Joseph Sabino Mistick: America's own fighting festival
Sometimes, as we approach a new year, the nostalgia for all that was left behind simply outweighs our hope for the future. New Year's Eve parties are one attempt to put a positive spin on the unknown future, but even that midnight anthem, “Auld Lang Syne,” is more about endings than beginnings.
Some cultures revel in melancholy, memorializing it in word and song. Portuguese fado music originated with the working class in the early 19th century. Its mournful tones are matched to words of hopeless resignation, and if you are in a lousy mood and want to wallow in it, fado is the music for you.
In Wales, melancholy can seem like the national pastime. Hiraeth, a Welsh word without a direct English counterpart, is often described as homesickness for a home that no longer exists or to which you can never return. Longing, yearning and grieving are words often thrown into the mix to convey that sense of utter heartbreak.
Just as hiraeth describes the feelings of those who miss old Wales, many Americans are feeling the same emotional pull of simpler times, longing for a return to an America that no longer exists. And the political upheaval of the past year seems to have unnerved nearly everyone.
Truth was the first victim of the chaos. The inability to agree on common facts has led to the end of conversation, honest debate and reason. The screaming matches that are common on cable news too often find their way into our personal lives.
News of current events once came at a manageable pace, allowing time to hear it, weigh it and form an opinion. Now, cable news and the internet demand a constant stream of changing stories, whether true or not, just to fill time and space. Most of us cannot keep up.
Compromise, civility and respect — once virtues — have become dirty words. Even the simple but essential ritual of breaking bread with members of the political opposition is seen as disloyalty. We no longer have the tools necessary to put our differences behind us.
In Santo Tomas, Peru, they move forward every year with a ritual called Takanakuy. Every Christmas morning, villagers gather in the bullfighting ring, wrap their fists in scarves and square off in a slugfest. All scores from the previous year are settled in this fighting festival, and they start the new year with a clean slate.
While that is tempting, it is not practical in a nation our size. Plus, we have lost all sense of proportionality. The time when two guys could take their dispute outside, slug it out and then return to the bar to share another beer is long gone.
But we do have our own fighting festivals. We have elections. Every year, everywhere across the land, scores are settled, communities are reshaped and new leaders are installed.
So, you can mourn your plight in song, like the Portuguese do with fado. Or you can spend a lifetime lamenting simpler times, as the Welsh describe with hiraeth.
But if you really want to do something about it, here is a New Year's resolution: Next year, show up and vote.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).