Last year was a doozy and our prayers for next year are uncommonly humble. Never before has that sentiment ricocheted around the on-line and offline worlds as it does now.
I have never been much for New Year's resolutions, partly because the New Year isn't a great breaking point for me, but also because my self discipline is strong when it's there and nonexistent when it's not. Trying to manufacture it with a calendar marker isn't much help.
Cutting out sweets when I just received my favorite goodies over the holidays--and have been virtuously not devouring them all at once--is decidedly unappealing. The weather makes anything more than my indoor workout unrealistic. And everything else I should be doing, I am already working on.
But this year there is one thing I have to make a resolution on. I must resolve to care.
I am known for my passionate opinions and passionate work. And having been born under the sun sign of Aries, my passions are near the surface. But there is a downside to that too.. Too hot a fire burns out quickly.
This past year, my personal life as well as global political and publishing trends have conspired to strip me of much of what I thought made life worth living. The things I cared passionately about have been trampled into the mud by stampeding events. Family crises resulting in escalating stress with no hopeful end in sight derailed my writing career, which was hobbled by the miserable publishing climate as it was, and I'm not even going to start on politics, since you've heard it all before.
Mostly the things that I still have from last year are the humblest things--a home, some chickens, a duck, two cats, a garden, some members of my family. I am immensely grateful for them. But the thing that has been most dramatically taken away has been my passion.
I know from watching other people sink into dullness that passion is the key element in life force. The passion of hopes and dreams is lovely. The passion of love and commitment in a relationship is precious. But even the passion of anger or revenge has it's virtues. I don't care much anymore what passions you may have, but I know that having some passion is essential.
All year we heard that this is NOT the time to talk about climate change--after a natural disaster that cost many lives--or about guns in America--after a tragic mass shooting--or it isn't the time to silently kneel for lives lost in your community--during a public and symbolic moment. The core message is that we must curb our passion, stifle the fire because cool heads will make better decisions.
But do they?
I see a first grader playing with trash right outside school and all the adults walking by, picking up kids, going about their business. And the older kids too. I stop and pick up the trash, making a stern note to myself to wash my hands. The older kids stare at me. Why do I care? It isn't my trash--or is it?--they must be thinking.
I care. In the past I have really and truly cared about picking up the trash in my community. This year I have to choose to care, but I still care.
I disagree with people about a lot of passionate issues. Someone wants to agitate for a political candidate that isn't my cup of tea, though I don't think the candidate is evil. Or they simply care more about gun violence than climate change and I think the priorities should be reversed, if we had to ultimately choose. Or they insist that STAR voting is superior to any other type of voting reform. Others are vehemently trying to build a voice for their marginalized nation or refugee group.
And you know what? I want to hug every one of those people and say, "You go, human! More power to ya. Have courage and strength. Don't give up."
Because when you get right down to it, these people give a damn and that is far more important than what precisely they give a damn about.
I invite you to make this resolution with me, if you're struggling. Don't force yourself into a virtuous change of routine that will fizzle out in a couple of weeks. Just resolve to care about something specific. Choose something local and concrete, like your family or your place or your local school. Or choose an issue. But choose something beyond your own person to care about.
Yes, it's risky. You may well lose that thing or your cause may be lost. That hurts and you may have to choose again.
But what you gain is purpose. If not exactly hope, then at least you gain a temporary antidote to despair. Despair and it's close cousin indifference are the worst destroyers of our world.
Therefore, I invite you, even if your passion is something I may disagree with. Give a damn this year. Choose and follow your passion. This is how we ensure that we will have a future.