Today is the first day of a New Year. A blank slate full of hopeful possibilities for people who choose to be optimistic. For others it is emblematic of the start of some dreary foreboding anxiety-inducing era. It’s the same year for everyone and though our individual experiences will vary, it is how we choose to meet the situations and challenges of life that determines if 2017 will be the best year of ones life or the worst year in history. A year from now it will have been both. Not all of that is choice but much of it is. While we can’t control all of lives circumstances, how we choose to frame those situations determines our perception of them, not just at the time they occur but for the rest of our lives. The same event can be a trauma for one person, while having a positive impact for someone else. This year in particular seems to have people strongly divided regarding the future, our quality of life and mankind in general. Some are excited, while others are terrified. In reflecting on my own life, it seems to me this is a recurring theme and hopefully others can learn from my observations.
Looking back there was the year that I arrived in a foreign land where I knew nobody and could not speak the language. It was pretty intimidating but people helped me out and I knew that even though I was a stranger that they cared about me. Some of the basic rituals of their daily routines were upsetting to me and often it felt that nobody understood me. Some would say I was depressed because I slept a lot and when I wasn’t sleeping I was often crying. I wasn’t depressed though, I was a newborn infant and the experience is one commonality I have with more people on this planet than any other. I’d say the year I was born was a good year. Though from a historic standpoint, the year I was born is remembered by most Americans as the year that made phrases such as “grassy knoll” and “School Book Depository” synonymous with the assassination of JFK, an historic event that people identify with in the way others recall the Challenger Disaster or September 11th. I’m not old enough to remember where I was when JFK was assassinated but as with other major historic events, it is one where people not only remember where they were, they recall who they were with, how they heard, perhaps what they wore and how they felt. It’s this type of event that shocks the system and briefly one imagines things will never feel “normal” again. A single event in a year can make a huge impact. JFK’s death left a permanent void in the Kennedy family. My birth filled a hole in the Rose family; they had a baby girl, their family was complete. I imagine that my parents questioned the type of world they were raising their three children in. 1963 goes down as a good year for me.
The first year that I was really cognizant of in a meaningful way was 1968. Many Americans will recall the year because of the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. that spring and Bobby Kennedy early that summer. The year was rife with racial tensions and Americans rioted in major cities, in the nation’s capitol and in Chicago during the DNC. It’s memorable to me because I started kindergarten at Lake Harriet elementary in Minneapolis that fall. The summer Olympics took place in Mexico that October, with George Foreman winning the heavy weight gold medal in boxing with a TKO in the second round against a Soviet. American gold and bronze medal winners in the 200 meter took to the medal podium shoeless in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists in silent protest against racial discrimination and were banned from Olympic competition by the IOC for life. My kindergarten class held a mock election that November in which native son Hubert Humphrey won Mrs. Ostrum’s kindergarten class election by a landslide. However Richard Nixon exceeded the necessary 270 electoral votes by garnering 301 to Humphreys’s 191, with George Wallace bringing in a third-party 46 votes. I remember the election day clearly, as it fell on my father’s birthday and we had company that evening, which was highly unusual on a school night.While the nation was divided, that December brought us the iconic Earthrise photo which so clearly depicts that we actually are all in this together. The picture was taken Christmas Eve from the Apollo 8. That same day brought us the most watched television broadcast in history (at that time). The astronauts took turns reading the creation story from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon. Tension, division, chaos and hopefulness were major components of 1968. For me it was a positive year of new beginnings.
I have written about 1976 before (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/the-rnc-saved-my-life) it was another Olympic year and Presidential election (Jimmy Carter). Additionally, it was the year I became a teenager and got my ten-speed bike. It was also the year I didn’t die in a house fire because I’d slept downstairs in order to watch the final night of a political convention, instead of succumbing to smoke-inhalation upstairs while a fire slowly burned. Regardless of what else happened that year, not dying a tragic death mere days after becoming a teenager makes me appreciate 1976 as a good year.
1977 thru 1981 were spent in high school. Some people hated high school, I happened to enjoy most aspects of it. I made some good decisions, some bad choices and like many teenagers spent too much energy on superfluous matters and may have benefited from focusing more on other things. It’s a cruel period where you care more about how you look than any other time in your life but go through acne, braces, body transformation and often regrettable hair choices. While I didn’t obsess, I do recall some of the really superficial things that I thought at the time mattered, that in retrospect were pretty trivial. On the national and international level the Iranian Hostage crisis lasted 444 days from the day before my father’s birthday my junior year and not ending until the day that Ronald Reagan took office midway through my senior year. Months later Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. Two months after that Pope John Paul II was also the victim of an assassination attempt. The week of Southwest High School’s commencement my community was hit by a tornado. While some lamented the horrible luck, others were thankful that only property was damaged and nobody was killed. Whether you’re Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II or some high school kid who might have been killed the week of graduation, sometimes being brought to the brink of a horrible situation or surviving a tragedy makes one appreciate the things they have more than they would be able to had they not had the life-altering experience. I’m certain there were many new parents that year who likely questioned what sort of world they were bringing a child into. I have to say that 1981 goes down as the year I graduated from high school, the year I left for college, a year of fond memories.
In reflecting on my life I can think of no year that was perfect. I can’t even think of a year that went as I assumed it would from the outset. Whether it be a car accident, an illness, the death of a friend, loss of a family member, an injury or some other life changing situation, there hasn’t been a year where some sort of unanticipated crisis hasn’t surprised me. By contrast, life has been full of surprising situations and opportunities. In 1988 I could not have envisioned that I would meet a man and marry him seven months later. At the onset of 1992 it would have seemed unimaginable that nine months later I’d be a mother. The year I married my husband is the year I buried my father. During the months prior to giving birth to my daughter I drove my husband to the ER when chest wall spasms had us convinced he was having a heart attack. I rushed to retrieve him from work when he called to say he’d gone blind in one eye from what turned out to be an oculur migraine. Temporary inconveniences that made us thankful, helped us prioritize, kept things in perspective. While I’ve experienced bad things in my life, misfortunes and setbacks, I don’t believe they ruined a year. There is much to be learned by challenges and misfortunes. While we try to avoid bad situations, rare is the individual who makes it through life without them. Though it’s not hard to identify our own, it’s good to remember that we aren’t always privy to the very real difficulties that others endure.
As we enter a new year we are not certain that we will be present to usher in the next one. It’s not macabre, it’s simply how life works. It seems wasteful to spend too much time planning for a bad year or dwelling on how awful the past year was. What age has taught me is that there will always be world events that disturb, disgust, upset and even scare us. As an RA at St. Cloud State in 1983 I recall having to console a floor member after the TV movie The Day After was shown. While it won two Emmy Awards and holds the record for most viewed TV movie of all time, the fictional story of nuclear war left viewers overwrought with anxiety about something that simply did not occur. There was a lot of energy expended over fear of something that felt so real but didn’t exist. It struck me as wasteful.
As 2017 begins, perhaps it’s healthy to exhale and recognize that much of what will happen this year you won’t have much say or control over. Don’t let that make you feel helpless. With that knowledge go into the world with the objective of not fixing every real or perceived wrong but with the simple goal of being an asset. Donate a pint of blood, volunteer in an area you are passionate about. My neighbor sews pillow cases that are distributed to sick kids who are hospitalized. There are opportunities to foster animals. Programs exist for helping both adults and kids learn to read. If you have a hobby or interest there is likely an organization that would allow you to share of your talent or passion. Maybe your contribution is eliminating some of your own excesses and donating items. You can think globally and act locally. Don’t be paralyzed by your fears of the unknowns of the future, whether that means tomorrow or the next four years. Despite our differences, our commonality is that none of us truly knows what the future holds for us or others. What our attitude is, that is something we can control. It’s your choice if you want to begin the new year cynical, mean-spirited or judgemental. It’s not beneficial, unless you’re wanting to make your year miserable and to be “right” when next December 31st you can say “I knew 2017 was going to be a horrible year.” Having watched people this past year who faced seemingly unbearable challenges but who had fantastic energy, inspiring courage and positive attitudes through their battles (some to the very end of their time here) I see it as wasteful to exert so much negative energy. Negative energy is like any other pollutant, too much becomes toxic.
Though I’m not psychic, I’m going to make a prediction about the coming year. I foresee that locally, nationally and internationally there will be man-made problems, natural disasters and injustices. I predict that some people will do selfless acts to benefit their fellow-man. I imagine some individuals held in high regard will disappoint us. I’m guessing that educators, doctors, scientists and inventors will find new ways to make life better for people from all walks of life. If this all sounds somehow familiar, that is because like 1963, 1968, 1976, 1981, 1988 and 1992 (and all years prior, in between and since) I believe despite mankind’s frailty and inhumanity that ultimately 2017 will be a good year!