With 2020 in our rearview mirror, most of us are hoping for a new year that looks nothing like the old year. As we struggled through past 10 months of pandemic, with one hit after another leaving us hanging on the ropes now and then, we set our eyes on the day when the clock would strike midnight, the calendar would flip, and we would have the chance to level the playing field.
It would be nice if calendar years worked like that, neatly packing away all the previous troubles at midnight and clearing the slate so we can start fresh. Every new year—with resolutions and diet plans, vision boards and health club memberships—we convince ourselves that this is the case. But we know from experience that rather than a magical transformation, it’s more likely we’ll get to February, look out at our lives and think, “Meet the new year, same as the old year.”
I know, I know. Why am I being so depressing when we’re still fresh with new hope for better things? We have a vaccine making the rounds, promising an end to the pandemic. We have a peaceful transition of power in the offing, reminding us that our democracy remains strong. Why focus on the negative? Because it’s not the negative at all. It’s just life as broken-but-beautiful human beings living in a broken-but-beautiful world. A change in one digit in our datebooks can’t change the trajectory of our year or our lives, but there are things we can do to make some magic happen, and the good news is that, in a world where we can’t control much, this is something we can, in fact, control.
What is this secret weapon? As Glinda the Good Witch told Dorothy at the end of a difficult journey through Oz: “You’ve always had the power, my dear. You’ve had it all along.” The same is true for the rest of us, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are far stronger and more resilient than we ever imagined. But that kind of power isn’t created by us or sustained by us. We get it through our connection to God, and we strengthen it through our connection to—and compassion for—others.
Throughout the pandemic, I kept seeing the same quote (attributed to author Damian Barr) surfacing in different forms on social media: “We are not all in the same boat. We are all in the same storm. Some are on super-yachts. Some have just the one oar.” The quote was followed by a reminder to be kind, stop judging, and support one another. If you remember your Wizard of Oz history, you’ll note that this method is exactly how Dorothy finally discovered her own power. She found her tribe and she loved them, sacrificed for them, advocated for them, until all were safe and sound.
Turns out the lessons Dorothy learned in Oz are not that far off from those we’ve learned throughout our lives as Christians: take care of your neighbors, love one another, re-prioritize your life so the things that really matter—God, family, friendship, community—rise above the more superficial goals that may have topped our list of resolutions just one year ago.
As we venture forward into the unknown of 2021, we can do so in fear, because of what we witnessed these past 12 months, or we can do so in hope, because of what we know we can accomplish when we put our faith in God and band together with our brothers and sisters. We don’t need a resolution or even a calendar to do that. All we need is the ability to step outside our own wants and needs to glimpse the boats in the storm around us, and maybe help someone with only one oar get safely to shore.
Mary DeTurris Poust’s new book of Scripture reflections, “Not By Bread Alone 2021: Daily Reflections for Lent,” is now available from Liturgical Press. Information: NotStrictlySpiritual.com.