The Year In Review: 2016

I write this in the last days of 2016, in the middle of my family’s traditional holiday break. No matter where I find myself, geographically speaking, during this break I always try to forget about work, obligations, and being an adult in general as much as I can. And while I also usually try to pause a bit to reflect on the past year, this time I can’t quite shake the feeling that it would be best just to forget most of 2016 entirely. I don’t think I’m alone.

One place to start would be with the seemingly incessant celebrity deaths. Even if you don’t typically care about famous people at all, we’ve lost so many well-loved musicians, actors, and athletes from all corners of the entertainment spectrum on such a consistent pace this year that it would be hard for anyone not to notice. This may not be the “worst year ever” for celebrity deaths (and what a morbid concept to even analyze), but it’s certainly gut-punched millions of fans of all stripes across the globe.

I do fully realize that celebrities are a small, rich percentage of the population who in most cases chose their careers and lived their lives the way they wanted, even if they were taken unexpectedly or before living to the ripe old age of 90. So I don’t tend to hang my entire worldview on their well-being. I get that in other corners of the world, people who will never be famous are suffering in a real and palpable way. I also see what, in a perfect world, should be a simple matter of helping people in need get impossibly complicated, tangled up in fear of terrorism and distraction by problems in our own collective backyards.

Certainly here in the U.S., all of us average citizens were subjected to an election season that exposed some of those problems. The election brought out the absolute worst elements of our society in every possible way. You have to wonder when the tensions, racial issues, and strained interpersonal relationships that erupted as a result will begin to heal when neither side of the political spectrum seems interested in doing anything but demonizing each other. And since that wonderful train really got rolling in 2016, I’m going to chalk it up in that column.

Even when I focus in on my own personal level and things nominally within my control, I am reminded that I lost two people this year who were very influential in my life: my grandmother and one of my best friends from high school. Gina also lost her grandfather, and recognizing the impact he had on her and her family, I also keenly felt the loss. Being a pallbearer three times in one year at age 34 seems a bit excessive.

Additionally, several project timelines at work were delayed interminably with no end in sight, and those I was able to complete didn’t really give me the normal sense of satisfaction. If in an “average” year I at least have a few milestones in my work that I can point to as high points, this year just seemed like one long slog.

To paraphrase the Huffington Post article I linked above, for many people all of these elements have joined forces to compound a general sense of doom surrounding 2016. And I agree that this world of instantaneous news and perpetual connectivity is a big culprit. When everybody hears the same bad news at practically the same time and everyone can share, tweet, or repost it ad infinitum, there’s a magnifying effect that we as a society haven’t figured out how to process. It’s unprecedented in human history, to be sure. You can escape this effect by either being completely disconnected and unconcerned about the world, or by diving into your own reality populated solely by people and opinions that match your own. Both are dangerous, but both are so easy to do with the lure of technology.

Another blog I follow, The Frailest Thing, often explores the questionable effects of technology on society.  I admittedly am not well-read enough to usually follow all of the philosophy, but a recent post summarizes this entire notion as “the forces pulling us apart appear to be stronger than those pulling us together.” We’ve got so many technological advances swirling around us at a breakneck pace, and they all do what they’re designed to do: bring the world to our pockets and make our lives easier. But when you can live in certain areas and never have to leave your house (as long as you’ve got the means to get stuff delivered to you) it’s not hard to imagine those same advances contributing to people drifting ever further apart.

That’s pretty heavy, no? It’s also why I almost didn’t post this at all. But then, I realized that I couldn’t just let 2016 leave me this way. Whining without offering any kind of solution isn’t worthwhile, and I don’t want to waste your time.

So that’s when I started pondering the good things that happened this year. Of course I’m thankful for my family and my job, and the fact that I can help provide a good life, clothing, and shelter for them. Noah continues to surprise me every day with his enormous potential and his capacity to bring joy to our household (toddler tantrums and dirty diapers too, to be sure – but also joy). I reconnected with most of the Wesley Foundation gentlemen and returned to Blacksburg for a Hokie football game weekend. Gina and I didn’t get many breaks to just be a married couple again, but when we did, we remembered what it was like to have fun at places like Hershey.

And certainly, an overarching highlight has been my role as worship leader at The Kingstowne Communion. Being a part of this community this past year has caused me to grow exponentially in my faith and as a musician, and I have made many new friends. While there was a huge learning curve in the beginning, and I’m still figuring out the perfect balance of time to commit to protect myself from burning out, I’m excited to see where this leads. If any of this work is having a positive impact on the community and will help someone’s life get just a little better, then it’s all worth it.

And so, I’m going to begrudgingly say that 2016 wasn’t all bad, and the parts that were I can’t do anything about anyway. I think the closest thing to a solution that I can get is simply to continue to connect. I’m certainly not going to be able to end racism or poverty or steer the country on my own, but I can choose to make my own little world around me as good as it can be. I can keep raising my son and looking out for my family. I can choose to help others. I can also choose to look the cashier at the store in the eye and really mean it when I ask how they’re doing. I can choose to try to focus on the good and not dwell on the bad, to cherish memories, make new ones, and keep pounding forward. And maybe if I can keep doing that, it won’t ever matter what year it is.

But seriously, 2016, Carrie Fisher? Come on, man.