2017 will be an uncertain future.
The past year closed with the passing of luminaries. As it turns out, the musicians and actors who were larger than life to us were not larger than death. While we mourned their seemingly strange succession of losses, level-headed statisticians among us pointed to numbers — these famous people were the aging “edge” of the “Baby Boomer” generation, and an increase in their passings was predictable. But this does little to assuage the sadness that “70’s kids” and “80’s kids” feel at what seems so much like literal constellations of stars simply winking out.
For us Americans, there were changes for our nation. Its proponents see it as the rise of the common man. Its opponents see it as the rise of some malignancy, pressing up against the skin — a cancer in our national character. There is a dichotomy in our still-quite-young country that we can’t truly say is newly discovered, because of course it has always been there. But its vigor and power to divide us now is more than daunting. Even stranger still, we see that same collective dichotomy mirrored in the home of our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic. (The people of Britain have grown to be so loved by me that I can no longer think of them as mere “cousins,” or “friends.”) But I believe that we Americans are being ushered into our New Year not by Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature,” but by the worst ghosts of our prior century.
I myself would confront the changes in our world alone in a way that I’d never been before. I said goodbye to my mother for the last time almost a year ago, as she lay in a hospital bed, chatting about books and poems and stories — very much as we had done when I lay in my boyhood bed, when my father was also still with us, and where she had once read to me. A parentless world is always an altogether new one. It is immutably sadder, even in its brightest spots. It is to be born again on a new globe that is infinitely emptier for the absence of two people.
But there was unexpected good this past year year, too. I discovered for the first time how happy it could make me to embrace an old classmate for the first time in 25 years.
I saw the Allegheny Mountains for the first time — I truly saw them, maybe in the only way that they were meant to be seen, waking outdoors beside lifelong friends near the fiercely azure, scattered clutches of hot-bright blue wildflowers.
I met the single dearest girl that I have ever known, along the hot July banks of a winding Southern river. I love her with abandon. She is an actress — someone who masterfully convinces happy audiences that she is someone else. She is habitually generous in her appraisal of me. She sees the good in me — even some good that is not truly there, I think, and her kindest performance is in convincing me that I, and not she, am actually someone else.
I toured the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., and discovered that I loved Vermeer. I found theater-going again, and new friends, and ravening violet skies over the Autumn peaks of Southwest Virginia — due to the fall’s strange manner of making its blustery plum night skies here seem inexplicably hungry. I celebrated Christmas with Southerners, and an old drinking buddy prepared a truly delicious holiday meal for me in my teetotaling old age.
One of the last things that my mother told me was, “Don’t worry.”
And I won’t. Maybe because it does little good in affecting the future. Maybe because, just once, an unruly little boy would like to finally do just what his mother has asked him to do.
I would rather focus only on finding more good in 2017. We all should, with the time that fate allows us. Whatever the differences among us, we all have something in common — we, too, are all eventually destined to be like stars winking out.