What to Do with this *%*#^@ Year

66-ish days left of 2020, guys. We’ve all seen the memes, the memes, oh the memes about this dumpster fire of a year. And here comes the holiday season. Does anybody else feel that thing of like, thank goodness because here comes the lovely part, and also we’re almost to the end… but also drastically lowered expectations… but also dread of what if 2020 manages to screw up the holidays too?

What do we do with this year? How do we wrap it up? How do we process it? How do we comprehend it? Friends, I have a plan.

Please do follow me as I attempt to ungracefully shoehorn this idea into a vague and arbitrary structure of the last 2 months of the calendar.

We’ve all had massive disappointments this year, unbearable frustration, loss of normalcy, loss of certainty, loss of control. Loss of connection, loss of routine. For some of us we’ve had more isolation than we ever wanted, and for some of us we’ve been craving solitude when all of our sanctuary spaces and times were overtaken by displaced family members.

Next Saturday is Halloween. Day of the Dead. Sunday is All Saints Day.

I say we bury some things.

We’ve had a lot die this year. I keep having this weird experience of reading books or watching movies and seeing things that we’re not likely to see again any time soon: big groups of smashed-together people, little intimacies between strangers that sometimes seemed cute and now make me cringe because our personal space bubbles grew much bigger and more rigid basically overnight back in March… handshakes, cheek-kisses, big concerts, etc. A world that wasn’t hyper-aware of germs and interpersonal distance seems dead. I don’t know, with vaccines and whatever, maybe it’ll be back. But for me, for my mind, I need to consider it dead. 

School, in the same form it was before, is dead. Activities. They have passed away. Deceased. I’m not sure preschool will ever again look like it did pre-2020. Like I say, maybe it will, but for now, hanging onto it isn’t helping me. So I need to bury it.

Shoot, guys. There have been a lot of things in the past month or so that I’ve tried to mentally bury and mourn. Pre-social media elections, where people could talk to each other about things, for crying out loud. Discourse pre-24/hr news cycles, when you could at least have some semblance of an assumption of common ground & similar information, when you talked to other people about current events. The idea of national heroes or shared experiences that unite us and aren’t instantly divisive. I don’t know if I believe that’s even possible any more.

Honestly, I have found myself angry that my kids have to grow up in a world and a time where the sick, dark web is a half-second away from their fingertips on any one of the gazillion devices in our home or anyone else’s. I’ve been angry that they can’t have my childhood, with less screen temptations and more outdoors. I find myself wishing I could just raise them somewhere else. Or maybe somewhen else. I’ve been angry that they don’t have my childhood with cousins and grandparents 3 minutes away every day of every week of every year. I’ve been angry that it seems like middle-of-the-road, diverse, balanced schools that aren’t either overprivileged or underprivileged don’t seem to exist any more. 

There’s any number of things that I sometimes selfishly wish we could just un-know. We grew up with more weight than our parents, I think, and our kids will grow up with even more than us, of the knowledge of everything that’s wrong with the world… every genocide and tsunami and famine on the globe, not to mention the consequences of our own actions and purchases and choices. The feeling of having to choose between burnout and overload, or willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance. 

Is it just me? 

I could go on and on. I wish this didn’t happen, I wish that did. I wish this never existed, I wish that still did. I’m not saying we have to just shut these things down in our hearts and minds, or ignore them completely. But I think we need to shift from dragging them around with us Weekend At Bernie’s style and trying to white-knuckle them back to life. Frustrated expectations make us angry, anger makes us look for someone to blame.

Identify what has died, that is no more, that we’re mad about. Bury it. Mourn it. Mourning something doesn’t have to be quick or simple or dismissive. Feel your sadness for the end of it. But I find that it’s a different posture than being angry about it, or trying to drag the zombie of what was, then, into now.

So that’s Halloween. Day of the Dead. RIP. 

And then?

Thanksgiving. Maybe after we pallbear (can that be a verb?), and bury, fire off the guns and play the taps, and begin to mourn what was, we can spend some time being thankful for what is

I’m not trying to glibly make lemonade out of lemons, but I bet you can think of some good things this year. Either things that have come out of the whole crazy situation (I’ll start: my toddler has probably had the most consistent nap schedule a 3rd child has ever had in history for one thing; I think my kids are closer than they would’ve been without the halt of the past 7 months; we’ve screamed at each other a few times but we’ve also done some creative fun things together that we wouldn’t otherwise have done), or having nothing to do with this year in particular (my home. My family. My health. My stocked pantry. Good music. Good food. Cooler weather. New mercies every morning. Derry Girls. Etc.)

Let’s spend time here, too, in November. Goodbye to what was, Thank you God for what is.

And then, Advent.

What’s to come?

New life comes from dead things – trees from the dirt from the carcasses of their grandfathers. 

Birth comes from pains.

So what’s next? What will be built on the ashes of 2020? Take the stretch with me – Advent is about expecting Jesus, and this is not instead of that, and it’s not in addition to that, this IS that. 

Every year he came. We celebrate the baby and the manger and all of that good good stuff. Don’t skip it, and what it meant, and what it means.

Every year he is coming in the present. Even in 2020. Where is his work being done now? Where is his body (hint: US) coming to life, walking around on dusty feet, breaking bread, feeding mouths and healing bodies, actively affirming the dignity and value of every life, defending his Father’s house with zeal, with both peace and a sword, seeing the invisible people and touching the untouchable people? What’s your place in that?

Every year he’s not yet come. What are his promises? Chains will be broken. Dry bones will come to life. Oppressors will be brought down from their thrones. Children will be placed in families. Tears will be dried. Songs will fill our mouths. Creation will be what it was always supposed to be, healthy and whole.

The Kingdom has come. The Kingdom is coming. The Kingdom has not come yet. December is for holding onto Emmanuel, then, now, and forever.

2020 is what it was always going to be. 2020 is not some sentient force that wants to mess with us and ruin our lives. It’s not a big accident. It’s not the container that the universe put all its garbage in – the garbage didn’t start in March and the garbage won’t end 1/1/21. The beauty and goodness didn’t take a year off, either. You do not have to find purpose in your pain, or your loneliness, or your overwhelm, or your despair. But this year is building something. 

Mourn what’s lost. Give thanks. And look for what’s next.

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