How 2017 Actually Taught Me About Hope
There’s a scene in the immortal action movie Bad Boys II (*Author’s note: no, this is the Will Smith buddy comedy without the Orc) when Will Smith has just been punched, bitten, choked, shot at, involved in a high stakes car chase and thrown through a plate glass window onto the back of a subway car.
His exhausted partner, Martin Lawrence, looks down at him and sobs “This has got to be the worst, most emotional, cop week of my life.”
Smith looks up, still lying on his back. Bloodied. Bruised. Covered in shattered glass. He says, “Yeah. It’s been a little rough.”
That was two thousand and seventeen. I don’t know whether you were the emotionally exhausted and brink-nearing despair of a stressed out Martin Lawrence, or the nihilistic, physically spent version of Will Smith that only had a mumbled understatement left to summarize the occurrences of this year. Hell, maybe you were the bad guy that got tossed off the train and ran over on the electrified rail a few moments earlier.
Yes, just about any way you slice it, 2017 was a little rough for a lot of people.
I can’t deny that.
But there was something below this tumultuous, gutter-soaked, bottom shelf liquor shot of a year that I keep coming back to as 2018 looms closer. A subtle, but nevertheless tectonically important, movement below the jagged crust: hope.
The kind of sticky, crude-oil-coated, feeling that lies wild and untamed beneath the layers of black gold after a spill. Covered in viscous, thick, blackness but not gone. Not extinguished.
Make no mistake: 2017 was an oil spill.
It was a year when the rusted, bloated pipes, that we should have taken care of many years ago, finally burst and pumped gallon after gallon of the darkest parts of our Nation’s being — the slickest and most nauseatingly-staining blackness, that has so long been a driving force in too many engines — onto the calendar pages, day after day.
It was a year that the red on the flag started to look a little more like blood. That the white on the flag was revealed to be closer to a veneer than our actual teeth, with rotted gums and jagged canines hidden underneath. That the blue wasn’t as free and beautiful as maybe we had thought.
It was shocking and miserably revealing for some. But merely a time when so many shrugged their shoulders and nodded with the knowledge that they had seen this all before.
You see, 2017 was it’s own point on a linear scale for many of us, but it was merely the latest revolution in the dizzying, bile-spinning cycle for others. This wasn’t the first 2017 for them. Just the latest version.
But 2017 wasn’t about that.
Not entirely, anyway. It doesn’t have to be.
I refuse to let 365 days be defined solely by the bad that occurred. Not when we are the authors of this particular dictionary.
2017 will certainly be defined by much of the bad that occurred — the suddenly emboldened, flaccid outrage of angry white males and the chasm between where we need to be as a collective and where we currently find ourselves; a Grand Canyon divide that’s anything but Grand — but it will also be defined by the hope that has arisen.
There can be no Phoenix without ash.
There can be no Renaissance without the Dark Ages.
We’re not supposed to like the way smelling salts smell. They’re there to force wakefulness upon us.
And, now, we find ourselves on the precipice of a new year and I say that instead of throwing 2017 over our shoulders and dusting off our hands, we stare it in the face with blood in our teeth and the sound of war drums beating along in our hearts.
Yes, 2017 was a tough year for America. But do not relegate the hope that it provided us into the margins of this story. Do not merely put an asterisk after the seven and move on.
I saw hope in 2017, more than despair.
I saw us marching in solidarity, fiercely proud and unafraid. Unwilling to kneel before the insanity of inequality. Battling with fists in the air and their heads unbowed. With eyes clear and dilated pupils looking to the horizon with the kind of purpose that inspires me.
I saw we, the people, leading the discourse, with thoughts and words and feet on the streets of our country, for the America that we can be. That we should be. That we must be.
I saw bad, yes.
But everywhere I looked, I saw people unwilling to be swept away by the tide. Unwilling to slow their footfalls because the path was uphill and the slopes were treacherous. I saw people stumble and fall. Rise and fall again. But I saw people never giving up.
I saw evil, yes.
But I saw outreaching hands. Ears that weren’t merely hearing, but listening. I saw people full of love, in defiance of hatred.
I remember when I was a kid, my Dad (Author’s Note: ever the film auteur) forced us all to watch the movie Quest for Fire.
The movie centers around a group of cavepeople who don’t have the ability to create fire. At some point they stumble upon a naturally occurring fire but, since they can’t make it themselves, they must do everything they can to keep the flame burning at all times.
If the fire went out, it would certainly spell doom for their tribe. Once the flame was obtained, the only thing that matter was keeping it lit. Rain, animals, violence, quicksand, Ron Perlman with weird teeth. No matter what occurred, the flame was what mattered.
That was us in 2017. We weren’t wearing pelts or attacking wooly mammoths. But that flame? That all important fire? That provider of heat and light in a dark and cold year? We kept it burning. I saw that all around us and that is what I will remember most about the year that was. Not the bad. Not the dark.
The anger? The fear? The worry and the helplessness? I won’t forget those bad things I felt. But I won’t dwell on them either. We humans are nothing if not the perfect combustion engines. The light didn’t go out in 2017. It burned like hot coals out of sight.
Now, this year? Now, this time? Let’s light the flames. Stoke the coals. Pump the bellows. We, all of us, have a chance for two thousand and eighteen to be the year the flame is held alight once again like that beautiful monument to what is right in America.
Happy New Year. Let’s go.