Christmas Eve offers prospects, what Charles Dickens' Pip called "great expectations." Nothing beats wide-eyed expectation, or, as the case may be, wide-mouthed. Once, visiting a zoo, I gazed into a deep pen and locked eyes with a pygmy hippopotamus. Rearing up, his stubby legs against the wall, he opened a cavernous mouth, fully believing I would drop something good. I did, quoting Psalm 81:10, "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it," not that this faith-filled hippo needed to hear.
True expectation has more to do with likelihood than presumption. The hippo had been fed before. Telling a child about Santa Claus long enough with no fulfillment of his hopes, no matter our intentions, produces a jaded adult. Satisfying all his desires promotes greed. Balance means not feeding the hippo until his stomach needs pumping.
Looking forward suggests we haven't arrived. Asked what she is most proud of in her life, women's activist Gloria Steinem said: "I haven't done it yet." English writer W. Somerset Maugham wrote: "Only a mediocre person is always at his best."
Science is exciting because it continues searching. A November New York Times' article started out: "Something big is going on at the center of the galaxy..." Phrases like "astronomers don't know" and "mysterious fog," words like "surprises" and "phenomena," stir curiosity about finding huge energy bubbles, almost as big as the galaxy, buzzing the Milky Way.
This month the Nobel Peace Prize was placed in an empty chair. For the first time in 74 years the $1.4 million was not handed to the recipient. Liu Xiaobo is serving an 11-year prison term in China for seeking changes in the communist system. Chair and prize await Xiaobo's freedom, a gift his words indicate he already lives: "I have no enemies."
Christmas Eve is like that, pointing to an empty crib, awaiting a baby who will fill it and the earth with peace, a baby who will be willing to even die for his enemies.
As 2010 closes, the nation's biggest charities show an 11 percent drop, the worst decline in 20 years. In October, wealthy Philadelphian Gene Epstein set aside $250,000 for his Hire Just One effort. For every business that hires one new employee and keeps them on payroll at least six months, Epstein will donate $1,000 to charity in their name. Some are hiring even in economic distress, encouraged by Epstein to step out past fear.
"I thought you had to be wealthy to do such things," says former teacher Marc Gold. Then, while traveling India in 1989, he spent $1 for antibiotics that saved a woman's life. Since then, through his nonprofit "100 Friends," he travels the globe using small amounts of money to restore lives and livelihoods. Linda Arking describes him in a December Parade magazine as a "cross between Santa Claus and Johnny Appleseed."
Christmas Eve returns us to the edge of expectation, the thrill of unopened possibilities. In October Bholaram Das, age 100, enrolled in a Ph.D. program in India's Gauhati University. Now we know what a hippo, Steinem, Maugham, Xiaobo, Epstein, Gold, and Das share. When they open their mouths, they expect something good.
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If you are a seeker of simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side.