Christmas Farewell

December 11, 2009
Romania, Land of Surprises
April 28, 2010
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(Originally broadcast on Dec. 18, 2009, on The Frank Show, here.)

As I – as we – close out this year, I feel blessed to be part of this community, this Bucharest, this Romania, to be friends of my few new good friends, to have met people I admire, people I wish I knew better, people I have been honored to meet, to be friends of my wife’s friends, and mostly thankful to be family to my wife’s family. There is a life in Romania that too few Romanians seem to appreciate. But inwardly, they recognize it, for it is what keeps them smiling, it is what keeps the children playing and the fathers and mothers coming home, happy merely to see these children smile. There is a life here, a spirit here, that is made all the greater for the knowledge and memories it has of life before, life in a place that no longer exists as it did.

But like a ghost of a life that is gone, the shadows of a darkened history remain. And I’ve come to realize that that reality can only be unexpected to an American. This land remains sadly the offspring of its history. Indeed, Romania is a child suffering the sins of the father. It has been a sad realization for me, but in the end, unavoidable. I see it in the attitudes of people, some of whom I work with, others I’ve met, some of whom I’ve read about or have seen on TV. There is a sadness in this country. There is an insecurity that many of my guest have touched upon. Mostly, it is something that people not from here, or people who have worked elsewhere, have come home to recognize.

No, I am not made sad by it. Christmas and New Year have a wondrous way of evoking a warmth of kinship, of humanity, of humility, with sadness and then hope. Hope that is contained in a new year about to begin. Hope that proves to us, through its existence, that there remains life and spirit despite all the pessimism. And sometimes, even, there is a sense of despair. I’ve seen that in a shrug that says, well, that’s just the way things are. I’ve noted it in the attitude of people as they tilt their head away from people sleeping in the streets. I’ve recognized the beginnings of it — I am ashamed to admit, in my own bristling attitude toward children – children who come toward me begging or reaching into my pockets to try to steal what they can. There is a sadness that still lies thinly veiled beneath so much here. It is beautiful to see in the way we recognize the depth of humanity in a painting’s sad eyes. Yes, it is a wellspring of great humor, for there is humor in all things, and seldom so bitter and biting than when it emanates from past suffering. It is the laugh of fate, of cruel hopelessness in a culture that is sure to continue, and one that is convinced in too many ways that it will fail. It is a joke that only those who have lived the times in a community can understand.

But it is a sadness to be sure. Why else, I conclude, should people resign themselves to so much? Why, I ask, does corruption flourish, if not because of a belief that nothing but conniving strength and fear can win? Why should coercion and deception be the currency of business — if not because there is an insecurity about competing fairly? Why should we risk losing, or succeeding, when we know either way, we have concluded a game that has no rules? One must trust in the value of oneself, to believe that through ability and intelligence that winning is possible even when pursued with purity and fairness. One must find that success can come without backroom deals, without mendacity, without Machiavellian tactics. It is insecurity, borne of a despair that survival is based upon, not cooperation and trust but, only hidden motives and clever disguise.

When that happens, yes, we gain that superficial currency from the other. But in the end, we gain nothing. For winning at a game that can provide no eternal value, is not a game to win, it is a foolish game made sad because it is so misguided.

So I will end this year by voicing my hope for the New Year. That businesses that deserve to, will continue to fail. That people, who can only play along the edges, not down the middle, will continue to struggle. That this economy, if not faced directly and dealt with realistically, will continue to flag. And then, as we begin to see success and progress, perhaps later in the year, I hope those who have survived will lose some of their insecurity, will shirk off those sad coattails of the past, and will see the future somehow differently than it appeared in the past. I hope that true competition will flourish, out in the open.. That people here will see a future as others in the world see it, one that comes with surmounting more modern travails and possessing the confidence that this society, this country, is equal to the best in the world. And because of that, we all can succeed even if – especially if — we compete honestly and openly, not merely climbing on top by relying on the worst inside us, but winning by presenting the best we have. That is my hope for the New Year and my prayer that it can come from this Christmas season as we look at our blessings, not our failings.

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