Today is Christmas. 2012. Christmas is a holiday celebrated around the world, and though it is claimed by Christians as a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the holiday is named thusly, its roots predate Christianity and it draws on ancient celebrations from many religions. I have always been drawn to Christmas for this reason. On this day, families all around the world are gathering together to share a meal, gifts, and music, whether they are Buddhist, atheist, Catholic, or attend the Westboro Baptist Church. Even those who reject the holiday’s customs and commercialism often gather in groups to share food and drink while protesting the holiday…and are, in essence, still embodying the spirit of Christmas.
This Christmas is different. I can feel it in my bones. Sure…every year we think, “Christmas just isn’t like it used to be.” Life is more stressful. We’re obligated to attend a seemingly-endless line of parties. We have to travel to several family get togethers in the space of a week. There are gifts and travel to budget for, when there’s just no wiggle room in the budget. I would venture a guess that the majority of us GROAN when we hear the first Christmas song on the radio in late October or early November.
But this year, Christmas is REALLY different. Eleven days ago, twenty children were slaughtered at their school in Connecticut. On the same day, almost the same number of students in a Chinese school were stabbed. Three days before that, people were attacked in a mall in Portland and two more died. Four days ago, a man in Pennsylvania killed three people, thinking the world was about to end. Then yesterday, Christmas Eve, firefighters in New York responded to a house fire set by an individual who proceeded to open fire on them as they approached, killing two of them. It has been an awful, bloody December. And those of us with tender hearts find ourselves wondering what has happened to the world, and how on earth we can ever hold on to our faith in our fellow man.
Politicians, preachers, and purveyors of sensationalist journalism love to toss around the word “evil.” They use the term prolifically to describe countries and governments, agendas and assassins. Suicide bombers are evil. Terrorists are evil. Adam Lanza (the man who was involved in the Connecticut school shooting) was evil.
I believe in my heart that very, very few evil people have walked this earth. I think if you look into the heart of Adam Lanza, or a suicide bomber in the Middle East, what you’ll find is actually a lack of love. When someone feels absolutely surrounded by love from all directions, it’s incredibly hard to be anything but ecstatic, fulfilled, and joyful. But for those who have trouble connecting to the people around them…especially those like Adam Lanza who are deeply socially challenged and find themselves laughed at, picked on, and shunned…the results can lead them to a horrifically dark place.
So while our country, and the world at large, is about to enter a great debate about the tools wherewith people commit mass murder (namely semi-automatic weapons), I prefer to take a different road this holiday season, and talk instead about love.
Because, if Adam Lanza had felt loved and accepted by his schoolmates and compatriots, rather than feeling like an outcast, I believe those wretched deeds at Sandy Hook elementary would never have happened. I believe that if the young men recruited to be suicide bombers by terrorist organizations had been surrounded by loving friends, family, and community, they would not be so easily misled by zealots. In fact, tragedies like Jonestown and the Branch Davidians in Waco, which seem so far in the past, resulted in vast, tragic loss of life because these dangerous cults offered people who otherwise felt like outcasts a sense of love and community and belonging. Wanting to be loved is our most basic need. Water and food may feed the body, but unless the soul is also fed, we see the horrific results.
So before we condemn those who seem to be evil to the core…or those like Westboro Baptist who seem to spread hate incongruously to their fellow Christians…let’s first realize that these people are probably all suffering from a tragic lack of love in their lives. Sure, Adam Lanza’s mother loved him deeply, and I can’t imagine how she would feel today were she still alive…but the love of one person is rarely enough, especially for someone who is deeply troubled. We need to feel loved by everyone around us…not just those who share our religion, or share the same blood. In fact, we need to feel loved by people who believe the complete opposite of us. For then we know the love is unconditional and not circumstantial.
So my Christmas message to you today is to love everyone around you…especially the ones who are hardest or most uncomfortable to love. None of us will ever be able to process the tragedies of the past two weeks. We will never understand why. We will never be at peace with what has happened, especially to the innocent children.
But the best way to prevent such horrific events in the future is to spread the love. It is foolish to think that government legislation will ever solve this problem. The war on drugs will never be won. Nuclear bombs will never disappear. Semi-automatic weapons are here to stay, whether they are legal or not. But if we each do our job of loving everyone within arm’s reach, and if EVERYONE will do this, it will be a lot harder for someone to feel so isolated…so rejected by society…so downtrodden…that they feel their only way out is to enact such a heinous crime.
People ask me all the time why I’m such a happy person. And the answer began in 1977 with a family that loved and still loves me, and a large clutch of incredible people all around the world who constantly remind me how much I am loved and needed. It’s impossible to be unhappy with a life like that. So whether YOU feel that way or not, you certainly can do your part to ensure that everyone around you feels that love coming from you.
Some people tell me, “I come from a broken home. I haven’t spoken to my mom in a decade. My dad is a drunk and doesn’t care whether I live or die. I don’t know how to love.” Which is, excuse my French…total bullshit. You are human. The ability to love is encoded into every cell in your body. Take a look at a sleeping puppy. Gaze on the Grand Canyon. Go down the slide at a playground nearby or climb a tree and watch the sunset. Your heart will surge. It doesn’t matter how deeply you’ve been hurt before…you have the unending and infinite capacity to love. And the more love you share with those around you, the more love will come washing over you. It’s the perfect universal commodity and it’s everything that money is not. The more love you invest, the more love you get back, the happier everyone is, the better the world becomes.
So this Christmas, as you contemplate your life and the upcoming year, instead of making a resolution to lose weight…to save money…to quit smoking…why not make a resolution that will make the entire world a better place? Commit to loving more people in your life…especially the ones who are hard to love. Especially the ones you feel awkward or uncomfortable around. And most especially, the ones who haven’t done a very good job of loving you back. (It’s really hard for a one-sided feud to persist for long.)
I wish you and your family and friends the most wonderful holiday season, filled with love and joy. Merry Christmas!