Cheers to You, 2016

OP-ED

The Year is Dead. Long live the year!

The internet this week seems full of a collective eagerness to finish off 2016 and move on toward the New Year. I can’t recall another instance in which so many folks were ready to call it quits for the year–but only in the last several years have we had the ability to share our collective psyches so readily.

Even so, 2016 seems to have been especially hard on so many. The obvious reasons include the divisive and contentious election and seemingly relentless celebrity deaths, but there were abundant natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and domestic riots. It was a year in which, regardless of where one lands on the spectrum, we wondered who on earth those people on the opposite side actually were.

This year might best be remembered as the Year of Fear. African Americans feared their lives didn’t matter. Undocumented immigrants feared for their futures. Muslims feared retaliation. Transgendered people feared they wouldn’t have a safe place to use the bathroom. Evangelical Christians feared their faith was being silenced. Impoverished whites feared their pathway to economic stability was lost beyond hope. Again: the others.

Fear is a powerful motivator, but it’s an exhausting one.

The incessant 24-hour news cycle and our insatiable appetites for the next crisis, now coupled with our echo-chamber internet spheres, makes it easy to go deaf from all of the emergency klaxons:

PARIS ATTACKED. TRUMP ADMITS ‘LOCKER ROOM TALK.’ ORLANDO NIGHTCLUB ATTACKED. FBI INVESTIGATES CLINTON. RUSSIA BOMBS SYRIA.

That’s not counting the infinite scroll-parade of click-bait, perfectly trolled to hit our gut-check sensors in their sweet spots:

CLINTON DESTROYS TRUMP IN DEBATE. FOUR CONSPIRACIES–YOU WON’T BELIEVE NUMBER FOUR. KANYE RIPS CLINTON. HE LOST HIS JOB BECAUSE OF WHAT HE SAID ABOUT MUSLIMS. THE GOVERNMENT DOESN’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT THIS.

When you add how many of our favorite artists and musicians have checked out this year, it hardly seems fair anymore.

It wasn’t all bad, though, right?

The Cubs won the World Series. America cleaned up once more at the Olympics. (Let’s omit Ryan Lochte for the moment.) The markets are still chugging along, despite the harbingers of financial doom. We’re beginning to see what a future of high-tech, AI machines will bring us, self-driving cars merely one among many.

Personally, we welcomed the birth of our third child and the birth of my nephew. We saw our oldest kiddo start kindergarten. Our middle child turns four today. They’ve all thrived, accelerated, and grown into this world over which we’ve wrung our hands.

This was the year I decided to change jobs–and early in the New Year, I’ll start work in my next role. (More later.) It was the year that we transformed our dark, wooded back yard into a grassy play area for our children, the year of our first nuclear-family vacation at the beach, the year I finally got a baby grand piano.

The lesson for me is that my life–every day that I’ve woken up in a peaceful community with electricity, running water, a job to work, education for my children, and a little bit of money in the bank–was blessed and privileged this year. While so many of us are disappointed and afraid–and perhaps rightfully so–I can only point out that our fears are more often incubated online, in fake electron universes manufactured to turn any minor infraction into a viral pandemic.

When we keep our eyes on the literal ground before us, IRL in the young person’s parlance, I’m convinced our lives will be measurably better. Yes, we will encounter nasty people, but encountering them face to face is the best way. Many of them are cowards, and your presence will often checkmate their attitudes.

The oft-repeated line from Hamilton, “Talk less. Smile more,” could be adapted here: tweet less. Talk (and listen) more.

That sounds like a decent and achievable resolution for 2017.

So cheers to you, 2016. For all of your warts and canker sores, you gave many of us joy and prosperity, and we’d be wrong not to acknowledge that. Your brand may have been beaten up, but you endured for 366 days like we needed you to. The world did not end on your watch.  And nobody’s promising 2017 will be any better.

Happy New Year.

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