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A Silent Night on Main Street:

Columnists, regardless of their ultimate goals, should probably resist indulging in too much sentimentality. While nostalgia is a reliable building material for column writers, too much of it implies that everything was better “back in the day…” And that’s just not true. Lots of things are better now than they were. For example, “Hot Pockets” microwave sandwiches now come in “Biscuit,” “Pot Pie,” “Croissant,” and “Lean” pockets. Now everybody’s “pro choice” at lunch time!!

But at the risk of dulling whatever edge I have with some sticky sweetness, I’ll relate a scene from my personal holiday storybook that might just warm your heart. Well, there’s heart warming and heart burn. (For difference, see “Hot Pockets Pot Pie” above.)

At the end of some serious holiday cocooning with DVD’s and new Christmas sweaters, the occupants at our house were restless to get outdoors and stretch their legs. So New Year’s Day night we took a walk down to Santa Monica’s Main Street. It was my idea, since a few nights earlier I had been struck with the charm Main Street takes on at night due to additional holiday lighting and decoration.

There was an additional dimension on New Year’s Day night: Silence. The bars and restaurants and shops had rightfully given their crews the holiday off, and Main Street was silent. And empty. Peaceful, in a way few places are anymore. (Uh-oh, nostalgia alert…)

All of Main Street’s holiday shimmer was in place, lights were on but… nobody was home. It felt like we had the entire strip to ourselves, and I don’t think we saw even 10 other people the entire time. And just as silence can be deafening, so can it also stir you in a way that the blare of modern life (nostalgia alert No. 2) never can.

So I was stirred… to think about how fortunate we are to enjoy the tranquility we have here in our small but constantly developing (that’s No. 3) city by the sea. Especially when so much of the world is uneasy or erupting in chaos or worse. Our “wants” here differ dramatically from the aching needs in other places. At the moment, someone in Santa Monica is arranging for nanny service to cover getting out to that new place with the unbelievable eel sushi while people in other lands are busy killing each other or waiting for relief workers to bring food.

In various torn countries, violence is seeded by primal violations of human rights. In Santa Monica, many anguish because the writer’s strike may foul-up the Golden Globe Awards. In Kenya, upheaval may devolve into genocide at any moment. On the Westside, there’s still this dreadful selfishness when it comes to the parking spaces at Trader Joe’s.

These jokes are easy and probably unfair, since many global humanitarian and environmental groups have their headquarters here in our peaceful city at the edge of the continent. How did that happen? Well, LA is nearby, sure. But I also suspect that, in our town, it’s possible to hear yourself think. And we must think. Progress and planning for the relief of suffering begin with quiet review and contemplation… with the exception of Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney who approach global solutions with a bass guitar and hairspray, respectively.

As we walked Main Street on that silent New Year’s night, I was grateful that life had led me to Santa Monica. Before moving here, I’d spent a little over a year struggling in New York, although I’m told that if you can make it there, etc., etc. Manhattan does have that instant energy, like electric current shooting up from the sidewalk into your shoes the minute you hit the pavement. But they never turn that juice off in New York. It’s a little like sitting on a hair dryer, 24/7. And you can’t just walk down to the beach and watch the sun set.

So my message, which should arrive about now in this last paragraph, is that we should never stop being grateful for whatever chance circumstances allow us to live in our city. The holidays can often feel like a celebration of wellness by way of slathering on food and drink and gifts. But they can also deliver a few moments of peace. That peace has everything to do with where one resides on earth. Maybe that compels us to find ways to share our peace with those places that are short on peace… or resources or hope. There are ways… and the New Year will be full of opportunities to pursue them.

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