It’s that time of year when we tend to draw dividing lines between past and future. It is an annual ritual as a slew of media outlets and countless individuals create retrospective lists about the previous twelve months. Resolutions for the new year abound (though most fall away soon enough, as we get caught up again in the swirl of life that surrounds us).
This year has been particularly poignant. How often have we heard some variation of the thought, “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over”? True, it has been a troublesome, gruesome year in so many ways. But I submit that we make a mistake if we try to isolate the past twelve months from the rest of our lives, blocking it out as if it somehow never happened. Rather, I propose we take a different approach to our collective turning the calendar page to 2021.
I had a conversation this week with a colleague who had just returned from Pakistan (more on the future of our ongoing work in forging deeper relationships between Americans and Pakistanis in upcoming posts). As she spoke about her hopes for the future of our groundbreaking work, she used a phrase that resonated in a broader context, especially as we transition from a year of sorrow and dread to a new year with hopes for a better time. She spoke of the need to take divergent strands and “knit them together” into a unique whole.
Often, the New Year’s holiday challenges us to draw bright lines from one year to the next, and there is particular incentive to do so this year. The past twelve months have been almost unbearably intense—physically, emotionally, economically—with multiple crises having been well documented in these posts. But I argue that the counsel of my colleague seems especially relevant as we enter the new year.
Rather than isolating the experiences of 2020 from our life journeys, we should find ways to knit them together with strands from other moments so that our future includes the lessons we’ve learned from these experiences but is not dominated by them. Pundits and prognosticators are intent upon calling us to put the past behind us and move forward. “We can turn the page,” they affirm. “Next year will be better!” they assure us. Optimism abounds.
All true. But we make a mistake if we fail to incorporate the emotions we’ve felt as we witness the suffering and fear in the eyes of those stricken by the coronavirus. We make a mistake if we forget the countless inspiring occasions when ordinary citizens went to extraordinary lengths to reach out to those in need. We make a mistake when those of us who’ve escaped being infected do not incorporate thanksgiving into our daily regimen of prayer and meditation, acknowledging both the beauty and fragility of life. We make a mistake as we try to isolate the sadness and fear experienced this past year from a dedication to action and empathy that can mark a change in our behavior in the new year.
I’ve always thought that building barriers was counterproductive. Compartmentalizing human experiences in silos can be equally destructive. As we plunge forward into the new year, may we do so as wiser, kinder more empathetic human beings, learning the hard lessons from the year past and integrating them into a more expansive and intensive understanding of life’s true calling. May we forego bright lines of demarcation and knit together a more gentle and generous future, incorporating what we’ve learned with renewed commitment to finding hope-filled patterns in a fabric for the future which we then generously share in ever-expanding circles of joy.