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How This Atheist Jewish Writer Made Peace with Her Children's Love of Christmas

Our sense of compassion and empathy can come as much from our sense of belonging to a larger humanity as it can from our sense of otherness.

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My parents talked, argued, and discussed everything. Nothing, as far as I could tell from listening in, was simple or static. Everything contained its critique. Some of the commune kids I grew up with went far the other way, becoming cheerleaders and joining sororities to prove that they could belong as well as anybody. I understood their motivation but also understood that the advantages of outsider identity outweighed the disadvantages. We had a sense of curiosity, of awareness, and, at the base, a sense of empathy and compassion for the minority, the dissenter, the others that were outsiders in one way or another. There were disadvantages, including loneliness and a lack of good presents in December, but that made sense. Nothing without sacrifice. As Frederick Douglass taught us, “No struggle, no progress.”

Last night I came home late and saw our blue spruce sparkling with white lights through the window. It disoriented me. Could that home be mine, with that tree that could be seen from the window? Was it advertising our allegiance to the majority over the minority, to the insider over the outsider, to the many over the few? Would my children really learn compassion, empathy, and critical discourse if they grew up with that tree? Then I thought of my partner, Jason, one of the most hands-down compassionate people I know. Growing up working-class in rural Washington State, an artist among football players, he says he too always identified with the underdog, the weirdo, and the person alone in the corner. Of course he did. Don’t most of us? My children will struggle, because we all do. They will feel other and excluded, as we all do sometimes. And they will feel included and connected in a way that is different than I do. But the question is not what they will feel but what they will make of that feeling and what they will do with it.

I realized that is one of the wonderful outcomes of spending time in the Occupy movement, and seeing so many others there as well. It reminded me that we, at least 99 percent of us, are on the side of the little one, on the side of fairness, and the rights of each of us to feel included. Our sense of compassion and empathy can come as much from our sense of belonging to a larger humanity as it can from our sense of otherness. For the sake of my Christmas-loving children, for the sake of all of us, it has to. 

Rachel Neumann writes the blog Peace and Sleep .

 
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