McGill-a-Grams: New Year’s Valediction


Before we may properly ring in 2016, it’s necessary to acknowledge the losses and violence that touched so many lives in 2015.

By Shannon McGill Vasile

It’s the night before New Year’s Eve, and I have been tense and restless for days.

I recognize the feeling now as the creative impulse too long suppressed. I wanted to write something to sum up the past year; something more than the same old useless and reassuring palliatives you always hear around this time.

As I sit here near the glow of a small, rectangular device no bigger than a pack of cigarettes and every bit as dangerous, I realize how many hours I’ve spent staring into its face instead of into the eyes of the people I love. I can tally with regret and shame the many times I’ve let it hijack my attention, sabotaging my work and relationships.

My most profound confession about this past year is that I’ve been distracted nearly every moment of its 365 days; and what’s worse, that has been by design. It is easier to anesthetize my brain in the glow of that tiny screen than to face our sad reality.

Crazed and broken men who storm into public places to murder strangers. Young men who are shot by police before they are even allowed the privilege and pleasure of making their own mistakes. Zealots who kill brazenly in the name of God. A child, driven from his home, lying lifeless on a beach.

The very planet, delirious with fever, seems to want to buck us off her back. The burden of these tragedies rides on all of our shoulders. They cast the same shadow on all of us. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our joys this year have been tempered by these collective traumas.

And still, tonight, we will rack up our accomplishments like billiard balls, and lie to ourselves about the progress we’ve made.

“Look at all I’ve done, and look at all I’ve yet to do,” we’ll say, bloated with booze, flirting with our reflections in the eyes of our loved ones.

“I’ve made it,” we might be so bold to declare, “and next year I will climb even further up the ladder.”

But that’s the thing: so many have not made it. So many, in fact, that even without wanting to, we have all been forced this year to learn death by heart, like a song; the sonorous melody that is the sum of its parts, and how they fit together to produce it. Instead of the wisdom we’re supposed to reflect upon at this annual milestone, we are surrounded by ghosts.

We just cannot keep moving now, and planning, and scheming, and grabbing, and blaming, and confronting, and running away. We can’t create now, or heal, or even help. We can’t grow, or learn, or improve.

We can’t. Not right now. Not here in the space between years.

Right now, there has to be a different approach.

For me, I won’t be dealing in verbs, but in nouns: silence, stillness, contrition. A pause, a breath, a rest, and if I’m lucky, atonement.

My wish for you and for myself on this last day of the year is that we will be strong enough to simply sit with our grief without having to jump around with a noisemaker, trying to pretend it isn’t there. Our hearts have all been singing such sad songs this year that, for a moment, we just have to stop and allow our skeletons to adjust to the weight before we begin again, our new songs of hope.

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