Good Riddance to 2016!

The Executive by Duane Hanson, 1971; Toledo Museum of Art

All I can say is phew; whether it was grit and determination, some higher power, or perhaps just pure dumb luck – take your pick – we made it to the finish line of 2016! In many ways it was a rough ride and I for one am ready to move on to a new year. But the question remains as to how we can change the trajectory of this past year and not allow it to taint the incoming. This past year I started a journey of discovery in the writings of a friend, Christine Valters Paintner through her book “Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice” and our pilgrimage to Ireland in October. One quote from Christine’s book strikes me in particular as a guiding principle going into this coming year. “Thomas Merton described the contemplative life as a journey from opaqueness to transparency, from the place where things are dark, thick, impenetrable, and closed to the place where these same things are translucent open, and offer a vision far beyond themselves.” Shifting away from the opaque is not easy as many like to see things in solid black or white, but I think will be essential to look beyond to the translucent shades as we discover the impact from this previous year.

The Executive No. 2

Kathleen and I spent some time at one of our favorite institutions over the holidays; the Toledo Museum of Art. It is a really wonderful venue featuring a world-class collection of art and entertainment and provides a rich look at culture through the ages.  I understand Toledo is not on everyone’s bucket list, but you really should visit if you get a chance – or at least seek out the cultural venues in your own locale.  I want to reflect on a piece of art we love to visit every time we head down to the Museum. While I don’t normally go in for modern art, there is something strangely compelling about this piece that has drawn us in over the last several years.  In my interpretation, and art is always open to personal interpretation, the Executive exemplifies the entire past year. He is worn and weary, and just cannot go another step. Sitting alone on the bench, pondering what his next role might be; what daily grind does he go through just to make ends meet? Is he appreciated or simply another cog in the machinery? I feel the urge to sit and listen to his story, and yet would disturbing his rest create one more task in a life already beaten down?

Yup, that is how 2016 has felt for many of us. We have been polarized by the whole campaign process. We have been inundated by the so-called ‘fake news’ that those with an understanding of history realize has been around since the dawn of communication; historically known as ‘propaganda.’ But it seems modern-day pundits need to come up with new terminology to sell air time; I believe the old words still work best, even if they conjure up a really dark period of history. We have seen the ugly side of our culture emboldened and exploited in the name of winning at any cost; can that genie be put back in the bottle once its utility is done? And one has to wonder how a life long adversary now appears to find a friend in high places in our government. So I understand why the Executive compels us to stop and ponder his story. The interesting thing is that this piece dates to 1971 – so how did the artist understand what 2016 was going to be like? Ah, the magic of timeless art.

But the question remains as to what 2017 will bring. Will it bring the promised prosperity to all, or a return to the greed of the few outweighing the needs of the many? Can we find peace both inside our country as well as beyond our borders or will the security of the world continue to teeter? I look at what is happening in Chicago, one of my favorite cities, and feel deep sadness at the social issues that have not been solved and the rampant crime that is the result.

I for one choose to continue into the new year with optimism for in the end it is a choice we all have the ability to make; I’ve been told that optimism is just a part of my Minnesota heritage! But along with this choice, the world needs to work toward removing the polarizing black and white blinders and move into the zone where the needs of the many are the goal in order to halt the out of control spiral of division. That is my own vision of 2017 and pray that the rest of the world wakes up and does the same.

So instead of toasting the end of 2016, let’s raise our glasses to a brighter year ahead – 2017!

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