2016 was rough.
It was a year of paradoxes. I felt great promise but also great pain. There was hope but also deep despair. There was goodness but also tremendous sadness and even evil.
Maybe most years are like that, but this year felt different in many ways, both personally and in general. I found myself feeling a lot like this picture of Sadness, from the movie Inside Out.
Personally, the year started off with great promise, as every year does. But then my last remaining aunt died in January. While this was to be expected, it doesn’t make things any better. I should be grateful I had this long with each of my family members who aren’t living anymore, especially since I was born when my parents were 44 (Mom) and 46 (Dad). I was a great surprise to my parents, a “I-didn’t-realize-you-could-still-get-pregnant!” baby. And my parents were both the youngest in their families, so everyone was always a lot older than I was. So I am grateful for the years I got to spend with my aging relatives, but I still miss them. I’m glad my mom is still around, and I hope she is for many years to come.
In the bigger picture, there was a lot of loss this year. I’m certain the number of celebrities who died this year was about average, but there was nothing average about who we lost. We lost legends, people who inspired us, and it was painful in a way I hadn’t experienced before. David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Princess Leia, Alan Rickman, and on and on and on. Even though I didn’t know any of them personally, they all touched me in some way.
But in spite of these losses, several of my good friends had babies this year. They experienced great joy and excitement (and sleep deprivation!). There is such promise with each new life brought into the world. So for them, maybe 2016 wasn’t so rough. In fact, when I look at my own pictures from 2016, I had a lot of really great memories that were made, too.
There was the hope of Bernie Sanders for the presidency, and I felt that hope and optimism for a large part of the year, until the Democratic National Convention. Then, not so much.
There was the painful election of Donald Trump as our next president. I still don’t have words to adequately describe the mix of agony/anxiety/anger/frustration/disgust I have over the election results. I still have trouble accepting the reality of his ascension to the presidency. As I watch or listen or read the news now, it is with despair, dread, and with a strange sort of detachment, wishing it were fiction. His presidency will never feel normal.
There are so many things that trouble me about his transition to the biggest, most important job on the planet, but one that really hits home is his choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Sometimes in the fight for public education, it seems we are making progress, that things are going to be better for public education. But other times, like now, it seems hopeless. Like we are being trampled over every time we get up. I can’t shake the feeling that things are definitely going to get worse. Much worse.
With a few weeks before Trump’s inauguration, there are already several helpful and important pieces of advice out there for fighting back. Bernie Sanders has a plan for the future of the Democratic Party. Former congressional staffers wrote an entire guide about it. A Yale history professor wrote a 20-point guide. Robert Reich has a 100-day plan for resistance. And the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) have a similar, education-focused plan.
Update: Here’s a good article about cultivating hope when it’s hard to have hope.
So maybe after despair, there’s some hope after all.
There was, for me personally, the end of a career. I took a fair amount of time grieving the loss of my career as a teacher. I felt a hole in my heart when the new school year began, but I knew it was over.
But in spite of that personal loss, I started my new career with joy and a sense of new purpose. There is also that tinge of sadness about what could have been had I remained a teacher. But I am getting more and more excited about what’s in store for me in my new venture.
There was also the great joy of watching my 8-year-old daughter grow this year, both physically and mentally. She is a wonder, and I imagine all parents share that sentiment when we watch our offspring developing into more mature and capable mini humans. Watching the way her mind works brings me to tears at times.
But thinking about the kind of world we live in outside her little bubble makes me cry. What kind of a world are we leaving for our children? One filled with agony? Or hope?
I find that I have been in desperate need of good experiences to take my mind off reality. Recently, we went to see the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It did not disappoint. I’ll admit that I am easily pleased, and it is sometimes hard for me to offer criticism. I hate being asked the question What do you like better, A or B? My answer is usually both! Why do I have to choose? My husband sometimes calls me the Paula Abdul of critics, referring to her time on American Idol where she didn’t offer much in the way of criticism, but did have a lot of praise. Like her, I have a tough time finding fault with things that are produced with love. And so, as I watched Rogue One, I confess that I ate it up completely. I smiled and felt pure unadulterated joy during the whole movie, and at times wanted to cry happy tears because it felt so good to watch it. I loved it so much.
One thing I loved most about the movie was the drive of the characters. They have to complete their mission. The fate of the entire Rebellion depends on it. They cannot be stopped. They have hope. And they carry it through, victorious until the bittersweet end. The line that struck me most from the film was “Rebellions are built on hope.”
I felt inspired, even if only for a couple hours.
And then a few days later the news came that Princess Leia died. And then her mom, in a beautifully sad gesture of wanting to be with her daughter.
There’s a scene in the movie Inside Out that makes me cry every time I watch it. For an animated movie, it sure does an excellent job of portraying how humans deal with complex emotions. The scene that gets me is when Sadness explains how you can’t have Joy without Sadness, that the two are intertwined. The same can be said for hope and despair, I think. You can’t know what it is to have hope unless you have truly felt despair. And if you don’t give up, as many people do, then you feel hope that things will get better.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the air, both right now and to come. I am trying to be positive, to have the same feeling of promise each time a new year begins. But this is different. It’s harder to be optimistic about 2017 than with any previous years I have lived. If I’m being completely honest, I’m scared.
But I’m not giving up.