I saw a man pursuing the horizon;
Round and round they sped.
I was disturbed at this;
I accosted the man.
“It is futile,” I said,
“You can never —”
“You lie,” he cried,
And ran on.
- Stephen Crane, I Saw a Man Pursuing the Horizon
The lights are up again, as are the trees and red bows and wreaths on the doors. The days are shorter, colder, the gift lists longer, the crowds dense on the sidewalk.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
The latter is overrun with shoppers, carolers, beggars, and volunteers trying to raise funds for charities, non-profits, random benevolent causes. The first group, the beseeched, maneuvers to avoid the others: the beseechers. The beggars moan, the fundraisers shout their pitches, but their targets are in a hurry. They walk on, leaving those standing crestfallen.
Only the carolers keep singing.
Hope and peace and red-nosed reindeer. Save the reindeer, and polar bears. Save the rainforest, and energy. Save the children. The famines in Syria and Yemen.
Could you spare some change for a bite to eat, please? Could you spare a minute to talk?
No. Sorry. There is too much suffering and too little time, money, energy for empathy. Besides, the stores are closing soon and we need lights for the tree.
They do not slow or make eye contact. Instead, they scurry into the heated boutiques and metro stations and on with the show. They cannot be blamed.
Most of them are not cynical. Most are just tired of trying, hoping, being disappointed. Most are just tired. At dusk, perhaps a little blue too. For most, getting home and warm and to tomorrow is hard enough, knowing that tomorrow, the beggars will still be begging, the volunteers fundraising, choirs caroling.
Knowing that next year, nothing will have changed but the date under: Seasons’ Greetings.
But there are some who do stop and make eye contact: the children, the sentimental. Some tourists, some just naïve. Some idealists, dreamers, sometimes delusional. They too are tired and cold but somehow have a spare minute and change - a dollar, a few pennies, a sandwich, and if they know the lyrics, the chorus.
There is a concept in Judaism called tikkun olam: repair the world. Not change. Not fix. Not carry its weight. Not heal every pain, but try. Its premise is simple: any activity done by any human being that betters someone or something’s existence is valuable and valid.
The acts that constitute tikkun olam – justice, righteousness, loving kindness – are independent of age, religion, gender, skill, or intelligence. No matter how big or small they are, these fixes can fine tune the universe. Soft music plays then. Passers-by hum along. Dusk is less heavy. The show goes on.
The show goes on because some are ‘not daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.’ Because some ‘do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now.’ Because some fools stand in the cold for hope and peace and red-nosed reindeer, polar bears, rainforests, and food for Syria and Yemen, and can you spare a minute?
‘You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.'
They will not change the world; that is not their goal. But they will try to fix it.