Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Report

It's December 25 and I just got off work at 6:30 am. The temperature is 34 degrees and the snow that was falling when I came to work at 9:30 pm turned to rain sometime during the night. There is still a lot of snow on the ground, and the roads and sidewalks are coated with a treacherous cocktail of snow, water, and ice. Without a pair of good boots it wouldn't be a great morning to walk the 5.5 miles home from work, as I have done a few times in the past year. I did it last December 25 when I tripped at the corner of Heron and 13th, and fell on the sidewalk breaking my nose, and giving myself a couple black eyes, thereby adding some unusual and unsightly cosmetic touches to our holiday celebration. I have no plans to make that an annual tradition. I drove to work last night.

It's a Thursday, usually a work day, that is, if it weren't the best known and most popular holiday of the year. So there is little or no traffic on the streets. Most businesses are closed. I think the only ones open are the "essentials;" medical centers as well as police and fire protection. A few trained specialists are on call, emergency repair persons such as doctors, plumbers, the power company, people who deal with the transport of substances needed to sustain life such as blood, water, oxygen, and electricity. It's a safe guess that none of them really want to be called today.

So on the way home from work I temporarily abandon my commitment to use less gasoline and take a longer route. I circle around downtown a few times and then drive the approximately five miles on State Street to the intersection at Glenwood. Usually on a Thursday morning these streets are thick with traffic. I obediently stop at about twenty red traffic signals along this route, but if I hadn't stopped or even slowed down, I wouldn't have hit anyone, or even come close to causing an accident. A few motorists might have been startled by my actions, but that's all that would have happened. There was virtually no traffic. When I stopped at traffic signals downtown, I looked both ways and usually there was no other vehicle in sight for as far as I could see, other than a few parked cars still covered with snow. Except for a few convenience stores, nearly all businesses are closed. Even that most villainous of retailers, which shall remain unnamed, at the corner of Glenwood and State is closed at 7:00 am.

I like this kind of day, not just because it's Christmas, but because it's a holiday that most people and businesses actually treat with respect and honor as a holiday. It's a time for people to relax, sleep in, rest, and share their lives with families and friends. Of course, for mothers and others, usually women, who have to prepare for Christmas dinners and other yuletide celebrations, there is work to do. But I also like holidays that are actually treated as holidays for other reasons. I like them because they give people a glimpse of what their hometown, regardless of size, would be like if it became a ghost town. Many towns and cities in this country that were lively locations of human activity a hundred years ago, no longer exist. Some died because the mines that supported them ran out of minerals. Others died because the railroad passed them by, and still others were swallowed up by larger cities. In human history, entire civilizations have vanished, leaving only archaeological remnants proving they once existed. On a morning like this I wonder what Boise would be like if I was the last person in the city, or even in the entire Treasure Valley. What if everyone else had left, moved on for some reason or another? Considering how most Americans live, consuming vast amounts of non-renewable natural resources, it's probably inevitable that at some time in the future, the cities of this country will become non-existent. It's possible, and perhaps even likely, that global warming and the decreasing supply of water that accompanies it, will someday make Boise and other western cities uninhabitable?

What would a newly abandoned Boise look like? Like this morning the streets would be empty. The blowing wind would be playing with dry snowflakes, or if it were summer, dust and tumbleweeds. The traffic signals would be idiotically blinking from red to green, then to amber and back to red, regulating non-existent traffic like silent actors on stage performing to an empty auditorium. Houses and other buildings would be abandoned, a few vandalized with broken windows, and others with open doors swinging in the wind. Feral dogs would be roaming in and out of open buildings, searching for edible garbage. In western cities that normally get more snow than Boise, such as Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs, and Billings, what would it be like to see snow that had fallen weeks or months before on streets, sidewalks, and around houses, melting naturally in the spring without ever being marked by a human foot print, or re-arranged by a shovel, blower, or snow plow? Of course the image of an abandoned Boise would be different if our city were destroyed by war, instead of drought or economic disaster. But even the Pentagon believes that future wars will be fought over water rather than oil.

However a holiday like Christmas raises another important question. Why are there so few of them? A holiday such as today when businesses are closed and traffic is significantly less is good for everybody. It's good for the environment. The air was definitely cleaner this morning that it would have been if traffic was at normal work day levels. Of course, to reduce our waste of natural resources, we may have to ease off on the excessive gift-giving, use living or recycled Christmas trees, and change a few other habits, but otherwise Christmas is a green holiday, as well as a strong pro-family event. It's also a day off work. Americans work an average of 350 hours a year more than western Europeans, and have nothing to show for it. Citizens of Western Europe have more benefits, better health care, greater longevity, and superior transportation options than we have. As we all know, our economy is not very healthy. Perhaps it desperately needs rest. Expecting the economy to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week is unrealistic. There should regularly be days when people stay at home, or visit family and friends, days when stores and businesses are closed, the roads are nearly empty, and business activities takes a break. Holidays are good for our physical and mental health, but only when they are actually treated, celebrated or memorailized as holidays. Even anticipating and remembering holidays can be healthy.

It's not that we don't have anything to celebrate. Even those who embrace the so-called literal interpretation of the Bible, believe that there have been between 5,000 and 10,000 years of human history. So as humans, there is much to remember and proclaim. Even though the United States has had over a quarter of a century of continuous, "pro-family," conservative Republican and Democratic administrations in control, the Reagan, Clinton, and two Bush Administrations, nothing has been done to support or enhance family life as much as creating more holidays would do. Instead family life has been undermined especially by the union-busting, pension-breaking, and health care depriving Republican administrations. Unfortunately the Democrats haven't been much better. Adding more holidays, like Christmas, that are actually treated as holidays would do much to enhance family life, and they would also help our economy and our cities survive.

Why is there no official holiday to celebrate the the writ of habeous corpus that guarantees individuals the right to seek relief from unlawful detention, a right that dates back to before the Magna Carta in 1215. Perhaps if we had a holiday to celebrate this basic aspect of democracy it wouldn't have been possible for Pres. Bush and Congress to undermine that right in the Military Commission Act of 2006. Part of that act was, two years later, by a narrow margin, declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. That right is certainly worth a significant annual celebration, comparable to Christmas. Why is there no holiday celebrating the life of Martin Luther, whose 95 thesis nailed to the Wittenburg Church door on Halloween in 1517 is seen as the start of the Protestant Reformation? Since that date is already occupied by Halloween we could celebrate Luther's birthdate which was in 1483, on Nov. 10. Another date to celebrate is May 27, the birth date of Rachel Carson in 1907. The publication of Carson's book Silent Spring, in 1962, two years before she died from breast cancer, may be the most important date in the struggle to protect the environment and preserve the earth as a planet, suitable for human habitation. There is no shortage of needed celebrations. Why is there no holiday designated especially for the family? We have a Father's Day and Mother's Day and even lesser known days for grandparents, but shouldn't there be a holiday of Christmas status just for the family? It would be easy to find justifiable reasons for at least a dozen more holidays, special days really treated as holidays by government, education, and business. Everyone would benefit and so would the environment, human health, and the economy. Our cities and our civilization would have a better chance of long-term survival. Let's work on it. Merry Christmas.

Leonard Nolt

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