Most of us are happy to put 2020 in our rearview mirror and keep on driving into a new, hopefully better year. Of course, as my nephew Michael points out on his Facebook page, passing from one day to another is simply that. A new day follows every day. It’s always another new day. Each day we get a chance to start anew. Debates about calendaring aside, it’s all kind of arbitrary. We bring our histories with us. The year’s stories, both sad and inspiring, affect us in a variety of ways depending on our various circumstances. Starting a new calendar does not change anything. And yet, perhaps this last year has taught us much. Perhaps we can see better – actually have 20/20 eyesight. Perhaps, even if the content of the calendar has not changed, we have. And this juncture is as good a time as any to take stock. There are some things that I don’t want to leave behind, because they are valuable. I see differently now.
What I see that I will carry with me:
- The suffering of the world is extensive. Everything from sickness and helpless death to overwhelmed medical staff, to burned homes, to raging mobs, to food insecurity, to deep loneliness, to extensive fear, to massive racism. We are witnesses to all of that.
Years ago I worked among the poor and sometimes destitute. Their very courage, presence and being filled me with love and hope, but beyond my own work I failed to see how I could support more systemic change so that the lives of their children and grandchildren could be different. Poverty was something I visited, not a place I lived. A question I will carry with me is: where can I make a difference? For I do believe that every difference made provides the possibility of change. And maybe there is a better question. There are spiritual practices which invite us to share the suffering and intentionally carry it. For me, at least, that involves the intention of not turning away as well as offering solace and prayer when I can.
- I have known intellectually that we are still a racist society, but now I know it in my heart and being, as many of you do. I have read much to begin to understand the roots of our systemic oppression of people of color and those who are different from us. I am appalled at our history. We can and must do better. I will not turn away from naming racism, sexism, gender identity-ism, when I see it and I pray that I am open to seeing it.
- I live an immensely privileged life. I am able to stay home in a time of trouble while my bank account grows with pension and social security payments. I have a comfortable home, I am able to pay my bills, buy what I need and then some. It’s not just about having money (though that helps), it’s also about being white. Only once in my life was I stopped by a policeman and it was for speeding. He was very polite and gave me a warning. At the tender age of 20, I was terrified. I can hardly imagine what people of color go through.
- Staying home and away from others (other than my beloved husband, George) has given me the opportunity to reflect and truly see better. I’ve gotten to know the trees outside of my study very well. I’m familiar with the birds and some of the folks who walk the shoreline trail along our house. The atmosphere of each day is more spacious and precious. I’ve been able to dive into icon painting, jigsaw puzzles and many books. I learned to lead a study group on ZOOM. My prayer time has grown as well and now incorporates body movement and chant as well as silence.
- When I get a chance to see others – across the road, or up the street, or on ZOOM, or in the grocery store, or in line at the post office – I see their eyes and am able to read their welcome, joy filled, hope filled, sad, impatience, bored looks. We each carry an atmosphere that is uplifting or discouraging. When I slow down (which masks and social distancing require), I see what is in front of me more often.
- I also see how precious my connections with family and friends (far and near) is to me. We didn’t hesitate about staying home for the Holidays, but ZOOM gatherings do not allow for hugs and the ability to sense what is in the room and respond helpfully. I will not be taking these for granted anytime soon.
So, in many ways 2020 was a gift – though not a happy one. More like a transforming one – more like the baby whose birth we celebrate this season through January 6. We all love babies. They are all cute and they all are new to the wondrous world we are a small part of. We humans naturally want to protect them.
Perhaps we need to see that we are a part of a new baby being born , a new humanity – one in which we are awake and attentive, one in which we see not only in hindsight, but more importantly, what’s right in front of us now. We are each a part of something new. The labor involved in getting here has been extremely painful. For a moment we celebrate the newness. We certainly need to protect it, but also be open to whatever emerges. May we truly see 20/20.