‘Tis the Season for Reflection
The road leading from the main highway was sparely used and bore the crust of the morning's freeze. My tires crunched pleasantly as the car coasted past snowy thickets. Angled sunlight of winter glistened from tree limbs, fence posts, and hayricks as I made my way toward the country home of Larry Lexus and his family.
Turning onto the gravel driveway, past the rustic mailbox and split rail fencing that formed the entry to Larry's property, my thoughts returned to radio news I had heard during my drive from the city. Most families had already reached holiday destinations, and lightly traveled highways allowed the listener to focus on details of the news rather than on abrupt taillights. The news was disconcerting.
Having suffered the loss of thousands of innocent lives through domestic and international terrorist attacks, the country seemed to be moving resolutely and inexorably toward foreign conflict. Like so many times before, the drumbeat seemed to develop a life of its own quite apart from individual perceptions and judgments. Like so many times before, citizens contemplated putting their young at risk.
The Lexus home was visible through the pines as I traveled the last hundred yards down the gentle slope of the drive and braked to a stop. Exiting the car I was met by the crisp silence of the blanketed forest, and by the welcoming scent of cedar smoke from the chimney of the house nestled among the trees. I was the first to arrive of the small group of friends who regularly joined Larry and his family for holiday dinner.
Leaving adult shoe prints among the tiny boot prints of children in the fresh snow, I whispered a silent prayer of blessing for the many thousands of our young who would be far from home but near to peril during this traditionally most joyful of seasons.
Larry had seen my approach and met me at the door with a steaming mug of cider. The mixture of pleasant aromas and the happy voices of children from the rear of the house brightened my mood immediately, as did the warmth of Larry's smile. "Welcome, my friend, and happiest of holidays", he said as I placed the mug carefully on the sideboard and Larry helped me out of my overcoat. Hanging it in the closet next to his own, Larry said, "Did you have a difficult drive? You look a bit distressed." Never able to hide my moods from Larry's perceptive eye, I answered, "No, the drive was fine. It's the news that isn't."
Larry said, "Please bring your cider into the study and let's talk briefly before joining the others." Stirring the cinnamon stick in the hot liquid, I followed Larry into the small den adjoining the foyer. Closing the door behind us, Larry motioned me toward the windows that overlooked the meadow next to his home. "This is my favorite time of year," he said. "A fresh snowfall seems to bring a crisp clarity to many considerations, even as it does to the very air of a winter's day. I assume you are referring to the news from the international scene."
"It appears as though another war is coming, and I can't decide how I feel about it, Larry. Every time this happens, the conflicting information we receive makes certainty impossible."
"Yes, my friend, but perhaps in the current situation some comfort can be taken from the diligence with which our leaders appear to be evaluating our national options. They seem to be proceeding with great deliberation, yet one always wonders whether there are alternatives that have not been fully considered."
Larry continued, "Our country has enjoyed unprecedented domestic security, largely as the result of our geographic separation from international conflicts. But the world has become so small and those who wish us harm so mobile, that our participation in some form of forceful self-protection is likely unavoidable. Having been attacked on our own soil, the initial action in Afghanistan was perhaps entirely justified. Whether that can be said in the present situation is no more clear to me than it is to you.
"Perhaps human beings simply have not yet evolved to the point of rising above economic, ideological or, perhaps strangest of all, religious conflict. It is ironic that this season of celebration in many religions may become the season in which many more lives are lost."
Larry and I stood silent and gazed over the glistening meadow as a crimson cardinal lit on the bare branch of a nearby tree. The bird ruffled and preened his feathers while surveying his surroundings in hope of finding food in the winter's freeze. He went about his business with an instinctive demeanor wholly unaffected by world events.
"Whenever armed force is undertaken, the results are usually disastrous for at least some of the participants. At this point, it appears that we can only pray otherwise." Larry turned and said, "Your cider must be tepid by now. Why don't we join the others and get you a fresh mug." I gratefully followed him toward the parlor in which the children played, as unaffected as the cardinal by concerns that, with God's blessing, might be more effectively addressed as their generation replaces our own.
In the quiet evening, after the dinner had been eaten, the table cleared, the coffee sipped and the children tucked in their beds for the long winter's night, I rose to take my leave of Larry and his lovely wife. Buttoning my coat against the cold, I turned to hug Arlene and to take Larry's hand in gratitude.
In parting, Larry said, "The threat of war brings into sharp contrast the mundane nature of our daily business pursuits. Yet are not the conflicts and competing interests from which we attempt to achieve resolution in our assorted negotiations the very analogues of international strife? When we use the force of leveraged positions to dictate the results of those negotiations, are we not glorifying power over intellect? If we are not interested or creative enough at least to aim for just and mutually beneficial results in business and personal dealings, are we not admitting the inevitability of the use of arms when national interests are in conflict?"
I drove the deserted roadways toward the city wondering whether each of us might foster the greater peace through individual acts of goodwill toward men.