January 4, 2004
The 2003 Politically Incorrect Letter
Since 1997 I have written politically incorrect annual letters. Letters that on purpose stayed away from the usual content of annual letters – family photographs, job promotions, holidays taken, accomplishments of the kids, houses bought and the odd obituary. I have tended to view these letters with far less enthusiasm than the writer was hoping to convey and have often wondered as to what those letters did not reveal. Surely these seemingly normal families had the odd disappointment. The charitable view would of course be that people want to stress the positive. The cynical view, and cynic that I am one which I share, would be that these letters are the personal equivalent of the average job resume – an impersonal desire to beat one’s chest and cover one’s faults. Cynic that I am – or sourpuss – I have little time for these traditional letters that appear to be friendly but leave me wondering as to how the writers really fared.
My response was the politically incorrect letter. In the first letter humour came naturally, in spite of the Asian economic crisis. From then on, world events made humour more difficult to find. In my past few letters I have challenged religion and despaired for the world. In this, the seventh letter, I had considered writing about the arrogance of recent American policy and that of Bush the Lesser (as Michael Moore labeled him), Donald “Friend of Saddam” Rumsfeld, and Dick “Contract” Cheney. Then I read two of Moore’s books (Stupid White Men and Dude, Where’s my Country) and figured my best option would be to recommend them to anyone I knew. I had also considered writing about Israel’s incitement of the Palestinians but even that would simply have been stating the obvious. Even as early as a year ago, the merest word against Israel or an Israeli and you were anti-semitic – which is about as stupid as saying that I am anti-India when I criticize some of that country’s policies. Today, thankfully, even many more Israeli’s and non-Israelies, never mind four ex-security chiefs of Israel, are aware that Ariel “The Fence” Sharon has been a huge instigator of the current situation in the conflict.
The day I left for Switzerland we saw news of Saddam’s capture. I was pleased and hopeful when I saw that but could not help think of the actions that led to it. For the next few days the only news I got – and which set my spirits soaring - was of India’s remarkable victory in the second cricket test against Australia. While I did wonder what was happening in the world, I stayed away from news and newspapers for the better part of the second half of December. I reflected on 2003, read Moore’s books and enjoyed nature and the company of my family.
On the last day in 2003 we visited my cousin Hans and it was there on a snow covered farm that I knew what the key message of this letter would be. HOPE. I saw hope in the form of Hanspeter, a 9 year old.
Hanspeter was born 4 months premature and weighed about 500 grams – one of the smallest preemies ever to have survived, he was so small his dad could carry him in the palm of one hand. Today at 9, he is a delightful kid. He did not remember seeing us 7 years earlier so we were strangers to him. Neither this, nor the fact that we did not share a common language stopped him from welcoming us warmly, chatting with us animatedly, telling us about the farm, about the day they had ten feet of snow, playing cards, sharing jokes, being teased and having a meal (truly delicious and cooked by his mum) with us. The young lad always had a twinkle in his eye and has endeared himself to me forever. Yes, medicine, science and the love of his parents all helped – but it had to be his indomitable spirit that pulled him through.
When I was with him I felt hope. After I left him I could not get him out of my mind.
Before I saw him I saw hope when I saw the courage and fortitude of the suppressed, oppressed and unfortunate. That hope gave me the strength to wait or wear out a situation. After I saw Hanspeter I saw hope in a different light. Hope that springs from a different well. Hope that arises when one knows that a life and death situation has been overcome. Hope based on beginnings and not on endings. Hope that comes from a feeling of joy. Hope that comes with a glow rather than a steely fortitude. Hope, in this sense is a stronger hope as it is born of success and represents achievement and positive conclusions rather than a mere ray of light. Hope in this, er, light, gives one the vision of victory rather than merely the strength to bear a situation. Hope, in this sense, thumbs its nose at diversity, dismissing the past with a twinkle in one’s eyes rather than carrying the past as a heavy burden and framing all new situations in the lens of past hardships.
This new sense of hope was no doubt reinforced by two other factors. One is the rustic warmth of Hans, his family and his home. I am not one for visiting others and have, to my disadvantage, shunned “networking”. Yet, I have always looked forward to visiting Hans. You know when you are sincerely welcome. The second factor was a surprise. As I stood outside Han’s front door, all alone, smoking a cigarette in the falling snow – I saw the Sylvester Klaus. A group of men who looked more like a Native American war party, with 3 foot high masks were running towards me whooping and yelling, sticks in hand. I stood my ground and they came up and hit me – lightly. They were beating the evil spirits off. Swiss shamans but un-shaman-like!! Within minutes the evil spirits had been exorcised from all the folks at Hans place and the farm as well and we got down to hearing about the tradition from these strong young men as they all enjoyed drinks brought out by Daniella. Then it was a warm and heartfelt clasping of hands and arms and wishing each other only the very best. A joyful, well intentioned meeting of strangers.
It is this sense of hope, this sense of genuinely wishing others well, this sense of purpose, this sense of well being, this sense of victory, that I wish upon all of you. May we all make positive changes to not only our lives but to those of others around us as well.