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Faith in Vermont: Current Events, Common Sense, and Craft Fairs

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Posted on December 15, 2015 | Blog Category:
By Faith Gong



It is difficult for the human mind to commit itself to one thing, and to maintain focus upon that thing in order to see it through to completion.

This is particularly true for parents of young children, who may have only two uninterrupted hours each day (in our house, we call this “nap time”) during which it’s possible to focus upon anything other than fetching snacks, locating toys, and mediating sibling disputes.

And it’s even more particularly true during the holidays, which add another layer of complexity to our already full lives.

A partial list of things I should focus on today: packing my family for our 5-month sabbatical in California; cleaning out our current house in order to put it on the market while we’re away; choosing bathroom countertops for the new house that we’ll move into when we return; holiday baking; organizing Christmas gifts for family, friends, and teachers; watering the Christmas tree; reading my monthly book club selection; writing this column; answering that email about the Christmas pageant; being an engaged wife, mother, daughter, and friend.

What I do during nap time today: bake sugar cookies.

It occurs to me that the way I respond to my life is similar to the way in which I – and, I suspect, many of us – respond to the world at large.

A partial list of things we should focus on: Syrian refugees, climate change, human trafficking, domestic terrorism, mass shootings and gun control, the 2016 elections, buying local, ISIS, instability in the Middle East, Starbucks cups, racial inequality, the economy, police brutality.

What we do: critique Donald Trump on Facebook.

***

The state of the world seems particularly bleak right before Christmas. Not only has our hemisphere become physically darker in proximity to the Winter Solstice, but all those songs about “peace on earth,” and “goodwill to men,” and “‘tis the season to be jolly” highlight our existential darkness. Any season saddled with the expectation of being “the most wonderful time of the year” can hardly help but fall short.

This year I sense a particular urgency in the gap between our expectations and reality. The past few months have brought news of deplorable suffering among people desperately fleeing their war-torn homelands, of racism boiling under the surface of our educational institutions and law enforcement agencies, of mass killings by terrorists at home and abroad, of politicians and religious leaders who’ve moved from being entertainingly offensive to spouting rhetoric that depicts our nation as a locked-down, hateful, dangerous place.

In conversation, on social media, and in the news, one gets the sense that something must be done, that this time our country and our world might really, truly be in danger.

Has the horror finally outweighed our inertia?

If so, what should we do?

***

“We just need a little common sense!” laments my friend. We’re climbing Chipman Hill, discussing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that the United States should ban all Muslim immigrants.

“Common sense.” It’s a phrase I myself have used in reference to the big issues currently plaguing our world. In my opinion, it means: We should support the oppressed, protect our natural resources, and try to avoid shooting people.

But then I hear members of a Republican focus group defending Trump’s statements. I hear presidential candidate Ted Cruz questioning the science of climate change. I hear Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. exhorting his student body to obtain concealed-carry gun permits.

They believe they’re being reasonable.

“Common sense” is, in fact, highly subjective. In other words, it’s possible that “common sense” is a bogus concept and may not actually exist.

If we have no sense in common, where does that leave us?

There are no simple answers, and living in small-town Vermont can make the big issues of humanity seem strangely distant, as if something is lost in translation when news crosses the Green Mountains. For example, there has been much anxiety in my own neighborhood, which is less than a mile from the tiny Middlebury airport, that planned improvements to that airport might result in slightly increased noise or light. Yet when my husba ,n  m nd and I were in East Africa, we were told that it was wise to live as close to an airport as possible: that way you’d have a better shot at leaving the country when the government collapsed.

***

The day that Santa rode into Middlebury on the town fire engine this year, my family attended our preschool’s holiday craft fair. Never before have I been in a space filled with so many beautiful things, all made by people I know.

There was Courtney with lovely printed notecards, t-shirts, and tote bags; Carrie and her daughter with their sweet felt accessories and decorations; my daughter’s teacher Lizzie with fairy houses assembled from natural materials; Megg and her charming fabric creations; Erin with her beeswax balm and candles; and Claire, who’d tucked wooden peg babies into milkweed pods.

Later that night, my husband and I drove up to Lincoln to see Matthew Dickerson and Susan Nop perform the gorgeous songs that they write and record, along with Dutton and Kathleen Smith.

These are all regular people. They are my friends. They are busy parents and teachers and professionals. And, out of nothing, they are creating things that make the world a little more beautiful, a little more hopeful.

They’re shining little lights in the darkness.

And you are no different. To be human is to be creative, innovative, capable of doing wonderful things, and capable of collaborating with others to do more wonderful things.

So I wonder whether, if each of us focused on just one thing that could make the world a bit more beautiful or hopeful, and saw that thing through to completion, would all that light be bigger than the darkness?

Maybe it’s a silly, idealistic thought this holiday season; I’m still trying to figure out my own one thing. But if common sense is a bogus concept, we might as well dream big.

 

Faith Gong has worked as an elementary school teacher, a freelance photographer, and a nonprofit manager. Since moving to Addison County in 2011, her work has involved caring for a house in the woods, four young daughters, one anxiety-prone labradoodle — and writing for her blog, The Pickle Patch.

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