Here we stand, waiting for the old year to dissolve beneath our feet and for the new one to arrive with all its breathless uncertainty.
2020! It’s hard to imagine a number like that.
I remember sitting in an elementary school classroom where the teacher was, for some reason I can no longer recall, talking about the distant day when we would make the turn into the 21st century. I don’t remember why she was talking about it, but I do recall what I thought in response.
“The 21st century! I’ll never live that long!”
I don’t suppose I did the math to support my musing. I was, after all, only sixty-one when the 21st century descended upon us, an age that seems young now, though it wouldn’t have seemed young when I was sitting in that classroom. I just know that the idea of moving into a new century seemed extremely unlikely.
And so today we stand on the doorstep of the second decade in the 21st century, and I find myself thinking that entering the decade that will follow—2030—seems about as unlikely as the 21st century did when I was a child.
It’s not that I’m planning not to be here. This past year when I was offered a mortgage with a ten-year balloon I said, emphatically, “There’s no way I’m going to sign something that tells me I have to die by the time I’m 90!”
Rather I’m acutely aware these days of the fragility of my existence, of all existence really, but especially that of a woman who has a firm hold on her eighties.
I’m also aware, and more so every day, of the deep, deep privilege in which I have lived my life. The privilege of my white skin. The privilege of growing up in a home in which the importance of learning was so taken for granted that I absorbed learning with the milk I drank and the air I breathed. The privilege, the amazing privilege considering the wars my country has been involved in all my life, of living a life virtually untouched by war.
Concerning that last, I have come to understand that my life has been played out in a golden bubble. I . . . have . . . been . . . untouched . . . by . . . war!
My father received his notice to report for military service in World War II on the day after the birthday that made him too old for the draft. My former husband was in Korea, but only after the “conflict” was no longer being played out with bombs and guns. My son was a toddler when the draft closed on the Vietnam War.
And, most miraculous of all—read Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner to see just how miraculous—we haven’t yet been decimated by one of the nuclear bombs we ourselves brought into the world!
A golden bubble and an unlikely one!
Every time I look back and muse on the privilege of my life, I can’t help but also look forward to the lives my grandchildren have yet to live. How can I not feel responsible for the world that is waiting for them? Yet, like most of the adults of my generation, I have cared, I have always, always cared, and I have never stopped trying to make a difference. And my caring and my trying have never been enough.
So here I stand at the doorway of 2020, acutely aware both of my lifetime of privilege and of a world crumbling in too many ways to count. I despise those messages too often handed down to the young. “Well, guys, seems like we messed up. Now it’s up to you to fix it!”
It was up to me to fix it, too, and I could not, no matter how hard I tried.
My grandchildren are such valiant souls. Every one of them. But I don’t expect them to be able to “fix it,” either.
So what is the message for a new decade in a century I never thought to see? A message mostly for myself, because my grandchildren, I know, are too busy with their lives to be listening.
Maybe just this. This day, this very day, is sacred. Live into it. Live into the day and the day after that and the next decade, too. And, if it is granted, the decade after that.
Because the deepest privilege of all is life itself, a privilege even when we are not able to live up to it.
A blessed New Year to every one of us!