Thursday, March 25, 2010

In Search of the Bunny!

By that title and in deference to the upcoming Easter celebrations, one could be excused for thinking that these words refer to the quest for the Easter Bunny. At a glance, it might appear that I am musing today about the mystical rabbit that is historically associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As an Easter symbol, the bunny likely originated in Alsace and the upper portions of the Rhineland when the Holy Roman Empire ruled that part of Germany. The first rabbit reports in connection with Easter appeared in German publications early in the 1600’s. Later, German settlers introduced the critter to America as they settled in the Pennsylvania Dutch region, during the 1700’s. Since then, the tradition has multiplied like …, well, like rabbits!

But, I am actually on the hunt for another, perhaps less folkloric and less notable of bunnies, known as the Energizer Bunny. Remember him? A marketing icon and totem for Energizer batteries, he actually originated as a parody of yet another bunny. The previously existing Duracell bunnies, first seen in ads in Australia and Europe, were battery-powered, drum-playing, toy rabbits who gradually slowed to a stop until a copper-top battery was inserted. In the “gospel according to Energizer,” however, Mr. Bunny enters that same scene, beating a larger drum, waving a mallet over his head and outlasting all other bunnies. The clear critique was that Duracell batteries, with their carbon tops, were inferior to the alkaline batteries from the Energizer folks. Battery wars!

Since those days, however, “Energizer Bunny” has entered the vernacular as a symbol for a person who seems indefatigable, with a personal power source that “keeps on keeping on!” Somewhat similar to the wristwatch commercial that once applauded a timepiece that “takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” in contemporary parlance, this bunny-type person possesses an endless source of perseverance. That is precisely the bunny that, in my weariness, I am always in need of!!

Although the Energizer Bunny has appeared in more than 115 commercials on our television sets, the honest to bunny-rabbit reality is that this type of vigor within persons is as rare and difficult to discover as “Harvey,” the giant rabbit companion of Elwood P. Dowd, played so convincingly in the 1950 movie by Jimmy Stewart. As a likeable drunk, Mr. Dowd swears to an intimate companionship with a six-foot, three and a half inch, invisible pooka, described in the movie as a “fairy spirit in animal form, always very large; a benign, but mischievous creature very fond of rumpots (and) crackpots ….”

Whether or not we have a penchant for alcohol, rum or crack or are crackpots who are afflicted with some other, more explicitly psychological expression of creaturely dependence, all of us could sorely make use of a colleague like Harvey and an energy source like the Energizer Bunny. I mean, where do we find the companion in our creaturehood who can instill within us the capacity to “stay at it,” despite the inevitable setbacks and trip-ups of life, many of which are self-induced? John Steinbeck wrote of travelling with Charlie, his dog; Robert Lewis Stevenson travelled with a donkey. You and I need an egg-bearing bunny!

Since I live in Greece, I am well aware that the Greek Orthodox Church encourages the giving and receiving of red-painted Easter Eggs, in recognition of the blood of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and the renewal of life offered by the death-conquering, resurrected Christ. So maybe, I am seeking an Easter bunny, after all. But this bunny should not be of the “hippity, hoppity” genre; I need the hard-nosed, hare-brained, grit and determination kind. Ironically, he must, in this sense, be more tortoise than hare; less Playboy Bunny with a cotton tail and more of a tough, street-smart rabbit with a mallet; he must be less Beatrix Potter and more the persevering, stronger than death and life, resurrected Jesus, “energizing” kind of rabbit.

Perhaps you think me a Mad Hatter or as mad as a March hare! Please understand: I carry no rabbit’s foot in my pocket; I expect no magical dispensation from harm. But, by God’s grace, I am discovering in my warrings and weariness, the Companion on the journey who is the Source of that eternal, staying power for which the highest meaning of all of the eggs and rabbits are but symbols. This Easter, I am hoping that you, likewise will be ready to find and anxious to welcome that empowering fellow-traveler for life, despite the snares, lairs and rabbit traps!

In the Jimmy Stewart movie, Elwood P. Dowd says: "Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space but any objections." What objections remain in you?

Got rabbit?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Strike Out for Greece!

By now, much of the world is aware of Greece’s nasty little secret! After many years of “creative” accounting and hiding the facts, it is now apparent that Greece is in debt, big time. Since fudging on taxes is a way of life here, and many Greeks routinely under-report their actual incomes for tax purposes, it will come as no surprise to learn that the government, too, has been less than forth-coming! In a country where cheating on taxes is so common that two different receipts are offered by merchants (one in which taxes are paid and the other in which everyone agrees to “look the other way”), the recent news that the national debt is far higher than has been heretofore reported is not at all unexpected.

By now, you also know that the European Union, after years of patiently working with Greece to get its deficit and debt under control, has, at last, begun to apply blunt pressure on this “birthplace of democracy.” At the recent, called elections, the presiding political party was cast out and the new governing Grecians, themselves having been in power often in the past, have gallantly announced that the dirty house will be cleaned and that strict procedures are in the works. Austerity measures are hastily being pushed through the Parliament in a manner that will probably negatively impact the cash flow of almost everyone in the short-run, except, presumably, the cash-strapped government!

In a country where strikes and protests are as ubiquitous as pigeon poop, the announcement that taxes will be raised and that certain benefits will be curbed, such as lifetime job security and 14 months of salary each year for government employees, has been met with howls of public protest. In the “Grecian formula,” everyone strikes over something or other. The trash collectors, bankers, physicians, bus drivers and lawyers strike routinely. Often, general strikes are scheduled far in advance, sometimes for reasons that are not yet clear at the time of the strike forecast; the assumption is that sufficient grievances will have surfaced in the intervening months, so that a future strike will be necessary.

It is fittingly ironic that the most recent group to announce a strike in Greece in the protest over the need to levy more taxes has come from the tax-collectors themselves! While the logic of this could be difficult to extrapolate, the bean counters in the tax offices are taking off a couple of days in deference to the “unfairness” of the proposed, rigorous government measures.

If it were not so serious, I would be laughing!