Today the editorial board of the New York Times published an article called, “Take a Bad Year and Make it Better.” It’s a long piece and it includes an impressive discussion of some very good things that happened in 2016. The one I liked the best was this.
“West Virginia . . . a state that turned its back on Democrats, where populist anger fed on racism and working-class despair. But it’s also the home of Blind Alfred Reed, a Methodist minister and old-time folk fiddler who died 60 years ago. He is buried in Mercer County, which gave Mr. Trump 75 percent of the vote. Blind Alfred wrote a remarkable song, “Always Lift Him Up.” Its many verses counsel unflinching kindness for the most unloved and unlovable among us.
If he has no friends and everything’s against him/If he’s failed at everything that he has tried/Try to lift his load and help to bear his burden/Let him know that you are walking by his side.
If he feels that all is lost and he is falling/Try to place that poor man’s feet on solid ground/Just remember he’s some mother’s precious darling/Always lift him up and never knock him down.
That’s a message for these times. Lift up those in the Fight for $15, those fighting policing abuses and discrimination, those who are marginalized and poor and weak. This may be the most heartening development in a dismal year — the evidence all around that we know how to do this, and can indeed summon the will.”
I am writing this in the late afternoon of Saturday the 31st of December 2016, the end of the year. It is still getting dark before 5:00 but the days are growing longer since the Solstice; in spite of chilly temperatures, there is a slight change in the air, especially on those crisp days when the sun is out and the sky is clear. Another full turn of the seasons and, before we realize it, it will be high summer again here in the Tidewater of Virginia.
After all the deaths–of friends, of family, of well-known women and men in the arts, in literature, in science, in the popular culture, in its halting, magnificent way, life will continue, will continue to delight us, horrify us, wound us, heal us, will continue to hand us every morning the grace of another day. As a friend of mine always says, “Life just shows up.” I believe that, in the face of some very serious threats to a great many important things, life will indeed show up.
In her book, For the Time Being, Annie Dillard writes,
“For the world is as glorious as ever, and exalting, but for credibility’s sake let’s start with the bad news.”
And Pilgrim at Tinker Creek declares that,
“. . . beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.”
surrounded by photographs of the generations of my family,
my old cat Isaac sleeping nearby,
and I will wash my mind as clean as I can and look at the long road behind and at what I pray will be a long road ahead. I will think about the many wonders of the year that is almost behind me. The list is long.
I will say what Anne Lamott believes are the only three prayers we need:
“Help me. Thank you. Wow.”
For nearly three years, I have started my day with a long conversation with my cousin, Jane, who lives in Texas. Our hour on the telephone usually includes reading aloud from the Scriptures or from a book we’ve chosen, news of our large family of cousins, frequently an extended discussion of some idea from what we’ve just read–which can lead to almost anything. Recently I have developed the habit of talking very early, usually before my call to Jane, with a friend here with whom I read the St. Francis Prayer. It is a lovely way to begin my day. And, once again, Annie Dillard,
“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives.”
Which brings me to the subject of this blog, “Ahh-Yoo-Yahh.”
On March 27 of this year I published a blog called “Hallelujah: An Easter Meditation,” in which I told the story of having watched K.D. Lang singing Leonard Cohen’s haunting song, “Hallelujah,” with my grandson since he was just a few months old. We watched it, first on my laptop, later on the television, every time he came over, usually once or twice a week.
He is now nearly two and when he walks in the door of my co-op, he smiles up at me and says,
The song’s refrain is,
“It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”
It is always cold and it is always broken, but by God, there is always a hallelujah!
Leonard Cohen, one of the many deaths in this death-riddled year, also famously wrote,
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, mostly because of a long history of making them and not keeping them. But I have a New Year’s prayer. I pray that my wound may be deep enough and wide enough to let in an abundance of light, enough light that I can share it and maybe, just maybe, brighten some small corner of someone’s darkness.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
With apologies to Katie Andraski for not only not publishing on Monday instead of Sunday but for publishing a day earlier than early! Katie, just ignore it until Tuesday!