Mars. “The Martian.” Economics. Race relations. Faith. Philanthropy. Immigration. “The Girl on the Train.” Paris. FIFA. Gay marriage, Adele, and the presidential election.
Pundits, preachers, and, likely, you have views on whether 2015 has been a good or bad year. Countless media list pop-culture trends as indicators of a successful or miserable year. Some folks count the number of likes they received on social media.
A recent story from The Atlantic delves into issues of poverty, tolerance, disease, and collaboration, determining 2015 was great if only for the hope engendered. Charles Kenny wrote: “6.7 million fewer kids under the age of five are dying each year compared to 1990.”
Humorist Dave Barry in The News & Observer breaks down each month to prove 2015 was the absolutely worst year ever. He writes: “This was the year when American sports fans became more excited about their fantasy sports teams — which, for the record, are imaginary — than about sports teams that actually exist. This was the year when the ‘selfie’ epidemic, which was already horrendous, somehow got even worse. This was the year of the ‘man bun.’”
Water on Mars, images of Pluto, and comet landings thrust Raw Story to a positive conclusion. And the Huffington Post focuses on the year’s good, despite the bad. (See links below)
If your status as an upper- or middle-income citizen fell this year to that of one of the millions of Asset Limited, Income Constrained but Employed, you may have difficulty seeing the positive. If a police officer, terrorist, or family member killed your unarmed loved one or you spent more time with your oncologist than your grandchildren, you likely have a negative outlook. And no one can deny your right to grieve.
Likewise, if you experienced the birth of a child, earned that long-sought degree, found that perfect job, married off your wonderful son to an amazing new daughter, well, you might see the upside to the year. If your book was published, movie produced, or record deal signed, well, good for you! Dance on, baby!
Clearly, determining whether 2015 brought the promise of restoration or whether it saw the demise of civility is subjective.
If I were to take apart my year—health challenges, relationship difficulties, the Detroit Tigers inability to make the World Series—I could say 2015 was a cruel one indeed.
Earlier this month, my company severed its relationship with me as part of a restructuring effort. As I walked with my supervisor to Human Resources and said my goodbyes around the office, I expected tears (mine). What I got were ideas. Lots of them, bubbling like long-simmering chili that tastes better the next day. Rather than immediately fearing my sudden loss in income and daily routine, I felt burden-removing, yoke-destroying buoyancy. A bounce-back ability, if you will. Rather than becoming suddenly unemployed, I was thrust back into the world of self-employment.
That’s not to say this new challenge doesn’t rear terrifying moments of self-doubt and uncertainty. However, in listening to a recent The New Yorker poetry podcast with Ellen Bass reading Adam Zagajewski’s “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” and Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Praise,” I was reminded of perspective (yes, that again).
by Rainer Maria Rilke
But the deathly and the monstrous,
How do you accept them, bear them? – I praise.
But the nameless, the anonymous.
How, Poet, can you still invoke it? – I praise.
Under every costume, every mask of us,
What right have you to be true? – I praise.
Certainly, horrible things happened this year. Horrible things happened last year. They happened in 2005 and 2008. They happened in 2001, 1968, 1963 and from 1939-1945. They happened from 1346-1353. And in about 33. They happened before record keeping began, they’ll happen tomorrow and again one hundred years from now. There will be new wars, distinct epidemics, and different unspeakable tragedies. There will be un-followers, irritating rashes, African Americans in “Star Wars,” and insufferable political candidates. Get over it.
Why? Because nature is feral and life rolls on. In Steven Spielberg’s 2015 cold war film, “Bridge of Spies,” lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is tasked with defending spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance). Throughout the film, Donovan asks Abel if he’s worried. Abel’s response: “Will it help?”
People make good choices: Meijer grocery store cashier Kristen (last name unknown) employed her two arms and abundance of patience when she saw a woman in need. Kristen picked up 3-year-old Paul Grandinette and patiently allowed him to assist her in ringing up groceries, which helped mom Kimberly Grandinette get through a tough patch in her day.
Others make poor choices, like purchasing weapons for those not legally permitted to obtain them on their own. And, no ghosting is not an acceptable way to break up with that used-to-be-special someone.
But, thank God for choice. We can choose to curl up in despair, lamenting the past because that helps, right?
Or we can choose to forge on, acting on faith (or optimism, if that’s where you are) that we can make a difference despite our troubles. Notice the word “acting”? You know, as in “action,” defined by “Merriam-Webster” as “the bringing about of an alteration by force or through a natural agency” and “the accomplishment of a thing usually over a period of time, in stages, or with the possibility of repetition.”
The American Red Cross and Salvation Army help hurricane Sandy victims on Staten Island, NY, with donated materials in Nov. 2012. Credit Andy Katz / iStock
Physician Jim Withers recognized the homeless, like anyone else, need medical care. He went on the streets of Pittsburgh, gained their trust, and began providing care. His work eventually evolved into Operation Safety Net. Like Mr. Withers, someone saw suffering and started the Salvation Army, Doctor’s without Borders, World Vision, Save the Children, the National Urban League, Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, Alcoholics Anonymous, Reading Is Fundamental, Gleaners Community Food Bank, Boys and Girls Clubs of America…. Someone ignited the battle against the one percent and someone else first shouted, “Black lives matter.”
Is my work as a freelance writer and editor comparable to those notable charitable institutions or powerful movements? No way. Who’s to say, though, that I cannot do some good with the skills I have? No one. I am my own boss, and it’s my choice.
Think you don’t have skills? Do you have hands? Feet? A mouth? A car? That’s all we need to deliver food for Meals on Wheels or swing a hammer for Habitat for Humanity.
As we wrap up what clearly was a rough year among eons of rough years, we can—like those who make decisions to found or fund charities, hold a child, and start movements small and large—choose to make a choice.
Here are yours:
Whine, stay stagnant, and mourn all that was and will be lost.
Or take action … and, maybe, praise.
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