I’m glad to see this year go. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Whichever month you choose, the memories haunt, the heart hurts, and it’s devastating to tally up the tragedies. So many lost lives, so much violence that seems to have no end. In the hope that we may, perhaps, have learned some lessons from the year that is now fading in our collective rear view mirror, here are some reflections on 2015:
We learned that racism has a very long shelf life, and it’s still with us. It’s particularly dangerous to be a young black male on the streets of America these days — in some cities more than others, granted — but black families across the country are counseling their sons to expect to be stopped by police, and to please, dear God, be polite and respectful when it happens. We learned that the only rebuttal hard-hearted people could come up with to the Black Lives Matter movement was to say, All Lives Matter. Yes, obviously they do, but un-armed white boys aren’t being shot and left in pools of blood on the streets of America.
We learned that forgiveness is a power that can move mountains, or lower a Confederate flag that flew as a hateful reminder for far too many years, which is kind of like moving a mountain. The survivors of the church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, who watched their friends and loved ones gunned down by a young man who wanted to start a race war, chose to forgive Dylann Roof. He sat with them for over an hour, praying with them, before opening fire and slaughtering nine of them. I’m sure there are many who see the shooting itself as the catalyst that led to the flag being removed, but no other mass shooting has resulted in any kind of change. I think it was the forgiveness, which is the ultimate act of courage.
We learned, in mass shooting after mass shooting, that people are capable of the most extraordinary acts of heroism and generosity. People lost their lives helping total strangers. Other heroes, who survived, will now live with a deeper understanding of what it means to be human. That, by the way, is how you combat terrorism.
We learned the sad lesson that bullies can go far in this world, which has to be frustrating for parents who are trying to teach their kids that being a bully is a bad thing. But Donald Trump is doing just fine, the kids might say in response. And they’d be right. Speaking of Donald Trump, we learned that he not only has a problem with Hispanics and Muslims, he also has a problem with women and their bodily functions. A woman criticizing him must be having her period, and a woman going to the restroom is “disgusting.” Maybe if he’s elected president, he’ll require women to put their names in a national registry along with Muslims.
We learned that Ben Carson confuses Hamas with Hummus, the garbanzo bean dip that is very tasty with chips or vegetables. This could be amusing if it took place in the Situation Room, but it’s doubtful he’ll ever see the inside of that room. Donald Trump won’t let him in.
We learned, with the killing of Cecil the lion, that there are hundreds of thousands of good, decent people in this world who are appalled at the hunting and killing of beautiful animals; they outnumber the ones who see killing as a sport.
We learned that, even though the earth is melting from both ends, the weather patterns are in chaos, and species are going extinct, world leaders still have faith that we can turn things around and save this planet. They made a commitment based on that faith. They could just as easily have said, It’s too late. But they didn’t.
Maybe we can have faith in the coming year — that there will be less killing, less violence, that the dark tides will ebb. Maybe we can remember that we were born for greater things than destruction and prejudice. Maybe we can carry into the new year the words of Abraham Lincoln: “The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”