Sunday, December 30, 2007

Discarded Christmas Trees

Today I saw a discarded Christmas tree – still trimmed with tinsel – lying in the gutter near my house. The Christmas tree is the focal point of the Christmas decorations and once it has served its purpose it is unceremoniously discarded. I don’t know…that fact struck me as a bit sad.

I know that the dumping of the Christmas tree is as much a part of the holiday tradition as carols, shopping, and for many of us – celebrating the birth of Christ. However, today I was reminded of just how short the life expectancy of the Christmas tree really is.

The life cycle of the Christmas tree (once it becomes a full grown tree of course) begins with the searching out and discovery of the perfect evergreen. Each and every year our family piles into the car and makes the extremely short trek to our favorite tree lot. Okay, so it doesn’t have the same romantic appeal as cross country skiing into the wilderness to chop down our own pine tree, but the tree hunt and purchase is a cherished family tradition. This year only two of the three grown children were in on the tree buying, the lot had moved a mile east, and we each drove our own car to the lot (no piling this year), but the sacred tradition lives on.

The Christmas tree is special because it’s branches hold more than lights and glass balls – those branches hold memories. Who doesn’t love the Rudolf ornament made from a light bulb and topped off with pipe cleaner antlers? I own several macaroni snowflakes and tiny red felt Santa hats, and for many, many years those hand made creations adorned each and every Christmas tree that made it into our home. After all, tiny hands lovingly glued those macaroni pieces together and those ornaments are priceless to me! Once the tree is decorated we display the brightly colored packages beneath its branches and on Christmas morning we gather around the evergreen centerpiece and make new memories. Yes, the tree has an important and unique role to play in the holiday spectacle.

As soon as the crinkled paper is ripped of the presents, the sugar cookies are inhaled, and “A Christmas Story” is watched for the 42nd time, the Christmas tree’s importance comes to an end. There’s no place for it to go now…except the gutter. Kinda sad, don’t ya think?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Epidemic of Aloneness

Turn on any daytime talk show or morning news show, and it won't be long before some professional is talking about the latest epidemic to strike our nation - depression, obesity, pornography, drug and alcohol abuse, overspending, video games.... and the list goes on and on. I submit to you that the epidemic at the core of most all the other ills among the human race is the epidemic of aloneness. Aloneness is different from loneliness. One can be lonely while surrounded by many, but aloneness happens when life is devoid of human interaction.

Technology is wonderful, but I don't think there's any doubt that technology has led to more and more of us spending time away from the company of other humans. According to a 2001 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics there were 19.8 million Americans working from home (teleworkers) in non-agricultural jobs. In that study it was estimated that by the end of 2004 there would be over 30 million American teleworkers. Given the way tech jobs have exploded, I would guess that we surpassed that estimation. I would further guess that by now there must be 40+ million people working from home in a non-agricultural tech business.

So, all those teleworkers are spending the majority of their day with little, if any, human interaction. Of course many of the at-home workers may have a spouse and children, but kids go to school and the spouse may work outside of the home. I believe that even those with families spend the majority of their day alone. Besides, it's so easy to return to the work and ignore the family when work and home happen under the same roof.

Every few years a study is done to find the happiest people on earth. We always discover that the most happy, most content people are those who have little in the way of monetary wealth, but are surrounded by families and communities of people. The happiest people on the planet are those who work hard, share much, and are rarely alone.

Is it any wonder that we are addicted to drugs, food, pornography, and many and varied forms of media and technology? Many of us are alone for much of our day and we are trying to fill the natural need for human interaction with unhealthy substitutes. Aloneness stinks!!