Maybe it’s just us, but we doubt it: For many, this was a joyless holiday season.
People seemed to be going through the motions at the malls, their thoughts more on Newtown and lesser outbursts of irrational violence than on the joy of giving. You could see it in their faces, the mirror of the soul.
Call it world-weariness. It’s a palpable state peculiar to our species, a kind of grinding down of one’s faith that the human condition trends toward the sunlit uplands.
In the aggregate, it probably does. The world is more splintered since the end of the Cold War, now almost a generation ago, but the economic fortunes of uncounted millions have improved in China, India and other undeveloped nations thanks to an outbreak of capitalism.
Yet, those countries’ good fortune to a large extent has come at a cost to our own. They produce, we consume. Not so long ago, it was the other way around.
The Triangle and its concentration of high-tech and biomedical research firms aren’t immune to economic tsunamis, though for a couple of blessed decades we thought we were. Now the vicissitudes of the global economy and reckless federal deficits have taken root here, and we fear that the future isn’t what it used to be.
Of course, it never was. During the Cold War struggle, those of us of a certain age recall with spine-chilling horror how close the world came to extinction in October, 1962. For a few days, Americans believed they had no future.
This country has been remarkable resilient to hard blows throughout its history. If we could remain standing after the bloodletting of the Civil War, we could absorb anything – or so we thought.
And we were right, we could sustain enormous damage: World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, Korea. Vietnam is where we began to lose our edge, our faith in American exceptionalism. We lost that war and with it a certain amount of faith in ourselves, faith that we could determine the order of events.
Maybe that’s it: the order of events. Measured in store sales, this holiday season is said to be the weakest since 2008. We are worried about the so-called fiscal cliff, at the bottom of which lie sharply higher federal taxes and a devouring serpent named Sequestration.
But our thoughts were also seized by the order of other events, none more shattering and beyond our grasp than a deranged gunman’s slaughter of innocent school kids and teachers.
His rampage was not the only one during the holiday season, merely the worst – 26 people dead, including the shooter. Then came another wingnut, this one in New York State, who lured firefighters into an ambush.
Prayers and supplications always follow such heinous events, but faith in their efficacy – is anybody really listening out there? – cannot be affirmed. About 20 mass shootings occur in the United States every year. Maybe we are alone. Maybe nobody is listening.
A new year begins Tuesday. The Mayans got it wrong, but we, the lords of creation, can get it right.
Well, can’t we?