In a time of so much derision, intolerance, and miscommunication—so much noise—we must be clear with our children about the importance of kindness and acceptance. Now that we’ve survived early November’s tug-of-war politics and been reset with thanks and giving as November closes out, we can refocus our energies on remembering and rekindling miracles. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism—all the major religions have holidays of light, peace, and wonder. Similarly most atheists, agnostics, and humanists, maintain a strong belief in the goodness of human kind. In America there’s no denying that we’ve selected December as a time to renew our commitments to, respect for, and abiding love for our families, friends, and country. The calendar we use tells us that our earth’s 365-day revolution around the sun will soon complete its hopeful circle once again, undeterred by the pockets of chaos on its surface, and we will soon be flipping the page to 2019. It’s the perfect time for us to reaffirm our faith in humanity by making our vows and resolutions to be the best people we can be.
A few weeks ago, I attended a funeral mass at St. Joseph’s for a 109-year-old woman, a soul who exemplified divinity on earth. My children had met this godly woman, who blessed them with her outstretched hand laced with the rosary beads. The twinkle in Eleanor’s eye and her forever smile asked us to pray, and we did. At her wake, her pastor spoke of how Eleanor had often called him to her side for confessional. More than a century old, she was still seeking to atone for her transgressions and become a still-better self for the rest of her living days. In the privacy of the confessional, all the differences between Eleanor and the priest were invisible—skin color, background, even gender. They were simply two people hearing each other.
At St. Joseph’s, I reflected how houses of worship so often glow, not just from candles and colored glass but from the beaming faces caught up in peace and meditation. It struck me that any place that offers everyone—insiders, outsiders, even total strangers—an equal embrace as they walk through the door can be a sacred place. Many people see churches and temples as holy enclaves, portals on the planet we pass through that guide our course in life…and after. But the place we all share is the Earth. So why do we so often turn our backs on our neighbors because of real or imagined differences? At Eleanor’s service, as at any service faith-based or secular, our connection to each other is restored when we extend our hearts and hands and say, “May peace be with you.”
During religious holidays, my children and I go to houses of worship to learn about, and join in the prayers, rituals, and celebrations of many religions. Throughout the services we recognize similarities and celebrate inclusivity. We are reminded of the parables and lessons that are shared among the faiths, our connection to all life on earth, our shared histories, and of how we must care for one another. We are overwhelmingly unified in our desire for peace on earth.
We fear and sometimes hate what we do not know or understand. This year, let’s reaffirm our desire to raise our children to be good people, the best people they can be. Allow your children to share the richness and revelation of stepping into not just your most familiar house of worship, but a gathering of a different denomination, an interfaith service, another culture, and take comfort in how you are welcomed. What you will find may broaden you, reaffirm you, and certainly inform you. Whether it’s five nights, or seven days or one eve and a day…whether it’s Diwali, Hanukah, Kwaanza, Christmas, or something else entirely, commit yourself to seeing the parallels and shared value as you make memories of inclusion, appreciation, and belonging. Bring food or donations, and let your children offer these gifts and their service. Let go of the differences, see the humanity in others, and celebrate the common messages of mutual respect, love, gratitude, kindness, giving.
My children, Laurel (11) and Jack (9), served lunch at a local soup kitchen this Thanksgiving. They helped set up the dining room, prepare the food, serve, and clean up. They enjoyed it so much, they were thanking me. They were sincerely grateful to be of service, to be useful, to make a contribution. Opportunities like these grow bigger hearts and create better people all around.
Resolve to be better people—not Jewish or Muslim people, not Republicans or Democrats, not gay or straight, not black, brown, or white, not from beyond this border or that language barrier - just better people. Inside we are the same: flesh, blood, feelings, and thoughts; we are all evolving human beings. We can distinguish our differences as celebrations of individuality. If someone rebuffs, despises, curses, condemns, or reviles us for our differences or our choices—if they raise a hand in threat rather than connection—we can choose to smile, reach out, be kind. Our children are watching and learning. Namaste.
Connect with Dr. Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org