Greetings and best wishes for the happiest of new year’s.
As 2022 arrives, we stand on the threshold of a time of major transition, unsure as to the direction our individual and collective lives will take. This past year brought satisfaction, personal growth, and joy for many. There are hundreds of stories about significant work that has changed people’s lives for the better.
Yet the light in our lives is too often drowned out by forecasts of gloom and cries of lost hope. Relationships and institutions are strained and the breaks at times seem irreparable. We have yet to fully mourn the people we have lost and to absorb the impact of the widescale abandonment of our civic ideals. To those who have given up on the dream of reaching those ideals, the steps we have to take seem too steep. The road ahead too difficult. The journey wearying.
So it has nearly always been.
We who have lived lives of privilege often miss this basic fact of history. Even individuals who study the past and seek the broader perspective it can bring find it too easy to forget that we know the outcome of major events such as the Civil War, World War II, or the civil rights era, and overlook that those living in 1862, 1942 or 1955 did not realize when the end of their journey would occur or how it would be resolved. People who have lived with oppression and others who have been marginalized often see the reality of the challenges posed by life much more clearly. They recognize that darkness always co-habits with light. With that perspective, it may be easier to see the wonder that is all around us and to be more appreciative of the good news that is a part of our lives. *
There is wisdom and inspiration to be found in the work of a long line of people who have asked and been denied basic rights, but who see a future full of possibilities and have not given up. Who do their work with joy and hope; with forgiveness and grace.
One of the curses of history is that we cannot go back and change the course leading to disasters, no matter how much we might wish to. The past has its own terrible inevitability. But it is never too late to change the future.
These are liminal times that require clear vision to understand the challenges we face. Historians remind us that the past two decades have shown the end game of an attempt to destroy our democracy.
These times also require hope. It is easy to look at the strength of the forces that would cripple our civic compact for their own profit and give up hope. That’s what those who gain from the end of democracy want. “Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win.” But you don’t have to surrender. Hope — a power you don’t have to throw away — is in love with success. But it also demands action.
Congressman John Lewis gave us our marching orders. “Democracy is not a state,” he wrote before his death in 2020. “It is an act, and each generation must do its part.”
When I look at 2022, I do so with a hope that “locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act.” Hope that is “an embrace of the unknown.”
Hatred, smears, and “othering” often come from a place of fear, with myths often used to protect those fears. The power of myths is not in facts, but in stories. “The new stories we need to tell are not just corrections of the old stories, they are visions.”
As we work, it is important to remember that “essential contradictions run wild in each of us and are real, too, in whoever our ‘others’ have become. There is a terrible but also a beautiful, and potentially redemptive, complexity at play whenever human beings are involved.”
We all strive. We all fall short. We are all full of contradictions.
And we are all in this together.
If you need a resolution for 2022 to help guide you through times of pandemic and insurrection, one could do much worse than this:
We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863
Here’s wishing you a hopeful, purposeful, and joyful 2022. Happy New Year!
More to come…
*There is plenty of good news as we head into 2022. Collectively, our national economy is strong, and the administration has proven that democracy can work for ordinary citizens, even in extraordinary times. The biggest story by far is the COVID-19 vaccines, where “nine billion doses were administered across 184 countries, and almost 60% of the planet has received at least one dose (in four months it’ll be 75%)”, making this, by far, the most successful global health initiative ever undertaken.
Notes: The quote that begins with the curses of history is from Heather Cox Richardson‘s Letter from an American, December 28, 2021. As always, my thoughts on hope are heavily informed by the writings of Rebecca Solnit. When I look forward with hope, the guidelines I’ve set for how I want to live help direct my actions. The words around our contradictions came from Krista Tippet.