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Minnich: Looking back, seeing forward as we begin a new year, one big family | COMMENTARY

These last hours of the last day of the last month of the year — any year — are as the moments before a sunset.

You can savor the day or lean into plans for tomorrow. It makes a difference in what comes next, but the thoughts that come to mind are less about what you choose than what has been bequeathed by recent events.

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We’re coming to an end of a tumultuous time, roiled by extremes in politics, weather, and the shadow of a disease that can be seen only in the effects it has on the lives of people whose only trespass had been their expectation of some kind of normality, of justice and fairness and reward for relative virtue. We have been hammered with the truth that bad things do happen to good people.

That makes it harder to comprehend how we got here, with so many stewing in grief, or anger, certainly uncertainty. We come to an end of an anomaly in history, but what will follow?

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Most of us were raised to hold high expectations, because what we believe, individually and as a culture — actually, a convergence of cultures — is that the foundations of America are solid and will hold fast no matter how much the earth trembles with the faults of human activity.

What has changed, in my view, is the way we look at our responsibility in all of this. Are we mere spectators, destined to accept whatever consequences result from either the neglect or the over-stimulated and misguided willfulness of others?

It goes back to motive, as I see it. If zealots are motivated only by self-interest or the exclusion stoked by ignorance and hatred of those who are different, they must be met with a wall of resolve that the better instincts of humans will prevail.

We can listen and perhaps learn about what fears drive darker tendencies to follow the drumbeats of nationalism and totalitarian, authoritarian politics. But it may be as simple as basic selfishness. Self-absorption made acceptable by celebrity.

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Where we see “divide and conquer” those of us who value the best ideals of America have to show how to bring people together and include those who need to feel a part of a greater whole. It requires give and take — compromise, but not surrender.

The blueprint is there, in the founding documents of the nation — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.

We have never been a nation that worships personality over equal justice for all. Government should be of laws, rather than of men.

We all grew up with reverence for the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, and the inscription on it, welcoming those who seek the best ideals on which the nation was founded.

Somehow, we cobbled together a system of social service that combines the power and collective resources of government with the free will and charity and volunteerism of everyday citizens working in city blocks and country communities to take care of each other.

When people are wiped out by fire or flood or tornado or pandemic, we don’t ask them their national origin or religion or make assumptions because of their skin tone. When people need help, the government has partners in the local service clubs, churches, community associations and just plain neighbors.

That’s the nation that I was born to, sometimes faltering, sometimes forgetting, but always returning to that human connection, that recognition of one-ness, that erases class and wealth and politics — all the other constructs that we erect to make us feel immune to misfortune or judgment.

The constructs are just toy frames outside the center art of what we really are, and there is room for all of us in one big family portrait. Scoot over and make room.

Dean Minnich is a semi-retired newsman and former county commissioner. His column appears every Thursday. His email address is dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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