2020 was a hell of year, wasn’t it?
I don’t think I need to go into great detail here; we’ve all lived through it: the closing of restaurants, schools, and places of worship; the Orwellian slogans (“Together Apart,” “Alone Together,” etc.); a tumultuous presidential election here in the U. S.; racial unrest; etc. A hell of a year indeed.
During these last ten months I have often found myself confused, frustrated, and upset. I am a pessimist by nature, but I never would have expected a year like the one we just left behind. I find satisfaction in teaching my students face to face: but I had to settle for Zoom and Google Meet classes. I find solace in attending church: but for months I was prohibited from doing so. I find joy in conversing with friends face to face: but we stared at screens, instead.
So I turned to books and music, as I usually do, to give me perspective. One of my greatest faults, I am willing to admit, is my inability (at times) to recognize the goodness in the world—I suppose that’s primarily a result of my pessimistic nature. But as a high school history teacher, I also understand that humanity has endured far worse. For the past few months I have delved deeply into Wiesel, Solzhenitsyn, Orwell, and a variety of firsthand accounts from the survivors of the concentration camps and the Gulags. I understand this sounds a bit dramatic: I’m blessed to have been born in the USA, and in order to gain perspective on the current state of the world I’m reading stories of men and women who survived hell. But “suffering” is very much a relative term, isn’t it? And, for better or worse, I needed to be reminded of just how comparatively benign this pandemic has been compared to what others have endured in the past.
But it was music, and one song in particular, that provided me with the message I needed to hear above all others. This past fall I discovered U2’s second album, October. According to Bono, the effort to complete October nearly broke up the band: three of the four members are Christian, and they were concerned that the rock n’ roll lifestyle was incompatible with their faith. And yet they chose to make this album—what Bono called “the difficult second album”—about God. Talk about a risk.
There are several superb songs on this underrated album—“Gloria,” “Tomorrow,” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” are just three that come to mind—but the one that inspired my recent change of attitude was “Rejoice.” These lyrics in particular come to mind:
And what am I to do?
Just tell me what am I supposed to say?
I can’t change the world
But I can change the world in me
If I rejoice
That was what I needed to hear (repeatedly) in 2020: “I can’t change the world / But I can change the world in me / If I rejoice.” The pandemic is out of my hands. So are the lockdowns. So is any election. What matters most is changing who I am first—getting my own house in order, so to speak.
So I choose to rejoice in 2021. I know I’ll have my moments in the dark, but at the end of the day, things could always be worse.
I wish everyone here in our Progarchy community a joyful new year. Stay healthy, stay sane, and stay hopeful.