Only a self-centered fool would say it wasn’t a hard year. Many of us faced a variety of personal losses. There were global tragedies and celebrity deaths, mind-blowing political outcomes and fear mongering, hate crimes and communal mourning.
Most of us do not mourn celebrities because they were famous. They were famous because they lived in a way that taught us something about ourselves. They unlocked pieces of the dreams and callings that we held inside. They sang us to sleep when our hearts were broken. They used their pain to create masterpieces to show us that our scars could be beautiful. They wrote characters that we love or hated or loved to hate, characters that spoke some truth that we needed to hear. They acted in scenes that allowed us to suspend our disbelief and escape into an adventure for a time. They made us laugh and cry and were part of our survival in this hectic and often painful life. They did all that and we never really got to say thanks; and, now they are gone.
As a writer, I always get this battlefield of emotions. I want to grieve the cultural loss of them and all the potential stories that they can no longer tell. I want to celebrate their work or their behind the scenes lives that meant something to me. But I also feel the creative void left by them and want to rush in and create more. Rushing into creativity rarely brings forth any good work from me, but it’s that desire to not let the flame that they helped light dim even the least little bit in their absence.
Political events can be painful, not because someone has to win and someone has to lose, but because of the divisiveness of fear and hate that is exposed along the way to the ballot box. The side of the “loser” is so often going to lose more. In some cases, even the winners who voted and got their way will also lose more than they realize. It brings about the inhumanity and pushes those on the margins off the edge of a cliff they were barely hanging onto. When it is a heavily “Christian” base dancing in victory, we have to watch them justify that it is as God would want. Meanwhile those “least, last, and lost” that God calls us to care for are cast into a living hell of bombs, homelessness, or a variety of life altering discriminations. It is enough to make me wish there were a label besides Christian, a label more honouring of the Christ that I love and follow.
As beaten down as this year has made many of us feel, there really is a light at the end of the tunnel. There really is hope. It hurts to be refined by fire, but that is what happens to purify gold and silver. It hurts to be filed down with gritty sandpaper, but watch it polish a stone or smooth and shape wood.
One of my favourite quotes is by a man named Ian Cron. “All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.” As we look around at all of our pain and struggles this past year, we are made tender in ways we wouldn’t have realized were callused before. We see our pain reflected in the eyes of those we’ve never made eye contact with before. We ache for them and want to use whatever coping skills we have learned to help them.
The breaking of our hearts, what feels like absolute devastation while we are going through it, breaks them open to love better. It is easy to become bitter and angry, to try to rebuild the calluses that have been ripped away; but, you will never find peace there, buried under armor of thickened skin. Life tears away the parts of our heart that don’t work so well and exposes our inner storehouses of love to the rest of the world. It is a vulnerable experience, but in the pain lies the path to healing.
News of yet another death just came in, Debbie Reynolds after losing her daughter Carrie Fisher only yesterday. Now, I sit here contemplating if any of these words are even true, wondering if I should edit them in some way. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince, Glenn Frey, Jo Cox, the shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Aleppo and Brexit and Trump. So many tragedies that can’t even be named in between, where does it end? Because, honestly, right now it is starting to feel like it will only be this ceaseless avalanche of the other shoe dropping. How many shoes are there? How many blows will we have to take before we can rest a bit and recover? Yet, I know one thing: as hard as loss is, as paralyzing as the grief can be, we are better for having loved and lived and hoped and dreamed and aspired to something. We are better for having been willing to see the humanity in the people we meet, seeing the image of God in them and being the neighbour that we have been called to be.
You can absolutely tell me that there is no light at the end of the tunnel of this devastating year. But you cannot tell me that we can’t make a choice. You cannot convince me that it isn’t in our power to take a deep breath, square our shoulders the best we can despite our falling tears, and determine to be a light to others who are walking in this darkened tunnel with us. Maybe the light isn’t at the end, maybe it’s in us.