For some years now my final post of the year has been about my New Year’s Wish for everyone. Once again, this hasn’t been a great hope-inspiring year.
Even more people dying from ought to be a preventable disease. The angry science deniers/racists/homophobes seem to get more and more obstinate in their embrace of what can only be described at a death cult.
In other words, the world feels broken.
I never know what I’m going to type when I start this post each year. I sometimes worry that the voice in the back of my head that refuses to give up hope and tells me what I should wish will fail me. Despite the fact that I’ve often said that I appear the be fundamentally unable to stop finding at least a sliver of optimism, nothing lasts forever, right?
But as I was typing that paragraph, the surge of hope and optimism spoke up. So this year will not be the one, so, here is my New Year’s wish for you:
They say that time heals all wounds, but many of us know that time alone doesn’t heal everything. Some wounds need love, hope, and light to heal. Some things that are broken can only be mended by with a lot of work. If we look at all of the ways things are broken, it seems overwhelming. There is just too much work needed to fix all of them. Take a breath. Think about the people who have loved you in the past. People who loved you in a way that helped you become the person you are today. Thank them. And if they are no longer with us, think about the people you love. Thank them. Tell them you love them. Don’t be afraid to tell people you care about that you love them. Love them and let them love you. Now, don’t worry about all of the things that are broken. Concentrate on things you can do something about. Let your love and light shine on the people in your life and the people who cross your path. Love heals all wounds. Let your love out.
We’ve reached the first Friday in 2021. Which means that 2020 is finally over. All 59 dumpster fire months of it.
Calendars are social constructs, and neither viruses nor hate groups are constrained by them. So we have no guarantee that 2021 will an improvement. But there is power in human perception, so maybe we can begin to make things better. If we can be hope.
But let’s get on to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: one special story that we need now, the top five stories of the week, five stories about people who definitely weren’t on Santa’s Nice List, and five videas (plus things I wrote and many notable obituaries).
For many years now my final post of the year has been my New Year’s Wish for everyone who reads it and/or anyone who needs it. And I never know what it is going to be until I sit down to write it. This year is one of the most difficult ones to think about, because as I said in my previous post, not everyone made it through the year. Thinking about that brings tears to my eyes and also makes me really angry. And my new year’s wishes have always before been in one way or another about hope and empowerment.
When I say that thinking of all the people who have died needlessly this year it brings tears to my eyes, well, sometimes that all that happens. But I’ve found myself frequently not just tearing up, but breaking down into full sobbing. And as one of my best friends once observed, it is really hard to feel empowered when you are crying your eyes out. Then I found the image/meme on the right. “It’s OK if all you did this year was just SURVIVE.” I think I need to embrace that notion.
Alvin McEwen opined this week that it’s okay to feel exhausted by the year, and that it’s okay to be angry—because despite being exhausted we aren’t totally beaten down, and our anger is righteous anger. (If, by the way, you don’t follow Alvin’s blog, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters you should check it out! He’s doing good work there.) He’s right. It’s okay if all we’ve done is survive. Because the first step in fighting back against the darkness is to be here, ready to fight.
And as I finished that sentence, I finally figured out what this year’s wish is:
Don’t look to others for hope. Be hope.
There have been times when other people gave you hope. Now it’s time to pay it forward. Be hope.
You can be the hope that changes the world. Show up. Remember that exhaustion, and be kind when necessary. Harness that righteous anger, and be resolute and unyielding when it is called for.
Ever since this slow-motion apocalypse started, many of us have commented about how time seems out of whack. Folks will talk about not remembering what day it is, for instance. One friend observed that it simultaneously felt as if time were flying by (“How can it be December already?”) while at the same time dragging (“Every week seems to be thirty or more days long!”). Recently I found myself contemplating one simply, personal paradox about this. Every morning there comes a point where I roll over, squint at the alarm clock, and decided whether I have time to doze back off. Part of that process involves one part of my brain asking itself: “What day is it?” And then getting an answer, which has almost always been correct. “Oh, it’s Wednesday? We have to call in to the 8:30 meeting, the 9:00, and the 9:30, then if that doesn’t run over, an hour to get undivided attention work done before the 11… so I better get up and get all my meds done now.”
I’ve had a variant of that conversation with myself on about 128 work days since going into quarantine, and virtually every time I correctly knew what day it was when I was barely awake. Yet, at later moments in each of those days, I would feel a confusion about what day it was. Which seems like a contradiction. But human minds are messy things. Our consciousness is processed in or through our brains, but those brains are not neatly and precisely designed microchips, with an organic melange of neurons and neurochemicals intimately entwined with our endocrine system and all the other messy imprecise organs and organelles evolved for various purposes that may not always be apparent.
When I said that my waking up process involves one part of my brain asking itself, I wasn’t merely speaking metaphorically. There really are multiple systems involves in making up this notion we have of our mind, and they don’t all function the same way. There is clearly a logical, verbal part of my mind that can respond to that question of what day it is by checking memory and finding out that yesterday was Wednesday, therefore today much by Thursday. But other parts of the system use different criteria and inputs to perceive and understand the world. It’s those systems that become confused with our personal routines are disrupted.
I’ve started quarantine on February 17, before our state had it’s first stay at home orders because I woke up with a persistent cough. I didn’t think it would be a big deal once the actual orders came out, because I had worked from one two-days each week for a few years at that point (and any time I got sick but was well enough to work, I’d work from home for longer stretches). My husband still works outside the home, getting up each morning at a godawful hour to commute in, yet he also has these moments of confusion about the day… because the routines around work have also changed.
I don’t feel free to just pop off to the store anytime I want an ingredient that we don’t have for a particular recipe. I should limit the number of times I go out and get exposed to other people, right? And if I am going out, I have to make sure I have my mask, have washed my hands, and have a plan on what I’m picking up so that I minimize the time I’m inside any buildings other than home. While there I have to pay attention to how close I’m standing or walking past someone. And that doesn’t even get into keeping a wary eye out for the fuckwits who refused to wear a mask or have it pulled down so their nose is hanging out, et cetera.
So familiar stores are no longer the same kinds of place they were, because how I behave there, how others behave, and so forth has changed.
It’s strange little things that sometimes get to me. For instance, in the before times, I tended to handle one of my weekly chores (putting away the recently washed laundry) while listening to a particular conference call (with my mic muted) on work-from-home Tuesdays. Sometime during quarantine I just stopped doing it. I stopped having the automatic thought—after logging into the meeting, greeting the other early joiners, and then muting myself when enough people were there to start the business part—that now it is time to go deal with the laundry.
I don’t know when it happened. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because every work day is a work-from-home day, therefore Tuesday doesn’t feel like Tuesday any more?
The way the pandemic is going, we’ve got a lot more of this to get through. And even when we do, the new normal isn’t going to be like the before times. We can’t predict what that new normal will be, exactly, but I know that some things are just not going back to the way we used to do them.
That is one of the reasons that, while I’m happy to see 2020 end, I don’t feel much like celebrating the arrival of 2021. I’m not going to be cheering, “We did it! We made it through that hellish year!” Which gets to the second reason I’m not feeling the celebration: not all of us made it. At least 333,000 Americans didn’t survive 2020—and a whole lot of them ought to have, and could have, if certain someone’s hadn’t made the politically calculated decision to abandon plans for testing and contact tracing and so forth.
So I’m flipping a page on the calendar, happy to kick that year out the door, but having a bit of trouble working up a lot of enthusiastic hope that next year is going to be significantly better.
We are told that love should be hidden, or private, or otherwise not talked about in the open. And some of the people who are most likely to repeat this horrible lie are people who claim to be followers of a carpenter from Galilee, who said that loving one another was the essence of his god’s commandments.
Love is love.
Anyone who tells you otherwise is an agent for evil. Don’t listen to them.
Stand up for those who are rejected by society as a whole. Stand up for the defenseless. Stand up and be counted.
Confess your love. There should be no shame in admitting that you love the people who make your life bearable, worth striving for, or better than it would be without then.
Proclaim your love.
And feel no obligation to defend those who are not willing to embrace and promote love—true love, not the empty promise of hypocrits who claim to love while they condemn the love of others and advocate stripping legal rights from others. Not “all sides” are equal, and no one with an actual moral compass thinks so, so don’t be drawn into that trap.
Love will save us.
Real love, not the love of hypocrites.
You will save us. Your love will save us. Embrace that truth and never let it go.
Never forget: you are amazing. You are worthy of love. There have been times when you were the moment of light in someone else’s day—and you never knew. Believe that.
It doesn’t require a hero and a pulse-pounding battle to change the world. Each of us can change the world if we just remember to show up. To be kind when it’s needed. To be resolute, even if we’re scared.
Stand up. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for your friends. Stand up for your neighbors. Stand up for people who can’t stand up for themselves.
When you get knocked down, stand up. The old aphorism is it doesn’t matter how many times we fall, as long as we get back up and keep striving after. And it’s true. But the thing we don’t always remember is, no one said you have to do it alone. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to ask for a hand when you’ve fallen. And when someone has fallen and needs a hand-up, don’t be afraid to reach out and help them. When we help someone else stand up, we’re helping ourselves.
Stand together. Stand beside your friends, neighbors, and the people who feel alone. Stand together against the cynicism and greed and hate which we all have to face from time to time. Stand together. Lean on each other if you have to, but the most important thing is to stand up together. We’re stronger together.
Because when the forces of bigotry, fear, greed, and ignorance gather together and try to overwhelm us with hopelessness and despair, our only defense is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and say, “We will not be divided. We will not retreat. We will not give in. This is where we make our stand. Together.”
A couple of days ago I saw a comment on Tumblr (but haven’t been able to find it again so I can credit the person who made it), espousing the theory that in a future season of Doctor Who, there would be an episode where it is revealed that 2016 was a sentient year that fed off of destroyed hopes. Which seems like a good way to sum up most people’s feelings about how this year has gone.
Okay, so I understand that a year is a completely arbitrary thing. Humans who use the Gregorian calendar refer to the 366 days which are just ending as a year, but not even everyone on the planet agrees to when years begin, end, or how long they are. It’s the 31st of December 2016 for me, but for people observing the Hebrew Calendar (which varies in length from 353 to 355 days plus some years have and extra month) it’s the 2nd of Tevet AM 5777, and the end of the year is still months away. And people who still follow the Revised Julian Calendar (members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, for instance) it’s the 19th of December 2016–they’re still looking forward to Christmas! And Chinese New Year isn’t tomorrow, it’s still four weeks away.
But humans organize the world and their lives by categorizing things. We give meaning to our experiences by creating narratives. So we categorize one collection of days as this year or last year or next year. And w assign some meaning to our lives during a particular collection of days as a good year or a bad year or some other simplification. And for a lot of us, a horror movie is the narrative that most sums up 2016:
Yesterday I mentioned specifically the election, and the sorts of laws Republicans are planning the pass now that they have someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about other people (let alone democracy) weilding the veto pen, and others have focused on the famous people who have died, the rise of hate-motivated crime, various refugee crises, political problems around the world, and new scary diseases. But there’s a lot more to it than that. From four deaths in our family this year, to changes in work situations and living arrangements, to family members explicitly telling me why they want to take some of my civil rights away (and getting angry at me when I take it personally)… it’s been a pretty unhappy year personally.
I am under no delusions that somehow the arbitrary turning of a calendar page is going to bring a better tomorrow. Or that somehow when that balls drops and I kiss my husband and we wish each other a Happy New Year that any of the unpleasantness we’ve been dealing with is going to end.
But I can still take a bit of solace is saying “Fuck you, 2016!” Because sometimes venting anger is all we can do.
Spread your wings and soar. If you don’t believe you have wings to soar, find them. You have wings. I guarantee it. They may not seem to be there, but they are. Find them.
Remember that wings are not just for soaring. Remember that wings are also for protecting others. Taking someone under your wings can mean to mentor them, but it can also mean to let your love be a shield for someone who needs it. So remember that the same hope and joy and love that allows us to soar to new heights, can also shield others from harm, despair, fear, or doubt.
Remember that wings can be a weapon. Take it from someone who, as a small boy, was tasked with feeding some very aggressive geese on his great-grandmother’s farm. Wings can be devastating weapons. Love can be an irresistible weapon, if you turn its raw power in the right direction. And sometimes we need to do more than shield people we love.
So, that’s my wish for everyone in 2015: spread your wings.