The First Snow
With my first post of 2009, comes the first snow to fall in Northampton and its surrounding areas.
When my brother woke me up excitedly this morning to look out of my bedroom window, I guessed that the river must have frozen up again. However, not only had the river's surface been kissed by the cold and frost, I discovered that we'd been visited by snow, too.
Jumping out of bed and waking up Gizmo the cat, he had moodily come over to the window sill to give a yawning-miaow, wondering what all the fuss could be about.
The last time I had seen snow on flat ground in England was in 2004/05. Spending the previous three winters in Cyprus, a Greek Cypriot friend had to take me on a trek to the Taurus mountains to satisfy a childhood craving, which is the only place that snow traditionally visits my home island - lying on ridges of rock like curved snowdrop petals.
Staring out at the scene this morning, while giving Gizmo his morning scratch behind the ears, I felt that the snow had come as a last, perfect gift for the end of the holidays. Eleven days too late for a white Christmas, but still a perfect gift nevertheless.
However, the joy was short-lived, when my brother turned on the TV for the morning news and thoughts inevitably turned to the current situations our world is facing.
It is a cold, harsh fact that globally we're off to a terrible start this year and January may seem like a dark dawn for 2009.
Doomsayers are saying we shall be feeling the effects of the economic downturn, and that this year is predicted to be tougher than most because of the looming recession - but it isn't the economic news that bothers me.
We are being hit deeper in our hearts, than in our pockets.
While Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair gets a ceremonial pat on the back by US president George W. Bush for his staunch support of Bush's cowboy foreign policies, the slaughter in Gaza continues - which will be radicalising Muslims all across the world and on our doorstep for generations to come.
And yet, looking out of my bedroom window instilled me with a hope as alive and sharp as today's crisp winter morning that helped to lift the gloom. Call me stupid; call me a hopeless romantic, but I do have hope for humanity in a world that can bloom so beautifully even in a deep mid-winter.
So why, despite all the inhumanity around me, did standing in awe of a beautiful day make me feel human today?
I can only guess at the reason; possibly the more refined emotion that can show an appreciation of beauty (unlike raw emotion, which we share with many animals) is where the fundamentals of our humanity lie. I would go further and argue that to experience emotions, but not to let them take over completely to our detriment, is the real essence (or advantage) of being human.
Some psychologists also believe that the rational mind cannot exist without an underlying emotional mind. It is only then that we can accept the truth of things, even if we have a fervent desire for them not to be. Hope kicks in when we come to that acceptance, giving us the necessary gear up for change.
We are in sore need of some of that humanity and hope right now in the Gaza strip, although currently all I see are people on both sides wasting time trying to apportion out blame to a certain race or creed.
We need to accept the truth of the way our world is at the moment, not stand still and shout rage or hatred through barriers that will only filter through our whispers - or worse still try to bomb them when they refuse to listen.
To describe such futility in a nutshell: Haters of snow will not make it melt any faster by going out to shout at it.
However, if innocent Palestinian civilians are dying so that others can trample and stand on them, as though their corpses are opinion boxes on which to vent their rage on a neighbouring country, and that country is willing to take innocent lives to satisfy voters at home - then where is the hope do I hear readers ask?
The hope is in those of us within the human family that are at a distance enough not to have had their humanity stifled by raw emotion.
It is easier said then done to ask people to think rationally when bombs are flying over their heads, or their family has been decimated, so it is up to those of us lucky enough not to be in the conflict to provide that hope and to show there is light at the end of the tunnel - not to create more conflict, too, because that is just hopeless.
Anyone who uses this episode as a vehicle for their racist beliefs or a fundamental platform to strike terror is dishonouring the dead.
Instead, moving to protest the situation in Gaza by peaceful demonstration, by energizing local aid efforts for the suffering and the dying, and by trying to work out effective means for this never to happen again stands more chance of victory for all.
It is a nascent idea that sometimes hope is all we have, but it is often true, because it is not like the first snow in January, to melt equally fast; it is like the river that flows constantly even under the ice.
So today, in this new year, let these dark days be an opportunity for us to make our human hope a flow that overcomes anything.
For that is the true source of our humanity - and salvation.