This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled.
But there are moments when we can reconcile and embrace the whole mess,
and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.’ ~ Leonard Cohen

It’s a gift to exist. It’s a gift to exist. And with existence comes suffering.
There’s no escaping that. And if you are grateful for your life which I think is
a positive thing, then you have to be grateful for all of it. ~ Stephen Colbert


I saw the headline when I landed in Aukland, New Zealand, after the seemingly endless 15 hour nonstop flight across the Pacific from the US. The headline – in huge letters – was about the Chernobyl nuclear reactor that had blown sky high while I was in the air.

I was headed for a job interview in Papua New Guinea and had decided to go there via visits to New Zealand and Australia first. I especially wanted to visit a friend in Wellington and then explore the less populated South Island for a bit. With the news of this disaster in the USSR, the world’s focus was on how much fallout there would be, what direction the winds were blowing, where radiation would land, and what the ramifications would be. I remember a big question that loomed: “Is it safe to drink the milk?” People in the Northern Hemisphere – especially in Europe – anxiously waited to learn of their fate. They had no control over where, when, or how much radioactive fallout would affect their lives and the lives of future generations.

As I drove through the beautiful pastureland and mountains of the South Island, I had the radio on. It was mostly news about the unfolding disaster. There was an emphasis on the question of whether milk was safe to drink. Paradoxically, every now and then, the same commercial would come on. It was Louis Armstrong singing one of my all time favorite songs: What a Wonderful World. As if that wasn’t paradox enough given the tragedy, the commercial was an advertisement for MILK. I was actually listening to the song – with its reference to ‘the colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky’ – as I witnessed the beautiful double rainbow.


I close the above story by referring to my experience of the paradox. That was then. Today, I see it more in terms of wholeness – as distinct from perfection. It is a whole system: the whole mess with both opposites and complements simultaneously. Just a few examples:

  • a singular individual experience AND a collective global experience
  • an idyllic drive through thriving countryside AND tragic disaster that killed the surrounding countryside
  • a moment in time AND consequences for millennia
  • NZ (in the Southern Hemisphere) as a nuclear-free zone AND heavy dependence on nuclear power in the Northern Hemisphere
  • joy AND fear
  • control and choice AND no control or choice
  • life AND death
  • then AND now

The theme for 2024 is What a Wonderful World. It is a year that will likely be heavily punctuated with unexpected and unpredictable weather events as well as expected (though as yet unknown) intense political and societal events. In preparation for whatever may come, this is a time for us to build increased resilience and expand our consciousness to better be able to hold a larger universe that includes rather than resists suffering. I am already experiencing the joy and peace that comes with letting go and embracing the whole mess. Hallelujah.


Photo by Barbara
South Island, New Zealand
Scan of a 35mm slide