2021: Bring Me a Renaissance!

woman with outstretched arms in front of sunrise

Even those who have had beautiful experiences this past year know that overall, 2020 sucked. We have had very hard lessons to learn and been very hardheaded (and hardhearted) about learning them.

There has been so much loss and sadness. Over 343,000 American lives have been lost to Covid, and deaths worldwide are at 1.81 million. And counting.

Many livelihoods and incomes of the 98% have been lost or are on uncertain ground. Racial inequality is screaming for justice. Hate groups are burgeoning. Our democracy is being attacked from the top down and way too many are either looking the other way or outright supporting it. Something as simple as facemasks—for the common good—have underlined a major schism rather than been an unequivocal (and easy) part of the solution to a devastating pandemic.

In many ways, 2020 is reminiscent of a simplified version of the Middle/Dark Ages, which included the bubonic plague, the Crusades, and Feudalism.

But this post is no history review (and I surely wouldn’t be the one writing it if it were). Rather, it is my chance to share with you my “word of the year.” My word for 2020 (are you ready for this?? It’s a hoot!) was play. Hahahaha! Guess the joke was on me.

But enough 2020…now is the time to look forward and strive for better things…which is why my word for 2021 is renaissance.

From the first time I studied the Renaissance in history class, I was hooked. A rebirth for learning and a love of the arts? A desire to question and create and a belief that humanity matters? Count me in.

Yes, it is more complicated than that, and there are aspects of the period that I don’t embrace, but for the sake of what I want to share here, let’s focus on renaissance in the most basic of terms: renaissance as rebirth, revival…renewal.

I want…need…2021 to be the beginning of a physical, cultural, intellectual, political, spiritual, and personal renaissance.

A rebirth of health and hope for one another. A reconstituting of our communities so that solidarity and diversity not only exist but rely on one another. A re-embracing of science to protect ourselves and our earth. A rebuilding of our systems to create equality and justice. A re-examining of religion that focuses on living out one’s faith rather than using it as a weapon…and a renewal of self and purpose that supplants the feeling of “untetheredness” that has overwhelmed me this past year.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…that’s a pretty tall order for a decade, let alone a year, but…we have to start somewhere, right? And why not right after a year that has taught us so much about the things we need to change? The term “inflection point” has become a buzz phrase for so many issues we face because this is indeed a time where significant change can happen—if we push for it.

So I’m pushing for it. Come on, renaissance!

But while there is much work to do in the wider world…I’m pretty sure my renaissance needs to start with me.

There are many personal things that 2020 has let us see with very different eyes. Our cloistered worlds have helped us learn what and who really matter in our lives…and what and who don’t. It’s put a ton of choices in front of us and given us the opportunity to “redecide” or reassess what about our “former” lives we want to have as a part of our “new” lives—and what is better off left as a memory.

At least for me, I know I need to be purposeful about these changes and not just let life morph into “whatever.” A few of the things that 2020 has helped me see more clearly include:

—My forever arch-nemesis Poor Time Management has been winning many battles, and I need to get off my ever-expanding tuckus and create a structure that helps me to win the war (or at least win a few battles here and there). This renaissance requires energy and effort—and PTM is like a vampire sucking those two commodities right out of me.

—Something as simple as hugs have renewed value to me. Once social distancing no longer needs to be a part of our safety protocol, look out, people. This Italian is coming for you with wide open arms.

—I have also been better able to assess where my efforts are best put, and things like one-sided relationships…where I’m the side doing all the reaching…are perhaps not the best use of my energies. Better to spend it on those relationships that see me as worth reaching for, too.

—I still need more play in my life.

These are but a few of the personal aspects of my renaissance that I can make choices about—there are many more that are part of the mix.

Yes…2021 can be the start of so many wonderful changes and choices…but it first needs the belief that these changes and choices are possible—that they are within Hope’s reach—and Hope, at least mine, has been under assault for several years now.

So perhaps that is the best place to start. 2021 is bringing hope—however tenuous—for positive change, and we need to grab hold of it for dear life and go where it leads us.

We are not done with the darkness, and we never will be—but we can’t afford to be hope-less. Not now. Not ever.

So come on, 2021—shine a light for us at the end of this dark year and lead us into a renaissance of health, hope, healing…and love. And may this be just the beginning.

A Year of Overwhelming FraGEElay

This is the ninth iteration of my yearly Christmas Eve “fraGEElay”* post, and 2020 has been a year of fragility like never before. Over 334,000 Americans have died due to Covid, with nearly 19 million cases overall.

That means that this Christmas millions of Americans will be dealing with the various degrees of loss this horrible virus has brought. Many, many tables will have one less place to set. Many more will have less to set upon that table. Utterly fragile times.

And altered lives mean altered traditions. Our Christmas traditions have already been morphing over the past few years with the loss of some loved ones and the relocation of others, but this year will be exceptional…in that it will only be our little family of three. Still, we are connected beyond the boundaries of our home through the gift of technology and even a Christmas Eve “parking lot sing-a-long” that our church is hosting. Blessings amidst the fragility.

Yes, this year will be very different, but perhaps the reduction of the typical hubbub and chaos that surround the season will give us the opportunity to better remember why the holiday exists in the first place.

And maybe in this different holiday experience we will be gentler with one another—and ourselves. And love one another—and ourselves. After all, love is what it is all about. It is the whole reason for the season with that little baby lying in a manger…the literal embodiment of love. And we could all stand a heck of a lot more love these days.

2020 has shown us just how much we lack in loving one another and how very fragile our country is in a multitude of ways. And while 2021 brings fresh hope with it…we have a long way to go before what has been broken can heal. A very long way. But, as I wrote in my last post, renewal will come even after devastating loss.

We may be fragile—and times may be fragile—but we are tough. We will fight for love and hope and health and healing and grace and mercy…and renewal.

I wish you a peaceful, safe, and love-filled Christmas and New Year. May we seek and find a way of being better to one another…in our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world.

*If you are unfamiliar with this reference, it comes from the beloved movie “A Christmas Story.” I can no longer see the word “fragile” and pronounce it in any way other than fraGEElay. That must be Italian.

2020 Hindsight—What if 2020 is the year we finally see 20/20?

With pretty much everything being a cause for division these days, I’m pretty sure there is something we can all agree on: 2020 was a year. An exceptional year that brought us a great deal of pain, struggle, and loss. A year that gave us plenty to learn from and a lot of tough challenges to work through.

And now that we are soon to have 20/20 hindsight of 2020…what do we see more clearly?

I saw this poem on Instagram, and it gave me hope…

What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw –
that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us
from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of
pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather
the most important year of them all.

~leslie dwight

What if 2020 is the year we finally see 20/20? What if it is the year that we see things for what they truly are and then strive to make them better?

If this is indeed the case, 2020 brought some critical issues into sharper focus. Yes, there have been good things that have come about this year, but for me, 2020 has made some things undeniably, painfully clear. So…this post is going to get dark (and the list is incomplete!), but perhaps there will be some light at the end.

Systemic change…needs the system to change. And the system isn’t going to change when it works for those who created it and hold the power and money…and it’s been working for the powerful for a very long time. Racial injustice is part of the system. Gender inequality is part of the system. Income inequality is part of the system. So those folks in power are either going to have to have a colossal change of heart…or we’re going to have to have a change of power. I think we know which of these is more possible than the other.   

We are indeed in a post-truth era. Because someone merely says something should not make that something true, but it seems that is enough these days for “facts.” Having been groomed for months to expect that if the election didn’t re-elect the current holder of the office he would cry “rigged” should have caused everyone to suspect that a game was in the process of being played. But for WAY too many people, it did not. The fact that this crying of fraud without any substantiation has radicalized people to the point of threats and violence is a reminder that fear, hate, and greed are the root causes of most of the misery in this world. We need objective truths to matter again.

If our well-being depends on the collective good, we are in trouble. We may come together to help people in short-term instances of natural destruction, but apparently asking to help each other with longer term behavior like wearing masks is too much for some. I’m not sure where we go from here if covering your face is too much of a sacrifice to make to help others stay healthy. I’m not sure at all.

Our gargantuan corporate healthcare and insurance systems aren’t working for anyone except the suits. And the more they grow, the worse off we all will be. Covid has made this irrefutably clear. Too many people don’t get the care they need because they don’t have insurance. Too many of our healthcare workers are overworked and underpaid. People fight government intervention in healthcare because they say keeping it private is better…but as these private systems grow, what is the difference? Big is big. Both access to and quality of care suffer. Another system that needs changing.

Also…

Science matters. Enough said.

We need to change how we take care of our older citizens. The pandemic made it heartbreakingly clear that long-term care facilities are leaving our older Americans vulnerable and in danger. What a horrible and sad way to see that “corporate care” is only interested in the care of their bottom line. Our systemic change list grows.

Income inequality is so much more than different-sized paychecks. Our reliance on technology this year has meant that those without access to internet or devices have struggled to learn and earn, and the disparity continues to grow. If kids can’t access education, people can’t go to the doctor, and families are going hungry, this should matter to everyone—not just those who are directly impacted. Systemic change, anyone?

Our democracy is not beyond destruction. I can’t believe I just wrote those words. I remember learning as a kid in history class about the toppling of governments and thinking that could never happen to the United States, but I am learning that not only can it happen, but it is in the process of happening. And unless we can protect and have faith in our free and fair elections and have our politicians work for “we the people” instead of themselves, we are at risk of becoming a full-blown plutocracy.  

Yes, indeed…2020 has taught us that we have several systems that need changing, which I find totally overwhelming.

Where do we go from here?

I wish I could enumerate the steps that we need to take to begin the fixing, rebuilding and/or healing, but I am not wise.

What I can offer is a simple simile for hope and change:

Be like lichen.

Ahem, what?

Be like lichen.

I remember learning that after a volcano erupts and spews a deadly and destructive lava flow, the first thing that grows back and begins to rebuild life is…lichen.

Lichen begins growing on lava’s ruins and is the foundation of the new ecosystem.

To me, this simile is helpful and hope-filled because the devastation that the lava brings seems insurmountable—but there is still life, still hope. It always grows. There is the chance to start over and create anew—even in the shadow of the very volcano that could erupt again—life is reborn.

The lichen is the basis for all the rest to begin.

We may not be able to be the lichen everywhere that needs change and renewal, but we can be to some things.

At least that’s what I tell myself on a good day. The reality is that the work to be done everywhere to fight injustice, help those in need, and take care of our planet is difficult and daunting.

But 2020 has given us a chance to see it clearly. And now that we see it better for what it is…let us get to work. Let us be like lichen.

Feeling More FraGEElay

This Christmas will be different for us. Partly because of life’s twists and turns, and partly by design. Life has brought us the first Christmas without my mom. It has also brought us a much smaller gathering around our table. This will most definitely result in a quieter day, and I’ve chosen to embrace these changes as a new way to experience Christmas rather than focusing on the differences as purely loss.

I’ve never had a Christmas where I wasn’t entertaining a group, and so I will cherish the opportunity to stay in my PJs longer and not rush to get things ready. Instead of trying to be the “hostess with the mostess,” I will strive to be less stressed and more relaxed. It’s all in the perspective, right?

And that perspective is also mindful of the fragility of life.

It’s true my mom is gone. But at 92, she had “the opportunity of a lifetime” and many years to experience—and now she is at peace. It is still a loss, but there is a sense of “normalcy” to her passing.

And then there are times when the fragility of life sneaks up on you in an instant and nothing will ever be the same again. Recently a beloved member of our church died at the age of 45…leaving behind her husband, two young boys, and many others who loved her dearly. In the span of less than two weeks, she went from not knowing she was ill to…dying. Just like that, she’s gone.

It may be cliché to say that our days are numbered on this earth, but the reality is that some of us, like my mom, have a number around 36,000…and others have less than one single day…or maybe more near 17,000, as our church friend had. And that may seem like a big number…until you run out of them.

We don’t know our number. At least I don’t know mine. But our days on the earthly side of this life are finite.

Life is fragile. We are fragile.

And so with our days numbered, we ought to be gentler to one another…and ourselves.

We need to choose kindness, grace, and service over hatred, ineptitude, and selfishness.

We need to forge a way, especially in these painfully divisive times, for love to win.

How we choose to use our days is all we have to work with in this fragile life.

My “fraGEElay” run began six years ago with this post. And while I have let this blog slip through the cracks of life, I am moved to once again wish you Christmas blessings…And if life, as it so frequently does, is not treating you gently, I pray you have people in your life who love you and stand alongside you…helping you pick up the pieces and create your own Kintsugi.

Merry Christmas, friends.

ALL PHOTOS ARE USED WITH PERMISSION.

Fra GEE Lay 6.0

Wow. Six years ago was the first time I wrote a Christmas Eve remembrance to be gentle with one another. Hard to believe so many years of this tradition have passed already.

And in this surreal year of 2017, it certainly bears repeating that…we need to treat one another with kindness and love. Continue reading “Fra GEE Lay 6.0”

10 Things I’m Thankful for Every Day 3.0

Last year, I didn’t write a “10 Things I’m Thankful for” post. I think I was too overwhelmed from other occurrences in that dark month. But gratitude should remain even in the darkest of times.  Continue reading “10 Things I’m Thankful for Every Day 3.0”