Submitted to the AFRO by Congressman Elijah E. Cummings
My warmest greeting to each of you during this holiday season.
Together, under the grey skies of December, we confront a season of contrasting emotions.
Paradoxically, as the light of our days is shortened, our awareness of both the joy and the suffering surrounding us is heightened.
Yet, in the darkness of winter, we are offered renewed clarity about all that is valuable in our lives.
As the temperature drops and we feel the chilling winds on our faces, we are reminded that this is a time for giving, for offerings in our places of worship, for coming together through the United Way, Associated Black Charities and other sources of our shared generosity.
And, when we withdraw from our electronic world, just for a few moments, we are offered the opportunity for a renewed communion with our souls.
In the depths of this season, we come together to bring cheer to a season that night seeks to rule. Like humanity everywhere, we follow customs of celebration learned in childhood.
The forms and symbols of our expression differ, but our outcry is universal.
During our prolonged winter nights, we cry out to a power greater than ourselves, to the spiritual force which loves us and connects us all – one to another.
At this time of year, when we are denied much of our sun’s light, we respond with an outpouring of warmth that is fundamental to the human spirit. In contrast to the individualism of summer, winter is the season of our shared humanity.
Our winter prayers express our highest aspirations. From our differing faith traditions, we give – and receive – the Hope central to Christmas, the Light of Hanukkah, the Peace of Islam and the Unity of Kwanzaa.
Although life’s daily struggles are made more difficult by the searing winds and icy streets, our holiday traditions recall for us the ultimate source of our strength and our most abiding comfort in life.
“We are children of the same God,” these messages of the spirit proclaim. “We belong to the same human family. We should not, and we need not, be alone in the darkness.”
To the contrary, we are called to reach out to one another.
Our faith traditions offer us a deeper understanding of the human condition. However else we may choose to celebrate – whatever other offerings or contributions we may share – we remember that the only fires that can transcend the winter are those that we can light by sharing our lives with others.
When we answer this vocation of our spirit, we become more aware of the humanity around us – and the pain. We are reminded that, for those among us who are living solitary lives, this wondrous time of year can also be a time of deep sadness.
When we observe the “loneliness” of our neighbors – sitting by themselves in our coffee shops and cafes, surrounded by the sounds of joy – we are called to offer comfort for the emptiness that is engulfing them.
“Does their despair come from holiday reminders of a departed loved one?” we ask ourselves. “Does their seasonal discomfort arise from memories of a better past or from anxieties about an uncertain future?”
Whatever may be the source of their isolation, the loneliness in their eyes reveals a haunting truth about their lives – a revelation that was captured by the words of an old Temptations song:
“Piece of newspaper at my feet, we go blowing down the street.
“Got our stories, old and new, need someone to tell them to.
“We don’t have to be eye to eye or face to face,
“I’m not asking for miracles or saving space,
“And I don’t need another heart to have and hold.
“All I want is a friend I can talk to – soul to soul.”
As these words echo in our minds, we are reminded that, for so many lonely people around us, we can become the agents of that loving power to which our faith traditions point.
Our companionship and time can be priceless gifts to them – gifts that only we can share.
In our modern, urban age, we have forgotten much of the art of hospitality that our ancestors practiced with good-natured grace. Yet, by simple acts of kindness and respect for one another, we can begin to relearn what it means to be fully human.
It is an important lesson for each of us to contemplate – a lesson to share with the children in our lives.
By our compassion for others, we can teach our children that they can become something more lasting, something more powerful, than wounded travelers wandering through our shopping malls in search of consumption therapy.
By our kindness to others, we can teach our children that they, too, have the power to transform strangers into friends.
What better lessons could we share with them?
What greater joy could any of us give – or receive – than the light of friendship on a dark winter’s eve?
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.
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