Brilliant Decisions

My name is Scott Rochat and I have Decoration Postponement Disorder.

OK, that’s a convenient label to soften the fact that we’ve reached the Martin Luther King weekend and our Christmas tree is still standing tall in the front window in all its decorated, multi-colored glory. All kinds of wonderful excuses could be given – family emergencies, busy schedules, post-Bronco depression – but the fact remains that the First Noel has yet to say the Last Goodbye.

Looking around, though, I’m not exactly alone. Oh, the inflatable Santas in the front yard and reindeer on the roof have mostly gone, but I’ll still turn a corner to find homes proudly lighting the night with strings of color. This has made winter even more exciting for Missy, for whom holiday lights are a MAJOR passion to be pointed out at every turn and indulged in at every opportunity.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that (with apologies to Jerry Seinfeld). In fact, if you visit the right corners of social media, you’ll find a pretty active debate about just when the lights should be taken down and how long is Too Long. There are several distinct camps:

  • Right Away – Come Dec.26, or at most, New Year’s Day, and boom, down they go. These are also the folks with immaculate garages and five years of carefully-stored receipts.
  • Epiphany — Some of us remember that Christmas is 12 days long (yes, the 12 Days of Christmas starts on the 25th), and decide that the decorations don’t need to come down until Epiphany hits on Jan. 6. Normally our own intended goal, this was postponed this year by a cousin’s sudden Jan. 6 appendectomy. (Yes, sometimes the holidays just keep on giving!)
  • Stock Show – In Denver, of course, there’s a grand old tradition that Christmas lights stay up until the end of the National Western Stock Show, which concludes this year on Jan. 21. This has since been enthusiastically adopted by a certain contingent of Coloradans in general. “I’m sorry, hon, but I have to show solidarity with the cowboys. Especially … you know … wossname.”
  • Huh? And sometimes objects at rest just tend to remain at rest. When I was a kid, there was one notable year when the rooftop lights didn’t come down until Easter. Alternatively, this can be a conscious choice – I once knew a Kansas police department that kept its tree up year round, but changed the decorations each month to something appropriate, such as hearts for February, flags for July, or black crepe for another Chiefs playoff loss. (OK, maybe not that last one.)

As you might guess by now, I’m not exactly a zealot on the subject. In fact, in a time of dark nights and dark news, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing to keep light shining by any means possible. You could even argue that this time of year, when we remember King’s words and our nation’s struggles toward freedom and equality, is one of the most appropriate times of all:

“…when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”

“Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. … But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.”

Maybe, just maybe, as we keep our rooftops alight, we can remember to do the same for our hearts, our hopes, and our passion for justice.

And if it means enabling my DPD for a few days longer, well, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Standing Like a (Little) Rock

Ten years ago, I had the chance to hear Minnijean Brown Trickey encourage everyone to take the road less comfortable.

The name might not ring a bell. After all, it’s been 60 years since the Little Rock Nine made their way to high school accompanied by the 101st Airborne. Sixty years since a tooth-and-nail battle to bring black students to an all-white school, in the face of every obstacle that could be erected. It’s a faceoff that’s become iconic – an image, a newsreel, a chapter in a history book.

Suddenly, for one night, it became flesh-and-blood. And as Minnijean spoke of what she had seen and done, an entire audience asked itself “What would I have done then? Could I have been as strong?” No one doubted the right thing to do, or even that it still needed to be done – but that first step seemed so long, toward a world of uncertainty and danger and arrest.

Minnijean,  who once spilled chili “accidentally on purpose” on another student that harassed her, was gentle in response.

“Everyone is conflicted,” she said, in words that I took down at the time for The Emporia Gazette. “You might have to get kicked out of a few things. And you might find out how strong and courageous you are because you got kicked out of a few things. … It’s not about being arrested. It’s about being able to sleep at night.”

Self-respect. But not wholly self-reliance. Everyone is scared, she insisted. Everyone wants someone braver to help them be less scared.

Everyone needs everyone.

True then. True now.

***

When I first saw the news out of Charlottesville, I couldn’t find the words to meet it. It still seems unreal. Or maybe too real, the unwanted made undeniable. Torches and Nazi flags. Naked hate. Death, cold and real.

Some of us are lucky; we don’t have to think about this sort of hate on a daily basis. But like a mouse in the walls, not seeing it doesn’t mean it’s not there. And like those rodents, by the time you have to see it, the problem has grown.

It also becomes a wake-up call.

We’re a nation that argues. We always have been, even if the present time feels especially vicious. But if there’s anything I’ve seen mass agreement on from left, right, up, down, and all around, it’s that this evil has no place here. No, it’s not unanimous, sadly. But my goodness, there are a lot of us.

Enough to call evil by its name. Enough to stand.

This is the evil that friends and family fought as troops on the battlefield.

This is the evil that my English grandparents fought as workers in the factory.

This is the evil that has defined evil for four generations of authors, moviemakers, playwrights, and more.

This is the evil that sleeps beneath the human soul, waiting for an opportunity.

And it must be opposed.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m a First Amendment absolutist. Fred Phelps had the same right to speak as Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a country where one has wide latitude to speak evil and hate and horror if they will.

But the rest of us have the freedom not to listen.

The rest of us have the freedom to argue, and to oppose, and to ridicule. (Evil hates ridicule.)

The rest of us have the freedom to say not on my property. Not on my website. Not on my dime.

And when hateful speech becomes harmful action, an entire nation must be ready to show that actions have consequences.

This is not a comfortable duty we’re called to. Awareness never is. Confrontation never is. The first step toward better is as long as it was in 1957.

And as necessary.

Everyone wants someone braver to help them, Minnijean said. We can be each other’s someone.

And then, perhaps, we can all sleep a little better at night.