I know that with Trump’s election, a long list of beloved celebrity deaths, and with refugee crises and atrocities abroad weighing on our hearts, many of us are glad to see the end of 2016.
In many ways, I can’t blame you. 2016, like many years, wasn’t exactly a bucket of rainbows for me. Rainy weather ruined my plans for a skiing “stay-cation” this February. My creative writing has taken a major back seat. I saw a lot more of doctors’ offices and medical labs than I would have liked. Brexit happened. So did terrorist attacks. Trudeau lied about his commitment to the environment (approving the Kinder Morgan expansion with neither social license nor scientific support), and Trump lied and bullied his way into the U.S. presidency. Post-truth is now a thing. The gleeful rise of racism, bigotry, and violence echoes a horrifying past most of us don’t care to revisit. Climate change is altering our weather patterns right before our eyes and no one seems to care. The cherry on the top for me, personally, was when my department reorganized this fall and I lost a job that I was good at, and which I enjoyed and found both personally and professionally fulfilling.
For other people, 2016 was much, much, worse. People lost loved ones. People lost their homes, or their health. People have been hurt, violated, let down in the worst ways. People in conflict areas like Iraq, Syria, and Yemen have been unimaginably traumatized and of course they aren’t the only ones. Obviously, for many of the humans on this planet, 2016 was a terrible year.
But for many of us (and by “many of us” I mean the kind of privileged westerner whose complaints about 2016 might appear in my Twitter or Facebook feeds), 2016 was really not that bad. For one thing, every single year since humans have been keeping track has seen its share of bloodshed, loss, and horror. We have survived through dark times, and we will again. Secondly, 2016 also brought a lot of good.
My nephew was born this year(!!!). A graduate project I undertook this spring proved challenging in ways I didn’t expect but ultimately pushed me to confront parts of myself that were long-buried, and to create something powerful and affecting. My family and friends are, by and large, doing well. Being unemployed has allowed me to spend more time with my husband and to appreciate what an incredibly giving and hardworking person he is. I’ve had some beautiful personal triumphs and countless little joys—lazy mornings, sunny walks, good books, good food, good company (plus a downstairs neighbour who is a professional jazz pianist and unintentionally filling my home with good music as I type this). And I KNOW that a lot of people calling 2016 “the Worst” would have similar private blessings, if they really thought about it.
As for the world at large, Canada’s own Chris Hadfield (former commander of the International Space Station), took it upon himself this morning to tweet about some of the great things that have happened in 2016:
[Obviously I have not verified each item of Hadfield’s list but I’m sure if you Google any one of these achievements you’ll find some information about them. I screen-captured a few of my favourites but if you want to see the full list you can check out Chris Hadfield’s Twitter feed at twitter.com/Cmdr_Hadfield].
I’m tired of hearing about how “people suck” or how “2016 was the worst” or about how “human beings are the worst”. 2016 was NOT a flaming trash heap and neither are the people on this planet. There is bad, and there is good. There are families grieving a death right now and there are families welcoming a new baby. There are racists and misogynists and neo-Nazis and terrorists, but there are also strong and proud minority communities, activists and allies, resisters, water protectors, and White Helmets. There are inconsiderate assholes almost everywhere you look but there are also volunteers in hospital auxiliaries and non-profits and shelters and old folks’ homes and libraries and community centres. There is ignorance but there is also education. There are people inventing weapons and the next piece of consumer garbage, destined for the landfill, but there are also people discovering cures for diseases and looking for new ways to help our planet. There is death and change but also life and growth, destruction but also creation.
2016 is just a year in the calendar, just one trip around the sun. We can’t change what has happened in it, but we can change our attitudes, and I for one prefer to greet 2017 with hope, and maybe a little humility.
P.S. Be the change.