The Urban Man
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A Multicultural Moment

A Multicultural Moment<br> by Marc Porter Zasada<p> THE OTHER NIGHT, in a holiday mood, the Urban Man had a moment of multicultural inspiration. Worse yet, it came in a dark forest shortly before the winter solstice and involved the words of my secular kindergarten teacher from forty-odd years ago. <p> Now the Urban Man is no pagan, he tries hard not to be a vague universalist, and yes, he sometimes takes the gaudy warnings of radio talk show hosts to heart. <p> But what can I happened. <p> You see, with the longest night of the year coming, I decided to show my children what real darkness was all about. To do that, you have to get out of the city, so I took them for a late hike along Temescal Canyon, just up the road from L.A. <p> Right off, it's a cold and giddy adventure. I tell the kids that if they trust their instincts, they can stay on the lower trails without a flashlight, and I begin to lecture them about the angle of the earth. But when we enter the trees it gets truly black, so they switch on four blazing beams and run ahead to wave them crazily in the forest. <p> Me, I keep going in the dark. And suddenly, boom, I hear that teacher, Miss Thompson, speaking out of my childhood in all her multicultural glory. <p> Once upon a time, she told us, night was a big deal. Before gaslamps and lightbulbs, even great cities grew dark. People closed their streets with logs and chains, then gathered around fires or fought off robbers, and come December, just as winter was getting serious, they celebrated the passing of the solstice and the lengthening of the days. <p> Romans. Egyptians. Persians. Chinese. Macedonians. Everyone celebrated. <p> I remember Miss Thompson made us cut out both wreaths and candelabra from colored paper and staple them to the bulletin board, and then she said, "Children, the promise of this season has always been the same and always twofold: Light and Redemption." <p> Sometimes, she implied, redemption was particular and sometimes universal, sometimes it included political liberation, complex ethical codes, or theological phenomena, and sometimes it envisioned a complete change in the human heart: But always December promised light and redemption. Tonight, as I feel my way into a particularly inky group of trees, I think about those two words. And being a modern man, I begin to deconstruct them into their component pieces. <p> I think: Surely, we have already fulfilled the first half of the December promise. We have deployed much halogen and tungsten filament, and come this Wednesday, hardly anyone will notice the longest night of the year. <p> Those arriving by airplane on the solstice may grasp the great size of the darkness as they cross the southwest, but they'll probably be more impressed by the fiery spiderwebs we've scattered in the desert and the enormous electric ocean of the metropolis itself. <p> Back in the city, we have done what the ancients never dreamt of doing: we have defeated the night. And surely, I think, that should give us hope that somehow, against all the evidence of the evening news, we could work together on that other promise, I mean redemption. And who knows, someday a complex ethical agreement or tolerant change in the human heart could spread across the planet as rapidly as neon. <p> Like I said, it was a dangerously multicultural moment, and the Urban Man offers no excuse for his universalist behavior. I also offer no proof, only vague December expectations. But just then, as my kids came laughing back through the forest, and blinded me with their flashlights, expectations almost seemed like enough. <p> For KCRW, I'm Marc Porter Zasada. Merry Christmas. Chanukah Sameach. Joyous Kwanzaa. Happy holidays. <p> Copyright -- 2005 Marc Porter Zasada, all rights reserved. <br>

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