Here we are, halfway between winter solstice and the vernal equinox, approaching Candlemas Day, better known in North America as Groundhog's Day. And once again, we'll be watching for Punxsutawney Phil's emergence from his burrow to tell us whether winter will soon end or, at least in Pennsylvania, continue for six more weeks.
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The legend is that if the weather is bright and clear, the groundhog will be frightened and run back into its hole, and winter will continue for six more weeks. I'm not so sure about that - having been born on Groundhog's Day, I've had a life-long interest in the subject. While the current version of the legend is a lot of fun (and the Bill Murray movie about the day is one of my favorites), at this point in my life I see a deeper and more relevant meaning in the image of the frightened animal dashing back into its burrow.
Today's world is a pretty frightening place. All over the globe, old conflicts have flared into modern, tragic wars. Tribe versus tribe, religious sect versus sect, ideology versus ideology; it is all too familiar. On top of that, too many people don't have decent housing, food, health care, employment, education, and the other things we consider necessary for a quality life. And then there are the social problems of pollution, global warming, crime, corporate and individual greed, unresponsive governments, dishonest public officials and too many other challenges that barrage us in our daily lives.
It is small wonder then that too many of us, aware of all these challenges, see them and run frightened back into our routines, the shelter of the "daily grind," the peace of mind brought by simply ignoring the challenges or pretending they don't really exist. After all, I can't do anything about it, so why bother. I'm convinced that that is why too many of our fellow citizens don't vote, too many turn to the fantasy life of television and movies, or the distraction of alcohol, drugs, and compulsive gambling, and too many just throw up their hands and hope that someone else will solve the problems of the day.
I learned some time ago that the best way to feel positive in a time when you are almost overwhelmed by negatives is to take action. It may be a very small action - spending an afternoon volunteering at a school, pounding nails on a Habitat home, cooking at a soup kitchen, working with an advocacy group, or picking up litter, to name a few. But by that action, you are doing something to solve some part of a problem. It sure beats watching CNN all day and getting depressed!
Let's use Groundhog Day as a day to resolve to do something, however small, to address one of the many challenges we face. Stay out of the burrow of avoidance and get into the sunlight of being part of the solution. Taking care of the least among us, loving our neighbors, and even loving our enemies are some of the most important lessons taught by the Christian tradition. If we live those principles, ultimately we also feel better about ourselves. And yes, one person can make a difference. After all, there are thousands of "one persons" in Juneau, hundreds of thousands in Alaska, and millions in America.
Dave Dierdorff is a member of Juneau Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.