Transforming 2016

2016 has been variously described as a “catastrophe,” a “garbage fire,” and as a “practice run for the apocalypse.” As someone who has had the apocalypse on his mind quite a bit lately, I’m tempted to go with the last one, but lately I’ve begun to incline towards more vulgar and assonant labels. Right now, I’m thinking mostly of 2016 as a “crack-sucking shit-tickling cayenne-enema” of a year. Log on to Facebook if you think you can do better.

It’s all a question of perspective, I suppose. If the icon death toll seemed unusually high in 2016, that’s probably because Boomer icons, especially the hard-living rock ‘n’ rollers, are reaching an average age when their bodies are proving less immortal than their music. If the year’s political ramifications make you despair, that’s because you live in a part of the world where despair is a comparatively rare feeling. And if your personal life has become a shambles in 2016 – well, that sucks. Maybe it’s good timing, though, to have one’s life fall apart at the same time as the world seems to be crumbling. No sense in staggering them.

In spite of the obvious, unquestionable clusterfuckery of 2016, I’m going to try to end this year on a positive note. After all, some heroes didn’t die this year. Some political developments didn’t incontrovertibly suck. And some people’s lives improved – if only because of luck, or because of the karmic upswing that comes from seeing suffering in the world and resolving to survive it.

I’m really tempting fate by writing these words prior to January 1, but in the spirit of optimism, here are a few amazing people who could easily have joined the choir of angels in 2016, but chose to stick around to see if things improve:

  • His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama: At 81, the Dalai Lama could reincarnate any time, although a life of meditation and vegetarianism might see him through to 100 or more. The big DL survived the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1950, and ever since he has stood as a living embodiment of compassion, peace, and reconciliation.
  • Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II: Mum not only turned 90 this year, she also exceeded Queen Victoria’s record as the longest-reigning British monarch in history. Even if you dismiss Elizabeth as a mere figurehead, it’s worth reflecting on her reign as symbolic of an era defined by peace in the Commonwealth. If Victoria represents the height of modern colonialism, Elizabeth stands for tempered reconciliation and multiculturalism.
  • David Suzuki: An environmentalist before there was a name for it, Suzuki embodies Canadian ideals better than any living Canadian I can think of. If he doesn’t always say exactly the right thing, well, maybe that’s just because he’s resolved to keep talking – he’s been campaigning for sustainable solutions longer than I’ve been alive – until we find the right path. While Suzuki lives, hope lives.
  • Paul Simon, Patti Smith, and two out of four Beatles: 2016 was especially hard on classic rock, but these icons are still around, and in many cases still producing exciting music.
  • All kinds of other awesome people turned 100 or more in 2016 and continued kicking (not the bucket). When you’re depressed, peruse Wikipedia’s list of living centenarians for a jolt of inspiration and a reminder that, while all things must pass, not everyone passes sooner than they should.

Of course, a lot of people in 2016 found themselves wishing that Abraham Lincoln had dodged the bullet, somehow made it to 207, and decided to run for a Republican third term. Finding hope on the political scene was hard for Westerners this year – unless you were a Trump fan, in which case, surprise! 2017 is going to kick you to the curb with disappointment. Personally, I’ve learned to redirect my schadenfreude towards cultivated glimpses of optimism.

The conditional victory of “water protectors” protesting the Dakota Access pipeline gives me hope. It took too long for mainstream media to cover it, but for the participants themselves – mostly Native Americans who have known only repression, scarcity, and indifference – it must have been incredibly moving to see corporations, government agencies, and independent members of the military complex acknowledge the wrongs they’ve done, or were intending to do.

Yet oil pipelines continue to spawn, including the two recently approved by Trudeau’s administration. It’s one of several 2016 betrayals and backslides by the Liberal majority government, made arguably more galling when contrasted with Justin Trudeau’s public image. But I believe the Liberals are trying, however clumsily, to walk the progressive path despite economic, foreign, and probably internal pressures. Ratifying the Paris climate agreement is a strong example of commitment to the long-term – which, for the progressive-minded, is the only term that can be thought about right now without erupting in hives.

As for the USA, my desperate optimism comes from an unlikely source: Dungeons & Dragons. In D&D terms, the alt-right represents a force of lawful evil – calculated, systematic hate. But Trump is chaotic evil – unharnessed and unfocused, a hurricane with bad hair. As geeks well know, law and chaos don’t work together effectively for long; so my hope is, Trump’s ego will rankle under the thumb of his fascist handlers, and over the next four years, the two evils will spend more time at each others’ throats than targeting the vulnerable minorities they’ve threatened thus far. It’s a longshot, but that’s what we’ve been left with.

But enough about the decline of Western civilization: how was your year? In my back forty, there was a flood, the schools went work-to-rule, and my pace of employment suffered a bloodless coup that will likely result in a strike in 2017. Blessedly, though, I’ve been on another continent, where the worst things I’ve had to deal with have been pneumonia and stinky cheese. I’m not bragging, I’m reframing. I think we all feel a share of this year’s misery, but we can share and celebrate our wins as well. Raise a Belgian beer with me and let’s toast the hind end of one truly skunk-buggering year.

NOTE: I’ll be traveling with my family from Dec 25-30. Therefore, my next missive will probably be in the New Year. Have a safe and happy holiday season! I love you, and I’ll see you on the other side.

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