It seemed like an easy enough task. A friend recently challenged me to sum up 2017 in one word. Yes, one single word. What would I choose? I scoured postings for the past six months and discovered several words that appeared frequently: chaotic, relentless, vitriolic, hateful (and hurtful), bigoted, fearful. Sure, this was the context for these posts but I was reluctant to use such a singularly negative term to sum up an entire year. However, words like hope and change seemed like a paean to the past and not really relevant, despite extraordinary stories of empowerment and courage among women, refugees and marginalized groups in our society.
2017 was a transformative year, for sure: pivotal might be the word that captures it, but that seemed too mundane. And then I thought about a basic premise in my book, Beyond the Comma, which applies the mark of punctuation that separates all that has come before from all that is to follow, to the life journey. And I thought—yes, this has been a comma year on so many levels. And so, taking a little creative license, I developed a new term to singularly describe 2017: “commatose,” implying the state of a world continually (some might say exhaustively) reshaped and reframed by history and our reactions to it. (My computer’s spellcheck function kept changing the word to “comatose,” which describes a state of inactivity and unresponsiveness, the opposite of how I would define commatose).
Certainly these comma moments happened in Washington as the Trump Administration shattered political norms and restructured the government and individual lives in ways that will have an impact for generations. Women stepped up to claim their power in new ways: first in resistance, as millions marched (remember the pink pussy hats?) in response to the inauguration and then during the #MeToo campaign, bravely asserting their dignity and humanity in the workplace and in society-at-large. Thousands who had never been involved in politics before asserted their citizenship by demonstrating, organizing and even running for political office. Government will never be the same. Commatose.
In the international arena, the emphasis on “America First” has caused the US to step back from global leadership, leaving control of the international narrative to individuals and nations for whom free expression and human rights are secondary to national security and autocratic rule. Winds of change in Russia, China, North Korea, Ukraine, the EU have been buffeted by events in the US, the effects of which will continue long after this administration is out of office. Commatose.
Even the weather has created comma moments in the lives of individuals, families and whole communities. Texans and Floridians have had lives changed radically because of hurricanes. And, of course, the entire island of Puerto Rico continues to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—as devastating as the storm itself. In California, entire neighborhoods have been scorched beyond recognition by wildfires spawned by dry conditions and hurricane force Santa Ana winds. (As an aside, does anyone recall a poignant or compassionate message of concern about California emanating from the White House?)
So this post contains a challenge to you, faithful reader: I invite you to choose a single word that represents 2017 for you. Share your choice, either in the comment section on my web site or with me personally. I’ll then share some of the most interesting with others in weeks to come.
My book focuses on “Beyond” the Comma, and challenges the reader to assess the intersections that occur following transformational moments, and to re-examine one’s priorities and behavior based upon those assessments. So, as the calendar page turns to 2018, it is my plea and my prayer that each of us will respond in the coming year to the commatose pattern of the year past and build our lives with creativity, imagination, gratitude and love on these new realities so that the world can be a more caring and humane place. Blessings in the New Year.
Things have progressed nicely as my book tour for Beyond the Comma moves into 2018. Eight events (including one webinar) in four states and the District of Columbia have been experienced by 150 (not counting those who tuned in to the archived version of the Religion Communicators Council webinar). Another two dozen events in ten states are scheduled through Memorial Day, 2018.
Next year’s first gathering will be at the Soul Cafe in Portsmouth, NH on January 6. The conversation will include music by the soulful group with Appalachian roots, Alathea, whose catchphrase is “story, song, community” providing a natural synergy with themes in my book. It marks the first of several Beyond the Comma events that will include a musical component. You can follow progress of these events in the recaps section of my web site.