As I write this, I’m in the car with Guy, speeding through a night that’s dark as only night on the prairie can be, heading back to Pennsylvania after several days visiting my mother in Kansas.
Between those lines, please read that I am coming off of five days of Christmas candy, ham, cheesecake, wine, bread, butter, cinnamon rolls, and evening glasses of rumchata – all of which we offset by nothing more strenuous than moving from the dining room to the sofa to watch “Grease.” Rama lama lama, y’all. Vacation rocks.
Christmas is over and, as always happens to me right about now, I’m thinking about New Year’s. I find New Year’s a mixed bag of blessings. I love the idea of twelve months full of fresh, white, unmarked pages, just the mystery of it all.
And even more than the mystery, I love the possibilities. I love new beginnings and fresh starts, even though I long ago lost the mystical feeling I had about about New Year’s when I was a kid: waking up and running to the window of my bedroom and looking out eagerly, only to see that it looked exactly the same as it had the day before. And although this happened every year, I always felt disappointed and vaguely ripped off. Maybe we should move New Year’s to spring or fall, when at least there’s something interesting to look at outside other than January’s drabness. The Jews have the right idea.
But the fact remains that even though the new year always looks the same as the old year, there is still that squirmy little happy bit of something inside me that can’t wait to see what surprises are in store for me.
I’ve noticed the current trend to blame 2016 for a lot of the lousy things that have happened recently – and yes, it did grab a weird assortment of celebrities, whatever that’s about. And I know a number of people who have loudly and repeatedly stated that 2016 can’t be held responsible for the ills we’ve suffered as a society, because it is only a year and years don’t kill people… to which I say yeah, no kidding, and good job missing the point. I for one am tickled to hear everyone coming together and dumping the blame on 2016. It sure beats pointing the finger at each other.
That said, I have no great love for 2016, but I can honestly say I am able to take the advice of James and count it all as joy. While I was in the thick of some of the moments from the past year, not so much, but I’m thinking back on all of it tonight, as I’m looking out at the dark prairie and vast night sky which has a way of restoring my mind to its factory settings, and I’m able to find the joy in all of it.
Guy’s cancer battle took a large and painful bite out of the year, but it brought us closer in a lot of ways, it gave me new empathy for people who are diagnosed with cancer or have a loved one who is, it strengthened my relationship with God, and it showed me who my true friends are… and aren’t.
And of course during all this, life continued to happen, as life has a way of doing. I had my studies, my preaching, my friends, my family, my writing. I had moments as profound and complex as planning my future, and as simple and beautiful as holding the soft, cool, wrinkly hand of an 84-year-old friend as we sat together and loved each other and the life that brought us across each other’s paths.
I had some of the happiest moments of my life in 2016. Moments of perfect peace and love and that deep current of happiness that runs through me with little explosions of light and love along the way, like spiritual Pop Rocks. And there were a couple of times of such wrenching sorrow that I wondered if I would ever be able to get out of bed again.
Anyone can find the joy in the light. It’s much harder in those dark moments. I know. Believe me, I know. To even think about joy when your very soul is so bruised you can’t even draw a full breath is pretty much impossible. But it was in those moments of abject loss and anguish and anger that I learned it’s okay to not look for joy. In those moments, you just can’t.
But what you can do is wait. Breathe. Sit with the sorrow, even when it starts to really piss you off like that one drunk person who won’t leave even though the party has been over for an hour. Sit with it. Listen to what it is telling you. And, to loosely quote Pema Chodron, when it has taught you what it came to teach you, it will move on. And the joy will find you again.
Happy New Year, my friends. Here’s to 2017. Love each other, guys – we’re all in this together.