"Silent night, Holy night. All is calm, All is bright."
Most people probably know those familiar words from the classic Christmas hymn. While it's one of my favorite Christmas songs, its words are bittersweet this year.
I like to think of myself as an optimist — I'm the kind of person who looks at the glass as "half full," who tries to see the "bright side" of things. But as we come to the end of 2012, I have to admit it has been a rough year for our nation. The words "all is calm, all is bright" don't really describe America right now.
Although there will always be bad news, it seems we've had more than our fair share lately. From tragic shootings at a movie theater in Colorado and an elementary school in Connecticut that claimed innocent lives, to the bitterness and division brought up in our recent election, it seems to be getting a little harder to keep holding to hope.
Talk about the impending "fiscal cliff" is generating fear and uncertainty, and too many people I know are struggling to make ends meet. We've been hit by a variety of natural disasters and a lingering drought that threatens to continue into the next year. "Stress" has become a part of our daily lives, and people seem worn out and burned out.
Maybe it's just me, but there also appears to be more of a spirit of anger and negativity these days; people are rude to the cashiers at retail shops, and they're rude to other drivers on the road. Comment sections on Internet sites have become places to put down other people and ideas, rather than places to have meaningful conversations in a constructive manner.
Every day, media headlines are filled with words like war and terrorism, starvation and poverty, and injustice and violence. It's tempting to become discouraged, to give up the fight and give in to fear. But I think it's important to remember there's still cause for hope in our world, and there's still good people in it. A light still shines in the darkness — and that light is a certain baby lying in a manager in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. He came to give us a reason to have hope, a reason to keep going.
Maybe all of us here in Newton, Kansas, can't do anything about the fiscal cliff, and we can't stop natural disasters from happening. But we can share acts of kindness with those around us. Smile at people as you pass them in the grocery store, make a donation to a charity (and even if you can only give a small amount, most non-profit directors likely will agree that every little bit helps).
Help your neighbors shovel snow after a snowstorm, and give a gift to someone who maybe had to spend Christmas alone. Speak out for those who are hurting or are in trouble but don't have a voice. Choose to be willing to hear the other side of the story, to listen to a different perspective. Let go of past grudges and find healing in forgiveness. Find a way to "pay it forward": pay for your drink at the local coffee shop, and then pay for the drink of the person in line behind you. Spend extra time with your family and let them know how much they mean to you.
These are just small acts, but each one is like a candle: light enough of them, and you'll flood a room with light and drive away the darkness.
One of my favorite quotes from the movie "The Hunger Games" is "The only thing stronger than fear is hope." That line rings very true; we have to believe there's still hope for the future, and we can rise above the fear. Take comfort in the words of that Christmas hymn, and we can make our world a place where "all is calm, and all is bright" once again.
Ashley Bergner is a reporter at The Newton Kansan.