Anyway you look at it 2011 was a jacked up year. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican Tea Party supporter, a liberal tree hugger or if you aligned yourself with one of the many percent-er movements, this year has been tough.
In America we watched our economy continue to flat-line. We danced in the streets over Osama Bin Laden's death, but failed to bring our troops home from Afghanistan or to repair the countries we have torn apart in our quest for vengeance. NASA retired it's space shuttle program. Flooding and tornadoes plagued our communities. Then, to top it all off, REM broke up.
Elsewhere, the hope of the Arab spring turned into disappointment and distress as months wore on and military regimes rose up in the place of the old dictatorships. In March I awoke to text messages from family in my home state of Hawaii, letting me know that they were okay, that the tsunami wouldn't be that bad by the time it hit my island home. I turned on the news and watched the footage from Japan replay, watched as all those lives were washed away.
Later in the year the Northeast region of America was battered by Irene. Farms were destroyed. Whole towns were under water. I spent several days helping friends clean out their flooded home. I watched them cry over waterlogged journals, ruined flooring, their lack of flood insurance.
Everywhere I looked this year things seemed hopelessly broken and no one was happy about it. The Arab spring flooded news channels during the early part of this year, violent protests erupted in Europe and the Occupy Wall Street movement closed out the year. The message of this year was clear. Things need to change and they need to change now.
Yet, we are now a week away from 2012 and we are still waiting to see the evidence of that change. We are stuck in the in between. The world is broken and we are watching the New Year approach, hoping it brings something better.
The holiday season is all about expectation, whether you are waiting to open presents on Christmas day, waiting for paychecks needed to pay bills or circling parking lots waiting for a spot to open up. It's a time of year where most of the actions we take are done in preparation for something else.
Then Christmas arrives, a week later the ball drops and for the most part we all go back to the lives we were living before. We may make a few resolutions, promise ourselves that we are going to hit the gym or give up Starbucks. We hope that we will be able to change something small, make one little improvement.
I always greet the New Year as an old friend, excited by the promise of a fresh start. Two years ago I made a list. I formulated plans and set goals for myself. I imagined myself a year in the future, living a radically different life that took shape on January 1 when I wrote down my resolutions. With the exception of getting a dog, I had broken them all by February.
As humans we always hope for change, but we aren't very good at realizing it, at least not in an intentional way. I have spent the last few years complaining that I felt stuck, that not much was happening. Yet, when I look back I can see that my life has changed radically. I took the MCATs, bought a house, learned to drive, got a dog and started jogging. I made and lost friendships. I jumped for joy at the news of new-born babies and mourned the loss of friends and mentors. After 26 years of struggle, I finally got my depression diagnosed and treated. A lot has happened. I was just too focused on the future to think about what was happening in the present.
Truthfully, I don't want to think of the present. The present is fraught with stresses and imperfections. It brings minor irritations, difficult decisions and painful circumstances. It is much easier to imagine and live in a perfect future; a future where all our problems are solved. The economy will be fixed, the Wall Street bankers will be punished, Rick Perry will have lost his ability to speak.
In the present, things break and fail. I make stupid decisions and live out their consequences. Disasters occur that I have no control over and life behaves like a really bad game of spin the bottle. Things get shaken up and when the world stops spinning I never like what it's pointing me to. And I hate that. I hate it when things fall apart. I hate it when I make mistakes. I hate the way this big messy world spirals out of my control. It's only in retrospect that I see how all those things I hate are usually the things that push me towards a better life.
A few years ago I was driving through Colorado with a friend. We were approaching a large mountain range. She pointed towards it and said "One of these days those mountains will crumble." It is sobering to think that even mountains have lifespans, that they are fragile, susceptible to time and weathering. Someday those mountains will be gone, and there will be new ones in their place. Time visits everything and breaks and lays it low. I used to think this was cruel, but I'm starting to recognize that it's needed to make room for new life and new hope.
Right now, it seems that we are all dreaming of the world of the future. We are waiting for something to come along that will fix or fulfill the things that seem broken in our lives and our planet. My hope for myself and for others this year is that we would learn to live in the breaking, that we could all see and recognize that we are like mountains, that we have to grow and crack and change. It has been a painful process. I suspect that it will continue to be a painful process, but I hope we can confront it with optimism and resilience.
I must confess, that even as I type this, it seems ridiculous at best and fatalistic at worst. My hope for 2012 is essentially that we would be strong enough to gracefully weather all the crap that gets thrown at us as we stumble our way to a better world. But, writing this on the darkest day at the end of a very dark year, I think the best place to leave my hope is in the hands of the human spirit. The best chance for a better world lies in our strength as people, our resilience in the face of failure and discouragement, our compassion and kindness during tragedies and disasters. Any dream for the future begins with our ability to live well today.
So this year, as the timer counts down to zero, I'm not going to make any resolutions. I'm not going to dream of a far off better life. My goal is to stop watching and waiting for a better world, so I'm going to close my eyes and pray that I don't waste the days as they come.