That nostril-piercing cold, the kind of winter T.S. Eliot describes "covering earth in forgetful snow" is not so forgettable that I don't remember sledding adventures by night, packing the Ever-Ready flashlight in one pocket and the Ivory soap bar in another, lugging the Flexible Flyer with its rusty runners to the best hill in the neighborhood.
I was the lightweight, the lank-limbed little sister whose duty it was to launch a sled down the hill. My brother soaped the runners then lay prone, he and his corduroy parka face down against the wooden slats, his athletic weight inert against the hill, waiting. My job was to take a run at his sled, heave myself onto his back with force enough to make us fly.
Sometimes the ride was too fast and our steering off-course, and more than once I flew into the ditch and came up with a bloody nose. But that was no defeat. The only failure was not to shove off, to miss the swift momentum and to feel the runners scritch through the snow pack into gravel-to know we weren't going anywhere.
And so you and I wait before the crest of a new year. At times we are the weighted ones, prone and inert before the cares and news stories of the day. I myself am tearful when I hear the voices of panicked Pakistanis, or learn as I did last week of a pastor-friend in Karachi, returning from a funeral service when news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination hit the street. It took him four hours to travel the remaining 21¼2 miles to his home. All around him rioters set cars on fire and fired weapons. "With full understanding and complete trust in the Lord I recommitted my life into His care and started praying," the pastor wrote later to friends. "Your prayers are being answered and I am still here, living and rejoicing in His goodness."
Living and rejoicing in His goodness. These words, from a man twice jailed for his faith, whose long-time colleague (Rejinald Humayun, general secretary of the Churches of Pakistan) was kidnapped five weeks ago and is missing still. His kind of perseverance and courage makes me long, despite my middle-age bones, to play the lightweight again, to launch straight and true against the gravity of a wearying world. For the new year is sure to be full of swift, heart-thumping rides-and bloody noses.
Think of Iraq with its new Awakening movement, mostly Sunni civilians who have forsaken roadside bombs and linked with U.S. and Iraqi forces to stop the terrorists. How should these citizen-soldiers be helped to succeed? Ambassador Ryan Crocker acknowledged that they cannot "be stand-alones for an indefinite period." Already dozens have died for their courage.
Think of Beijing, its infrastructure perhaps ready Aug. 7 when the Olympic Games open, but what about its social structure? An unregenerate human-rights record-including the deportation of North Korean refugees and support for Sudan's Islamic regime-makes for the most controversial Olympics since the 1980 games in Moscow.
Or turn your attention to the world's AIDS crisis and consider: The United States now treats with antiretrovirals a record 1.5 million HIV/AIDS victims overseas. At the same time, UN officials have lowered the forecast for infections to 2.5 million people in the coming year-a 40 percent drop over previous estimates. Could 2008 mark a tipping point for the AIDS crisis? Is there more we can do?
And no one should want to be without sledding gear when contemplating an election year. Or housing losses many say compare with those of the Depression era.
In similar times C.S. Lewis took a turn on Home Guard patrol with a fellow war veteran one cold winter's night. Into the wee hours they talked of endless wars, and suddenly the vet exclaimed: "But then what's the good of the ruddy world going on?"
In 2008, be sure, the ruddy world shall go on. Or the Lord shall return and blanket it white. Either way, I say we take up our soap bars, our parkas, our sleds. And ride.
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