*Disclaimer: This was supposed to be posted a week and a half ago, but it slipped my mind—so forgive the not-quite-timeliness!*
It is now 2017! The holiday season has somehow evaporated, and we are facing a new, fresh, clean-slate year. I didn’t make any resolutions, because I was sniffely and grumpy, but I did think about celebration.
This Christmas, I spent a few nights with the entire Ellis family at my gramma’s house. We counted seventeen of us in all, and seventeen is a lot… but seventeen Ellis men and women can sometimes seem like ONE HUNDRED and seventeen Ellis men and women. There are a lot of bathroom jokes and gag gifts, and last year we all died when my aunt gave my mom a water bottle that looked like a dildo. We laugh a lot—but this year we cried, too, because my gramma is sick, and it is a challenge for her to do almost anything.
Last Christmas, I focused a lot on the “lasts”—as in, “this is the last time we’ll spend a Christmas in this house” or “this is the last time I’ll have to paw through the refrigerator looking for mayonnaise that hasn’t expired.” The lasts dragged me down and added a big asterisk next to any fun that I was having. How can you truly enjoy yourself if there is something big looming ahead that will be sad and hard and overwhelming?
Instead, this year I spent a lot of time wondering about how to celebrate “effectively”—how to make the most of the season that centers around giving and family. There is always something big looming ahead. The something big might be sad and hard and overwhelming. How can we celebrate when there is such an uncertain future?
I think these are all questions that we need to be asking right now. I’m counting down until January 20th and mourning the loss of reasonable and sensitive leadership. There is something big looming ahead, and I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be happy and easy. And yet, I still think about celebration in the face of a difficult future.
I have tried to stay positive and optimistic throughout the entire transition of power, but my worldview continues to shake with every new appointment. To cope, I find myself searching for hopeful articles rather than honest portrayals of the challenges we are facing. I avoid the news, turn off the radio, and read about celebrity divorces instead of racism or sexism or homophobia.
I am in many ways ashamed of this selfishness. Because of my life circumstances, I am able to turn it off. Recently, though, the reality has come knocking. I might face medical bills of over $800 per month. I might lose access to safe and reasonably priced abortion. My friends may lose the ability to marry the person they love. My former students will lose access to food stamps or housing.
All of these things leave me breathless with anxiety. And so I bury my head and silently brace myself. I feel powerless and defeated.
Then enters celebration.
I am not saying that we need to read only hopeful articles and plan parties around systems that are broken. It is not enough to “focus on the positive,” “stay optimistic,” or in any other way deny reality. I am not even saying that we have to embrace imperfection wholeheartedly, although I do think paying attention to what is working is an important step toward change.
What I do think we need celebrate is our unique capability to contribute to this world. Within every one of us is an innate ability to change the places around us in a specific way, one that reflects our goodness, our strengths, and our sensibility.
I think that we need to sit down with a pencil and paper and celebrate the steps that we can take to enact change. I can write articles. I can drive my car less. I can pick up the phone. I can donate money to causes I care about. These are all within my sphere of influence, and that is a beautiful thing.
In the face of a future that may not seem worth anything, we need to remain empowered and cultivate realistic, well-informed hope. I am convinced that celebrating with clarity and determination is our best shot at making a difference.
And even within systems that work to oppress us and keep us silent, could we ask for a better gift than the ability to be ourselves in the fight for a better, more just, more bountiful world?