At the end of 2016, many people couldn’t wait to move on from what felt like a disaster of a year. The election of a man who represents the antithesis of so much of what we hold most dear –equity, dignity and respect, for women, people of color, immigrants and people of all faiths—was bruising, and fresh. The campaign, full of disappointing and shocking behavior from people who were supposed to be our country’s leaders, had dragged on for months before. Many beloved public figures had died, and some of us lost our own loved ones.
But a friend posted a query in December: What was good about 2016? It’s not all darkness. Right?
This appealed to my Pollyanna nature. So here are four bright spots from my 2016. What are yours?
I got a job.
Well, I have always had a job. But now, instead of scraping together a living as an independent writer and editor, I have become a permanent, full-time writer and editor at the American Federation of Teachers. Job security. Benefits. Meaningful work. Peace of mind.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret one minute of the “freelance” work I did for years. The flexibility allowed me to spend more time with my kids, and later to do my errands or go for a run in the middle of the day. The variety was fun (well, mostly — it could be challenging to switch from an article about the city budget to editing a recipe for a country newspaper and then writing a piece on a high-end home renovation in Potomac, but it never got boring).
Now that I have regular hours, health care benefits and paid vacations, I realize that having to pay for my own health insurance, never knowing if I’d have enough work, and working many nights and weekends to keep things going was more stressful than I knew.
Also, I still love my work. I get to write about faculty and staff at public colleges and universities, and lift up the power of the collective voice that unions give their members. I get to work on social justice issues, because high-quality public education is meant to be the great equalizer and we work to ensure that everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or zip code, has access to it.
How lucky is that?
I found a church home.
After years of not attending church, I have found a place that moves me so profoundly and feels so much like home that when I recently discovered it, I cried through nearly the whole service.
I first encountered St. Stephens and the Incarnation when I slept among the pews in the sanctuary on my first-ever visit to Washington, D.C.: I was a college student attending an anti-nuke rally. And then I forgot about it. But it kept popping up in my life: a close friend told me she attended when she was a girl. My son told me he’d gone to a hip-hop youth program there when he was a teenager (guess I wasn’t much of a helicopter parent). My honey, who is a contractor, did some renovations there.
I had been looking for a more spiritual element in my life, so I gave St. Stephens and a try, and it has to me. But it is also refreshingly updated. We pray to a female-pronoun God and Holy Spirit and sing spirituals and Spanish-language hymns along with classically-based hymns in English; we are a multi-racial congregation. There is incense and a crucifix, but we also stand in a circle for much of the service. Last Sunday, we blessed our cell phones, to indicate we were giving up our obsessive calendaring and scheduling to a higher power.
St. Stephens is the most activist congregation I have ever encountered, with a strong feeding and housing program for homeless and low-income families, political affiliations with activist organizations, and intentional connections with a diverse range of causes and people.
It gives me so many opportunities to be a better person and to appreciate the person I already am.
I discovered Audre Lorde.
Last year, my son gave me “Sister Outsider,” a book by Audre Lorde, a black feminist well-known to many but new to me. Just as I was renewing a commitment to social justice work I got to immerse myself in the thinking and perspective of this leader of the movement. I read some of it (as a book of essays, it is easy to pick up and put down, reading bits each time) and then life took over and I put it aside.
Recently Gesel Mason, a choreographer I have long admired, announced a dance performance informed by one of Lorde’s essays. I returned to the book and dove in to “Uses of the Erotic.”
Lorde uses “erotic” in an unconventional way, carrying it beyond its usual sexual connotation and giving it deeper meaning. “When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the life force of women; of that creative energy empowered.” Lorde gives us permission to tap into our deepest core and revel in it. Even if it is something like emotion, considered feminine and “weak” by a society dominated by men. Embrace that depth of feeling, she writes.
The work empowers me.
I visited my big sister on her farm.
My oldest sister and I have lived miles apart since she left home when I was 8 years old. We keep in touch by email and phone but we seldom get to visit. She’s come to my house a handful of times, but I haven’t been to her home since the 1990s.
“Why?” I thought. Just make this happen. So this year I drove up to her place in upstate New York (yes, that’s it above). What a treat. It was just one weekend, but we laughed and visited and reconnected in the best ways. I am so grateful for all my sisters.
More of that, please.
I hiked solo on the Appalachian Trail
I can count on one hand the number of times I have been backpacking, and the last time was just over ten years ago. But I’ve felt the lure of the AT since high school and I finally had some time to plan another trip. Hiking solo would give me a chance to unplug from everything and everyone, to get to know my own self, apart from all the familiar day-to-day surroundings, out in nature.
I borrowed gear (thanks, friends!) and hiked for four days just south of Harper’s Ferry. I used a campstove by myself for the first time. I learned that an 11-pound, 2-person tent is way too heavy for backpacking, and that I needed only about half the (heavy) food I brought. Also that 12 miles with 45 pounds on your back feels a lot different than a day hike. But I did it! And I loved it. And I can’t wait to get out there again.
I ran a 5K
I am an enthusiastic but casual runner. It’s as much about being outdoors as it is about building endurance—I alternate between running and walking, and take the wooded path, slowing down on the dicey bits. I have no ambitions to run a marathon, and I ran a 10K just once, in the 1980s.
But Takoma Park has a great 5K that benefits Safe Routes to School, a program that encourages kids to walk to school (among other things). And 5K is not much farther than I run/walk anyway. So I signed up.
I didn’t really train. So I was pleased that I didn’t come in dead last. I liked the comradery of running in a group more than I thought I would. And I loved that this turned out to be a reach for me – I had to work at keeping up my pace. But I didn’t walk once. And that was empowering.
I hope that 2017 brings more bright notes for each of us, and that we remember to take time to notice them.