the same unseen neighbor’s hounds hollowing at the coyotes yipping and crying over a fresh kill, and, though I am surrounded by family and friends, I feel somehow less alone.
As we face an uncertain future, one thing is certain. We are going to have to live with less. And that is a good thing, both for the environment and for our humanity. For it means we are going to have to do a better job of taking care of ourselves and of caring for one another. We, the people of good will, powerless except for our compassion, are the light in the forest. Maine will shine in a dim world. I believe this with all my heart.
Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Happy Kwanzaa. Happy New Year. Shine a light.
The Universal Notebook is Edgar Allen Beem’s weekly personal look at the world around him.