It’s been a rough year.
I’m not sure what to make of 2017. What we’ve seen this year on the public stage is unlike anything I can remember. We hear casual conversation about whether our elected officials and senior federal employees colluded with Russia to soil our national election. We observe mass shootings like the one in Las Vegas, now so common we barely discuss it a week later and don’t even bother utilizing it to foster a conversation on common-sense gun control. We watch the parade of famous men from all walks of life falling from prominence when confronted with their ghastly predatory behavior. We experience nature’s record storms devastating the southeastern mainland United States and Puerto Rico as we strip down the EPA, deny climate change, and fail to provide adequate resources to those fighting to rebuild their lives.
Maybe for you this was just another year. For me it was something different. I can’t get my feet to walk solidly on a path below me. My legs are too shaky. The ground is unfirm.
Despite the turmoil, the holidays have arrived. It is the season of wishes. Here are a few I am guessing many of us share:
Don’t you wish the President of the United States was a man of grace, wisdom, and compassion whom our children could admire, instead of cementing this image of awfulness in their brains for the rest of their lives?
Don’t you wish Harvey Weinstein had been called out decades ago so that dozens of women could have been spared his lurid, violent, inexcusable acts of supremacy and self-importance?
Don’t you wish the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team comprised of child champions had been spared the physical and psychological abuse of their team doctor posing as their protector?
Don’t you wish that our absolute defense of the First Amendment wasn’t being utilized by racists unashamed to wear swastikas in public and proclaim a new day for Nazi ideology?
Don’t you wish that a tax cut for the wealthy was not broadly accepted as an apologia for the reprehensible inattention to human needs our Congress trades for the financial support that keeps them in office?
Enough already, right? I told you that for me this wasn’t just another year. This was more than enduring tone-deaf leaders who won’t lead. This wasn’t a year solely to rant. This was a year that tested my belief in fairness. This was a year that took me on an inward journey where I questioned the ability to maintain my values in a world that too often and too easily openly rejects them. This was a year where I wondered if justice was more than an eloquent ideal, and whether healing was possible in a nation that can no longer find common ground in a path forward that invokes a shared understanding of our founding principles.
And so I go looking for a hope.
Because it’s the holiday season, I am also listening to a lot of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This music is an annual tradition in our home. Last weekend my wife and I attended the TSO concert in Southern California as we do every year around this time.
The shows are fun. They are energizing. No matter how many times we hear the same songs played live under laser beams and surges of flames, the story of hope rekindles my childlike sense of wonder and optimism. In particular of late, these lyrics keep hitting me with profound motivation:
Paul O’Neill, the visionary who created TSO, died this past year. Yes, we lost him, too, but he left behind words like this that matter to a lot of people. At this year’s concert, music director Al Pitrelli noted in honoring his former boss that Paul used to say, “Individually we are finite, together we are infinite.”
I’m buying into that. Every hope is worth saving. We cannot give up hope. We’ve had presidents who have talked about that, in metaphor and aspiration. We can lampoon the storybook notion all we want, cynical survivalists that we are, or we can be childlike and share in the embrace of vital idealism.
In my last book, my wife picked this line as her favorite, spoken by Daphne, the wise mentor and guiding light of experience:
“Hope is the strength that keeps us going.”
I’m going to try to continue that theme in my writing this year. I can always find snippets in songs that inspire me, but maybe we can find some resets hidden in the hard events surrounding us.
Throughout the darkest hours in Puerto Rico, there were quiet acts of selflessness where local individuals stood in ten-hour lines for fuel, foregoing their own ration for an elderly friend. When we see goodness in action, we are reminded that grabbing for oneself has none of the power of building together.
I recently saw a TV news story where a judge in Minnesota met repeatedly with a pregnant young heroin addict until she assured him she would get clean and become the mother he believed she could be. He could have gone by the book and sent her away, but instead he invested the time to work with her. Today the mother has a healthy son, and the son has a healthy mother.
The national (and hopefully global) awareness of men exploiting women in the workplace is likely to instill new norms of decency in our interactions. If nothing else, the immediate fear of losing everything should shut down a lot of the oppressive behavior that morosely became too common. Deterrent is a good start. Choosing to live by example is where we need to go.
Even more than the season of wishes, this is the season of hope. We can grab firmly onto any teetering branch that is reachable and attempt to repair it, or we can walk away from the broken bough and give up against overwhelming odds of measurable impact. Those are difficult words to write without sounding preachy. It is a more difficult promise to make and keep to oneself.
We arrive at the end of this year in an awkward place. In my heart I want to move along and tackle new turf, but at the moment I feel stuck. I know I am not alone. We need to get unstuck together.
Together we are infinite.
Lyrics Excerpt from “Christmas Dreams” by Paul O’Neill and Robert Kinkel
© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
Image: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, Tran-Siberian Orchestra