I entered 2020 with great optimism. What could have been worse than 2019 (or 2018, 2017, or 2016)? Let’s face it, we’re maligning 2020 because most of the past decade has been very bad. Optimism about 2021 needs to be measured. Yes, some of our circumstance has changed, but the bigger question — have we changed? — remains undecided.
As a genial educator, I’m not supposed to say this, but our most transformational learning comes through painful experience. Unfortunately the movies have sold us a bill of goods and we believe that transformation is a simple case of cause and effect, happening like a bolt of lightning. My experience is the opposite. It’s a slog through the hard stuff, with small moments of revelation. If we pay attention and collect the bits of wisdom we encounter, sometimes we’re very lucky and big change can accumulate. But the lesson isn’t that we should believe in incremental change — which generally is a bullshit way of keeping us mired in the status quo. Rather it’s about keeping your eye on the prize. We need to constantly do the work of carrying the fragments of wisdom we wrestle from pain and ultimately compose them into a new reality. This is true of changing our lives and changing the world.
I’ve learned a lot this year. I’ve been changed by the experience of navigating a pandemic, by witnessing the inhumanity of a global Far-Right political movement, and by my renewed understanding of what it means to be deeply imbedded in the architecture of White Supremacy. On a more intimate level I’ve learned what it means to have twenty years of chronic pain lifted by correct diagnosis and treatment, that I can break old patterns in relationships, and that loyalty to institutions always breaks my heart. I’ve also learned I can trust myself more, and not rely on structures intended to contain and shape human impulse. That might just be a complicated way of saying that what draws our attention shapes us. By forcing my attention in different directions a painful year has taught me there are alternatives to the script I’ve used to perform my life, and that I can rewrite my next scenes. Maybe even more, the year taught me to stop resisting change.
The past year has given me a lot to carry, and hopefully 2021 will be a year in which I — all of us — can begin composing new realities. It won’t be easier, because life always erupts unexpectedly and injustice remains fierce, but maybe, just maybe, it can be a year in which joy leads our days. That’s worth the work.