Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Christmas Letter 2019

Amid today’s chaos and cruelty, it would be easy to lose heart. Fire and floods engulf the planet, and there may be worse to come. Hatred stalks the land and much of the world. Dishonor, cronyism, bigotry, and conspiracist paranoia seem now to be governing principles in our democracy. It is a dark time for our country and for all of humankind.

Yet it is also a time when we celebrate hope, light, and love, when we remember the past and look to the future, and when we draw strength from our families, our friends, our community, and our traditions. In a year like 2019, the end of year holidays are more important than ever.

We celebrate hope most of all. Without hope, we cannot create the future that we need to create if we are to save the planet that is our only home. Without hope, we lose courage and learn fear. Without hope, we are frozen in place, unable to move forward when that is what we must do.

We celebrate light because with it, we can find our way. Without it, we will be lost in literal darkness and in the darkness of ignorance.

We celebrate love because without love, without cooperation and compassion, our species cannot long survive. Alone, we are frightened, hopeless, and weak. In community with others, we can be courageous, hopeful, and strong.

We remember the past, not because can return to it or because we are destined to repeat it, but because by understanding it we can better understand ourselves. We can build on the good we have done and begin to right past wrongs.

Let us celebrate hope, light, and love, and together build a future for our planet and for all of us.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Christmas Letter 2018

It has been a very strange and disquieting year. In the United States and around the world, we have suffered from wars, terrible storms, government corruption, and religious and racial hatred.

Yet at the end of each year, we celebrate life, the power of love, and the triumph of light over darkness. Much of what we do at year’s end is symbolic, like the lighting of candles on the Menorah. But it is vital that we do it and draw strength from it.

For, most of all, we celebrate hope. With hope, we are strong. We can conquer the chaos and fear that we encounter each day and help to build a better community, a better city, a better nation—a better world.The news seems worse every day, yet hatred and chaos are not inevitable. We can reject them, and many of us have. Humans have survived, not by conflict, but by cooperation and compassion. We have been teachers, healers, scientists, firefighters, and first responders. We have sacrificed for the common good. We have sought truth and understanding, for ourselves and for the future. We have much reason for hope.

This year, as in the past, our family lit its holiday porch lights on Halloween, as a welcome for neighbors and a counter to the darkness that we are living through. It is dark now, but light and hope can still triumph, and we can still win through to a better future.

May your holidays be filled with light and your days filled with hope.

Happy holidays from Bob and Ruth Seeley.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Christmas Letter 2017

For three months this year, our neighborhood park hosted an installation that delighted and challenged everyone who saw it. We were one of five parks selected for the city’s Monuments Lab, a project that explored the nature and meaning of monuments in today’s world.

The artist’s concept was straightforward. She covered an existing monument with reflective material. Visitors to the park could then look at the installation and see, not the past, but the present and future, for themselves and the neighborhood.

The installation was simple. Its meaning was complex and many-layered. At times it seemed to melt into the surrounding trees, and visitors wondered where it had gone. One visitor called it a portal to another dimension. Others took photos of themselves and their reflections. Everyone who saw it found a different meaning—often more than one.

As summer came to an end and autumn approached, the light and the surrounding trees changed. The installation seemed to change as well.

When our monument’s time ended, some wondered whether it would be moved or have a permanent place in another part of the park. It had become a part of our lives, if only for a short time—a thing of beauty and wonder for all to see, enjoy, and contemplate. Now it is gone, but the monument it covered stays with us, perhaps with added meaning,

Monuments can remind us of good works and great people—but some honor men who betrayed their country to preserve a slave system that destroyed human lives and corrupted everything it touched. Remembering that part of our past is essential if we are to overcome it, but honoring it makes the task of rebuilding more difficult.

Our monument brought people together, delighted the eye, and challenged the mind. It honored the present and the future in ways that we had not seen before. It affirmed the power of art to change us for the better.

May you find beauty and hope wherever it awaits you—in the power of art, in kindness from others, and in the love that you give to those around you. May you find your own monuments and may they help you to build a better future, for everyone.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

Nearly three million years ago in East Africa’s Rift Valley, a new species appeared. It was both hunter and hunted, and the odds against its survival were great. It was weak, small and slow. Its senses—eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell—were no match for other predators. They would provide little protection against more powerful attackers.

As a solitary hunter, it would quickly have disappeared. But that was not its instinct or its nature. It built families to care for its vulnerable young and small communities to protect its families. It learned to hunt with teamwork, not strength. It learned to gather plants to supplement meat from the hunt.

The new species—our common ancestor—survived by cooperating, by caring about others in its community, and by working together for the common good. In the end, it became the dominant species on our planet.

Today it can be hard to remember that, despite our faults, we did not survive by practicing hatred, division, and greed. All of these in their many forms have made our journey more difficult, sometimes nearly destroying us. But at bottom they are not who we are. We evolved to cooperate with each other. We would not have survived if we had not.

All that we know about ourselves—our science, our spiritual traditions, our arts, and the wisdom of our philosophers—tells us that we can overcome our divisions and build a better world, if we have the will and if we listen to our better nature.

The voices of that nature are very quiet now. But we have been here before. The world has seemed broken, divided and hopeless before. Yet we have survived, and we have overcome hatred and division when that seemed impossible.

Even in times like these, we can make a start. We can be good neighbors. We can support our communities. We can reject hatred. We can do the healing tasks that lie before us. Together, we can create a better future.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Letter 2015

A few blocks from our house, there is a small neighborhood park. It is a quiet, attractive green space, with old trees, a historic house, playground equipment for children, and a space laid out for softball games.

Like most urban parks, it had suffered over the years from neglect and lack of funding. The playground area had become unsafe and unattractive, and there was no money to rebuild it. The sidewalks needed repairs. There were not enough light fixtures, and many were missing or broken.

For the past four years, a small group of supporters, including our family, has worked to revitalize the park and make it the community treasure that we believed it could be.

This year the city and two local non-profit groups chose our park as one of six to receive makeovers. When the park reopened this fall, the sidewalks were repaired, the playground was renewed, and, most important, the lighting was abundant and beautiful. It was a gift to the community. It would not have happened without the work of our group and the help of many people and agencies.

In a world beset by climate change, wars, terrorism, economic recession, and poisonous politics, giving a small park new life seems like a small victory—but it is not. Urban parks lift a community’s spirits, improve its health, and spark changes that benefit all the park’s neighbors and the earth itself.

So it is with many changes for the better. They begin with small victories, achieved because ordinary people took the first step and dedicated themselves to the task before them. We cannot know how our work will end, but we can know that it is right for us to do it. And, with good fortune and help from many hands, we can build a better future.

May all your good works prosper in the year to come, and may they be fruitful beyond your hopes and your expectations.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Letter, 2014

Just before Halloween this year, we turned on our holiday porch lights. The days were getting shorter. Daylight Saving Time was about to end. The headlines during the week had been discouraging. We hoped that our lights might help to cheer up the neighborhood in a time that seemed very dark.

It was a purely symbolic act. Two strings of white lights could transform our porch, but they could not transform the world.

We turn the lights on every night now, and our porch looks very attractive in the dark. The world has not changed, but at least there is one more string of lights to challenge the darkness—literally, in a small way, and, in a much larger way, symbolically.

We are a species that creates symbols. We live by them. We die for them. They point toward realms of the spirit where mere words fail us. They sustain us through difficult times and enrich our lives when times are better.

In the darkest time of the year, we celebrate our holidays with light. This is no accident. Light symbolizes hope. With it, we can find a way forward.

Happy holidays, and may your light never fail.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Letter 2013

At the end of each year, the days grow short. Darkness prevails—but only for a brief time. We know this, and we celebrate not the dark, but the light that is coming and the hope that it brings.

This year we also celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, who brought liberation to South Africa and hope to a world that badly needs it.

Mandela would say that he did not do this, that change in his country was the work of many, not one. No great work—in politics, in science, even in more solitary disciplines like literature—happens in isolation. All build on the work of those who came before and depend for their success on the cooperation of others. That is what Mandela would probably say, and he would be right.

Yet he would also be wrong. The change in South Africa was the work of many, but it would not have come about without the vision of one who saw that he could not liberate the oppressed without also liberating their oppressors.

That was Mandela's central quest: to bring justice and healing to all who had been damaged by apartheid. South Africa's break with its past came, in the end, peacefully. Its rebuilding process has not ended, and we still do not know whether it will succeed. What we do know is that Nelson Mandela saw further and understood what was needed more deeply than any of us.

Mandela succeeded beyond all hope. He had been labeled a terrorist, yet he brought not revenge but reconciliation. He had been a prisoner of his country, yet he became its president. In the end he voluntarily relinquished his office, thereby affirming the future of democracy in South Africa.

As we observe the holidays this year, let us also remember Nelson Mandela. As we seek justice, peace, and hope, in small ways or large, we will honor his life and help to build a world that is better than the one we inherited. That is the best way to celebrate.