I am an incredibly empathetic person, and when there is pain in me, in the people I love, and in the world I love, I feel it in my soul. The past few months have been especially difficult, and I frequently feel a sinking in my stomach, an aching in my chest, a catch in my breath.
So when it comes to ending 2016 and looking ahead to 2017, I’ve been struggling to get to a place of resolve. Of hope. Of anticipation. Of determination to make something good of the beautiful but (sometimes seemingly irreparably) broken world I see around me.
I’ve had a lot of “What’s the point of getting out of bed?” mornings.
It’s been hard to believe a quote I’ve loved for a long time, the one I repeated to myself over and over again when my little sister was sick and my brother was deployed to Afghanistan and my grandparents were dying and I was going through cancer treatments and two recurrences.
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” (Anonymous)
The best place I’ve been able to come to is that it’s not a mistake that I’m alive in this year and in this world. So I’ve been trying to accept and internalize that truth.
This year I spent New Years Eve as I have every year for the past five years (at least), visiting my friend on the east coast. We kept our tradition of going to the home of his friends for dinner on New Years Eve. They’re gourmet cooks and usually, when we arrive, they have a six-course meal ready to serve us.
But this year was different.
His friends had been traveling, and then dealing with their ill toddler, and grieving a recent death in the family.
So when we showed up, there was a bowl of hummus and chips on the kitchen counter — and nothing else was ready.
“If you want to eat dinner, you’re going to have to help make it,” the husband said with a smile as he held up a variety of aprons.
We quickly divided duties. My friend volunteered to play with the toddler so his parents could have a break. I volunteered to be the sous-chef, to chop all the vegetables and measure all the ingredients entailed in the three recipes we decided to make.
The husband declared he would make the salad and the dessert. His partner said he would set the table and pour the drinks.
With our tasks assigned, we went to work.
While Christmas music played, I put on an apron and got to work. I chopped peppers, leeks, onions, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, olives and fennel.
I measured out turmeric, paprika, salt, pepper and broth.
And then, because it didn’t take much time to do the prep, I became more of a chef than a sous-chef. I boiled the leeks and potatoes and broth, and used an immersion blender to turn the mixture into a creamy, warm soup.
I sautéed the other vegetables, added a cup of rice, and let it simmer on the stove as it transformed into a delicious vegetable paella.
An hour after we started, we were ready to eat.
Together, we carried the soup, salad and a basket of warm bread to the table. We served each other. We laughed. We remembered our loved ones who passed away this year. We talked about the mixture of trepidation and anticipation we feel about the future. We spoke of exhaustion and rest and brokenness and beauty.
We cleared the bowls and salad plates, and the husband carried the cast iron paella pot to the table. He lifted the lid to reveal a multicolored, multi-textured, savory, hearty entree, and my friend used a large silver serving spoon to heap generous helpings onto our plates.
We continued our conversation.
Two other friends showed up, and we set extra places at the table.
When we finished eating the main course, we cleared the table and brought out small chiseled dishes of homemade chocolate mousse topped with whipped cream, and flutes of champagne.
Our hosts toasted to a healthy, happy, prosperous new year. We chinked each other’s glasses with smiles and laughs and, “Hear, hear”‘s.
After dinner, while the parents put their toddler to bed, my friend and I cleared the table, cleaned up the kitchen, and packed up all the leftovers.
As we were driving home, I thought about 2017.
I think it can be a good year but, like our New Years Eve dinner party, it will not be done for us, it will be done by us.
We will not be passive spectators as Peace On Earth becomes a reality. We’ll have to be the peacemakers who create it.
We will not be guests invited to a planet whose conflicts are resolving, wars are ceasing and countries are reconciling. We’ll have to be the people who resolve, cease and reconcile.
We will not be citizens of a country that automatically lives up to its stated ideal that all people are created equal — we will have to insist on and practice equality, treating all ethnicities, skin colors, language-speakers, genders and sexual identities as equal.
We will not be tourists who look at the Lady of Liberty holding the torch in the harbor; we will have to raise our voices and issue the invitation to the refugees and immigrants who are tired, poor, huddled and yearning to breathe free.
A hopeful 2017 will not come to us. But we can bring hope to it.
We can join each other in a kitchen of ingredients — of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
And together, we can make it.