It's amazing, or on second thoughts not so amazing, how greedy and acquisitive we have all become in Ireland. We have got used to such unprecedented wealth with an accompanying very high standard of living as a result of that now mythical beast called The Celtic Tiger. It is now truly dead and put to rest. Actually, whether it truly existed or not is another cause for concern. It would seem that we were living on "virtual money" for some time. Anyway, I'm a very poor economist and know nothing of how the world of high finance works. However, until relatively recently I had been listening to my daily dose of depressing news from our national media. In fact, of late I'm getting sicker and sicker of depressing myself on its gloomy diet and have recently begun to listen to some uplifting music instead. We are inundated on a daily basis almost, nay bombarded, with "gloom, doom and dyspepsia" as an old teacher I had once used say. We hear reports of more and more workers being laid off, of the bottom having fallen out of the building industry, of small businesses going to the wall, of immigrants returning to their native soil, of high numbers on the dole, of yet another multinational pulling out and going to another country in Eastern Europe where they will have less costly overheads - code for paying workers a pittance, that is, until that country gets its act together and workers get a proper wage. Then once again that multinational will move on.
Moreover, it is depressing for the ordinary "man and woman in the street" to have read of the gross misuse of expense funds by the high echelons in the FÁS agency here in Ireland. I teach inner city kids, mostly from a poor and uneducated background. One little boy recently asked our principal whether he could be kept in on detention even though he had not been bold that day. The reason was simply that the poor boy had no heat in the house when he went home. To think that certain people are so nakedly greedy and so oblivious of the obvious poverty in certain quarters around them is sick to say the least. Like many others, I am disappointed, sickened and angry at such nonchalant, unthinking, greedy and grossly unethical and irresponsible behaviour. To think that some of us have come to believe that we are entitled to absolutely the best of everything - the dearest hotels, the best manicures and pedicures money can buy, the best hair dressing salons, the most sumptuous of food in the most sumptuous of surroundings, the best of transport at the taxpayer's expense is nothing short of downright disheartening and oh so very sad. What has become of the caring Ireland? What has become of a lot of us that we are blind and deaf to the needs of others and so engulfed by our own greed?
Well, my title today says it all. This naked greed described in my two opening paragraphs will never suck me down to its level. Why? Well, I've spent the last week or two preparing for our annual Christmas Vincent de Paul Party at school. Most of our young lads come from ordinary decent working class backgrounds. For the last seven or eight weeks we have sent boys around with a large bottle from class to class to collect some small change. That bottle coughed up some 400€ in total - brilliant. Then the staff donated some 450€. Added to that the local Conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society gave us 700€. From this money we fed some 70 old folk, entertained them and gave them each a present. We will also select 5 of the poorest families and give them a decent hamper for Christmas. All from small donations from decent ordinary human beings. Yes, yes, yes. The Spirit of Christmas is alive and well. This happens all around our country in many hundreds of other venues where like minded people do nice things for the old, the lonely and the poor at Christmas time. It's nice to give, and it's so rewarding to be nice.
There was such a great buzz and such a great "good feeling factor" alive and tangible at our little party last night that it renewed my flagging belief in humankind. There are always sentences, phrases and lines from poems, plays and films rattling about in my mind. As I type I recall the words of Agent Ward (Willem Dafoe) says to Agent Anderson (Gene Hackman) in the great film Mississippi Burning (1988) viz., "Where does all this hate come from, Mr Anderson?" I'm inclined to ask, "Where does all this greed come from?" Yes, there is much greed there. There is too much wealth in the hands of too few. Too many are going without even the basic necessities. However, it is the small acts of kindness that count, those small acts of generosity either with little money or with the voluntary giving of time that will heal the wounded animal the Celtic Tiger has become. Surely we cannot allow another dangerous and soul destroying animal akin to this greedy and voracious Celtic Tiger to be created in this lovely land of ours. There is no future to greed except the exploitation of the vulnerable and the eventual asphyxiation of the soul of our culture.
The Spirit of Christmas can never be let die because we will only do so at our peril - the very death of our souls. Charles Dickens' wonderful small book A Christmas Carol (A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas (commonly known as A Christmas Carol) is what Dickens described as his "little Christmas Book"and was first published on December 19, 1843) is still so relevant today. We must become like the new, redeemed and kindly Ebenezer Scrooge we encounter at the end of this wee book if we are to save ourselves form the pit of lifeless and sickening greed and excess.
As I finish these words, let me sing the praises of my colleagues, friends and pupils, as well as those of the dear people who attended our Christmas party. Let me sing those praises loudly, for I am filled with a spirit of kindliness, love and tenderness you all have engendered in me. You have been wonderful, kind and thoughtful. We need this so much in our often poor sad world. Let the Spirit of Christmas live in all our hearts this Christmas. Let us, in the words of William Shakespeare, which I never tire of quoting, rejoice in the fact of a very possible "brave new world that has such people in it." (Miranda's speech in The Tempest, Act V, Scene I)
Happy Christmas one and all!
Above, I have uploaded a picture I took of an Italian crib Christmas 2006. It was on loan from some Italian town - in Sicily, I think, if my memory serves me well. The marvellous display took place in the Pro-Cathedral, Dublin.