There are people in this world who think the universe conspires to create events to teach us lessons. According to this train of thought, things happen because we are meant to learn from them, and to somehow in the end become better and wiser people.
So my question today, 2016, is what the hell have you been trying to teach us?
Were you trying to teach us that our time is finite and that death comes even for the greats, like Bowie and Prince and Cohen and all the others you took from us this year?
Were you trying to each us through the tragic loss of a far-too-young firefighter and local hero that life is short and we never know when it may end, and to make the most of every minute?
Were you trying to teach us that life can change on a dime, and one beautiful sunny day can turn into one that ends in smoke and flames and heartbreak?
We got it, 2016.
We fucking got it, okay?
But when you struck down a small local child with cancer, what was the lesson there, exactly?
And how about when you stole the lives of two young adults as they fled a wildfire?
2016, you kicked our ass. You knocked us to the ground, let us get up, and then knocked us down again, over and over and over.
I don’t think you were teaching us a thing.
I think the only lesson one could find here is that life is random and painful and cruel.
And yet it is still somehow incredible and wonderful and a tremendous gift.
With every single ass-kicking you handed out, there have been moments that reminded me that despite the fragility, despite the pain, despite the sorrow and despite the agony, there is beauty and kindness.
It is amazing that despite all of the “lessons” listed above, what has struck me most in this past year is hope.
Hope that things will get better, hope for the future and hope for our community.
How has that happened?
Because none of this, 2016, was about lessons. It was about life, this tenuous journey we all find ourselves on, winding down paths and none of us knowing where they will lead.
It is about the best laid plans going astray, about how things you think you know turn out to be wrong and about how life will always, in the end, surprise you.
Sometimes, the surprises are terrible ones, the kind of surprise where you want to close the box, tape it back up and return it to the sender as 1) unclaimed, 2) unwanted and 3) unbelievable. But on occasion, even during the midst of the terrible surprises, are such kind and gentle moments that you are reminded of all that makes this world a good place.
I keep coming back to hope, 2016, as we come to the close of this year. And I know that January 1 is an arbitrary line and there is a chance 2017 will be every bit as difficult as 2016, except for one thing.
2016, you taught me to hold on to hope, because sometimes, hope is all there is.
Hope isn’t always found in things turning out the way you wanted or expected, though. Hope is discovering that no matter what happens, there are people who will be there for you. Hope is discovering that those around you won’t give up and realizing their tenacity fuels yours.
2016, if you taught me ANYTHING it’s that the universe does not conspire to teach us lessons. Life is just something that happens, and we learn along the way.
And if we stop long enough to take a breath, we learn to hope.
I was ready to kick you to the curb, 2016, to say “screw you” as you ended. But now, instead, I find myself reflecting on the past year and focusing not on the moments of flames and smoke and sadness and sorrow but instead on the moments when my heart lifted and I felt hope.
The moment I listed to a David Bowie song and felt joy that he had been on this earth at all to share his talent with us.
The moment I thought about how an entire community became an army, united because of one young man and his battle with cancer.
The moment I saw a small child with cancer smile as she played with stickers donated by strangers from across the country.
The moment I reconsidered dog-earing the page of a book I was reading, because of the memory of a young adult who loved books and who left us far too soon.
The moment I drove under an overpass on which stood the firefighters who fought the flames.
The moment I came back to my community for the first time in a month, and wept with both tears of sadness and relief, finally able to return to the place that has been my home for the past sixteen years.
The moment when I walked into my house after a month away and felt simple overwhelming gratitude.
I have been lucky, 2016, so much more fortunate than so many others; but it is in their courage and determination that I truly began to understand the nature of hope.
2016, you didn’t teach me a damn thing. Every lesson I learned this year was taught not by a tumultuous, topsy-turvy, stomach churning year, but by the people around me. And I am grateful.
This year, just one day before returning to the community I have chosen as home after a month filled with uncertainty, I turned 50. And instead of the things one might think one would feel at that landmark – disbelief at reaching half a century, the sense of your own mortality creeping up on you, wondering what the remaining years would bring – I felt pure and simple joy.
And hope. Hope found in the fact that I was here at all after 50 years, hope that the future would bring good things, and most of all hope that I could be part of making the world a better place, in whatever way I could manage.
So, 2016, you might have tried to break us, but you didn’t. Perhaps you tried to crush us under the weight of it all, but you failed. You see, no matter how dark the night, no matter how thick the smoke and no matter how bright the flames, there is hope.
Dear 2016, thank you for reminding me about the nature of hope. If there was one thing maybe I needed to learn this year, perhaps that was it; and so in the end maybe you did teach me one important lesson after all.
You taught me that hope changes everything.