2015-02 From the President: In the Bleak Mid-winter

February, 2015 In the Bleak Mid-winter

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) puts some arresting public service ads on television. They are long and show suffering dogs and cats and are hard to watch without being drawn into the dire situations of these animals. I confess that I can hardly watch them.

Currently the SPCA sponsors one titled, "In the Bleak Mid-winter," with neglected animals suffering in the cold. The title and first stanza are taken from the poem by the Victorian poet, Christina Rosetti:
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

The poem was written in the early 1870s and is about Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in Bethlehem before Jesus was born. It dwells on the simple surroundings of Christ's birth, in a stable amidst animals. It was made into a Christmas carol in 1906 set by Gustav Holtz.

For many Minnesotans who stay here through our own bleak mid-winter months, the first stanza has a familiar ring. As I write this, shortly after the beginning of the New Year, and with several days of below zero wind-chill, I wonder why I choose to spend another January and February here.

Rrosetti's poem, though it starts off with winter scenes familiar to Minnesotans, isn't really a weather poem. It has more to do with attitude and point of view: how does one function in dark times when nature and life situations seem unyielding?

As a Christian, Rosetti wrote of how the coming of Christ would bring relief from the bleakness of the midwinter of life. She began a later stanza with the words:"When He comes to reign…." and promised blessings and hope as a result of that reign.

But, by this time in our lives we have had to cope with discouragement and to understand that there are seasons and places where our times stand "hard as iron," and a reign of peace and prosperity is hard to see. Loss of loved ones, turn of fortunes, pain and discomfort of aging—all
of these are challenges to our ability to respond positively.

With world events—the recent rise of ISIS, Boko Haram, and wholesale slaughter of innocent people including school children—we fear for the millions who are facing threats every day. As extremist cells in Paris and other European cities emerge—can we be far behind? "When He comes to reign" seems far off when, among others, the followers of the Prince of Peace are targets of militant extremists all over the world. In the face of 21st century dangers, how can we find Rosetti's assurance of a rescuer
sent by a loving God to thaw out the bleakness of the mid-winter life?

As we look out our windows into the bleak physical and philosophical mid-winter, we look for attitudes we can bring to bear on such bleakness.

A mid-January celebration comes to encourage us—the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Faced with paralyzing racial prejudice, Dr. King endorsed a view that civil rights are essential to democracy, that segregation must end, and that all people should reject segregation absolutely and nonviolently. We celebrate the life and ideas of a man who inspired a nonviolent confrontation with wrong and led us toward a more civil society saying, "Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

As we seek to live well in our retirement years, it's tempting to withdraw into our private worlds seeking comfort and convenience. Quoting Dr. King again: "the ultimate measure of a man [or woman] is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy."

To help dispel the bleakness of the mid-winter around us, retired or
not, we may, at times, need to enter the fray and stand up to the challenges of injustice and immorality.

— Hal Miller, UMRA President
miller@umn.edu