2016, we need to talk. I can never remember a year being so unpopular. Outside of 1999, a year reminding us to party, we’ve always been sort of ambivalent about the four-digit date on the calendar. But then you came along, 2016. You took Prince (the eccentric rock legend who reminded us to party like it was 1999), and of course Prince was just the beginning. David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, the way too young Anton Yeltsin, Gene Wilder, George Michael, and now Princess Leia herself, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds—you’ve given us a who’s who of celebrities we’ve lost. They’ll need to schedule two segments of In Memoriam at next year’s Oscars.
But you get worse. It’s more than just celebrities that you took from us. You took young black lives like Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. In Dallas, you took the lives of Officer Lorne Ahrens, Officer Michael Krol, Sgt. Michael Smith, Officer Brent Thompson, and Officer Patricio “Patrick” Zamarripa. Then there are places like Syria, Nice, and Orlando, who had their 2016 marred by horrific and unthinkable tragedy.
And I haven’t even got to the election. The most polarizing election of my lifetime. A time where we all started to distrust and doubt each other, an election that we are still trying to pick up the pieces from and make sense of.
Are you starting to see it, 2016? Are you starting to see why just saying your name strikes fear into our hearts? But I realized something this morning, and it shook me as if there were a great disturbance in the force. When the ball drops in Times Square nothing changes. The events that caused black men and officers to die, are still very real problems in this country. The election results won’t change and January holds the inauguration for the most polarizing President the United States will have since I was born (and maybe ever). Even our celebrities aren’t safe as father time will still stalk and take the lives of our great artists.
Here’s what I’ve decided: I’m changing the way that I’m looking at you, 2016. I’m going to learn to love you and be grateful for you.
I will do this in two practical ways:
First, I will remember all of the beautiful gifts you gave me. You gave us the best sports year of my lifetime where my Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl, the city of Cleveland finally became champions, and the Cubs gave us the most epic baseball game we’ll ever see to end 108 years of futility. You gave me incredible pop culture moments like Arrival, 10 Cloverfield Lane, La La Land, Rogue One, OJ Made In America, and my favorite show this side of Breaking Bad—Stranger Things. I feel like I’m time traveling back to my childhood every time I watch that show. I watched my kids grow into better tiny humans, my marriage flourish, and I got to work with some dear friends on incredible projects. I won’t forget the good memories that you gave me, 2016. I’m grateful for every single one of those incredible moments.
Second, I’ll take you as an urgent warning. Blake Snyder calls it “the whiff of death”, something that reminds the hero they must change. All of the things I dislike about you aren’t going away just because it’s 2017. So, I’ve got to do better. I will work to use whatever modest privilege and power I have to do better. I will find better ways to reach out and help the marginalized, to elevate the voices of women and minority friends, to love others in my church, in my family, and my community. I will be a more present father and husband. I have to admit to whomever is reading this sentence right now that I am cynic and skeptic by nature. It’s how I’m wired. But like Scrooge waking up from a nightmare on Christmas morning, I’ve seen the errors of my ways. So, as cheesy and lame and eye-rolling as it sounds, I can only control my words, my attitudes, and how I spend my time and energy. As the great Mahatma Gandhi said I need to, “Be the change that I wish to see in the world.”
I can see what you’re thinking, 2016. I didn’t do anything! I was just a placeholder with some dates. And I guess I’m agreeing with you. We’ve turned you into the pure evil, as if Cobra Commander and Darth Vader were put into a blender and gave us the ultimate super villain. But you’re just a year. Nothing changes when the calendar flips to 2017. So, I’m going to stop giving agency to numbers on a calendar. You’re powerless, 2016. The only real change starts with me.