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Seasonal reasoning from aloft (and below)

By Valarie Schwartz

A clan of turkey vultures came callin’ Sunday afternoon. Enjoying the cold, gusty, brilliant weather, the white undersides of their wings shone like aluminum with the waning sun glimmering upon them as dozens gathered overhead.

Watched while in flight, the birds, which can have 6-foot wingspreads, glide gracefully and effortlessly among the thermals, whether searching for food or simply enjoying the ride and community.

The air show produced a far different reaction than the repulsion upon seeing a turkey vulture along a roadside rising in wobbly takeoff from a carcass feast, its red bald-like head appearing comical as well as grotesque.

The allure of nature, making even the lowly turkey vulture a gift to behold, delivered the metaphor required for focusing on this time of year. With only a change of perspective, the holiday season, like the turkey vulture, makes hearts rejoice — and cringe.

The first seasonal cringe begins, oh, maybe around Labor Day, when some heartless Madison Avenue mouthpiece announces how many shopping days are left . . . deepens into annoyance while listening to Christmas carols as we purchase Halloween candy . . . and broadens into near-panic when we see that our Thanksgiving pumpkins are still on the porch while the neighbor’s Christmas lights glow on houses and in yards.

But those are just the financial and time stressors of the season.

There are the parties. Parties mean delicious but unhealthy foods we seldom eat yet feel burdened by tradition to prepare and consume knowing full well we’ll suffer — either a few hours later or by needing to reduce our weight come January. Parties also mean socializing.

At some point we’re likely to be asked a question, hear a song, a spoken phrase, or be provided some other memory spark about someone who can no longer share this anomalous time of the year with us. Thrown down to the mat, we’ll wish we could stay there until long after the ten-count; the desire to struggle through the season knocked out of us; yet we plug along.

For two weeks, routines are broken; the norm gets put on hold while (this year) we endure two four-day weekends. The disruption of routine opens the door to pain related to a shock we may have experienced earlier in the year or many years ago, but not fully absorbed.

Many in our community suffered greatly this year. People lost homes to a variety of reasons, including fires, foreclosures, loss of a breadwinner; or for a child, the death or arrest of a single parent.

We all lost loved ones this year — besides the many families where a beloved member has died, the community lost Florence Soltys, Joe Hertzenberg, Marty Ravelette, Ron Hyatt and Dan Okun, all leaders and heroes in their own right.

Regardless of the many dogmas, joys and despairs attached to this time of year, the prevailing feeling needs to be one of hope. While considering opportunities lost, let’s hope that in 2008 we will use each chance we get to do not only the right thing, but to do our very best at achieving the greatest result each time.

The turkey vulture tends to the business of staying alive, finds recreation in its endeavors and takes time to roost, sitting in the highest limbs of the tallest trees, waiting, resting, watching from on high.

My wish for us all this season is that amidst honoring hosts with our presence, and after discarding or recycling the debris of the opened presents, we can find our own places to roost and appreciate (maybe even rejoice in) the present, while releasing the pain from the past and finding hope for the future.

Happy Holidays!

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