2016 Was Hell, But I’m Not Afraid to Live in 2017

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By Charles K. Poole

I began 2016 simply relieved that it wasn’t 2015. Or 2014. Those were particularly bad years, as my younger sister and older brother passed away less than a year apart over the course of that time. Their deaths left me in the unexpected position of being the last Poole standing, and it was a double-punch that left me reeling.

I fought my way back to life these last two years, because losing them gutted me and left me bleeding emotions all over the floor. While down there, after some prolonged self-inflicted damage I heaped onto myself, I realized that I needed to get up, get my shit together, and live the rest of my life like someone alive and not dead. That’s what my family would expect, and I wasn’t going to let them down. It was as simple as that.

By January of this year, my emotional wounds had become scars. They still hurt with regularity, but are as healed as they’ll ever be. I’m OK with that. In the months since, I began to again care enough about the life I have to take care of it, making the effort to eat well, exercise, lose weight, and do what I could to stretch out the length of my years as long as possible with both mind and body intact. Truly, it has been a journey. Worth it, but tough.

While I focused on getting my life back and moving it forward, so much else happened in 2016 that it made my head spin. All the deaths. An entirely unexpected presidential election outcome. The return of emboldened racism, sexism, religious discrimination, and attacks on people simply because of who they are, what they believe, who they sleep with, or what they look like. Hatred rallied people and politics unusual defined an America where being gleefully uninformed, conspiracy theory-ridden, and angry about everything and everyone became a movement in its own right.

A lot of people became and continue to be rightfully afraid for their safety and future, and as the days until January 20 fly by, there is evidence that both true believers who support the new president, as well as his vocal detractors, really have no idea as to what to expect from him. Without a doubt, 2017 will begin with a lot of people feeling, umm, a sense of trepidation to say the least.

But I won’t be one of ’em.

I’ve been through too much, and learned too much after surviving life’s struggles, to so easily give up on believing what I absolutely know to be true: God is always in charge and he’s given me specific marching orders for my life’s purpose. As long as I stay in step with those, I can trust that wherever I am going — in moments of great achievement or during my darkest hours — is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

This faith, which is the foundation of everything that defines what I am and who I am, has brought me through everything that would have otherwise destroyed me: aching poverty, hunger, homelessness, bad schools, self-doubt, being judged and treated differently because of the color of my skin, and losing professional opportunities because I chose to tell the truth when lies were preferred. And, over the years, losing every member of my family (save for my grandparents) before they reached 56 years of age.

Do you think, for even one millisecond, that after surviving all of this that I could be wrecked because of who sits in the White House? Or by a whole lot of pissed-off people who need someone to blame for their misery and believe they’re now free to let their hate-flags fly? Because if you do, you don’t know me well.

I’ve been living with this particular kind of worldview–some people believing they are superior to others, or that they have the right to tell everyone else how to live–since I was born. That there are people who feel and think this way isn’t a surprise; it’s just an ongoing battle certain of us face every day. A disappointment. Like anyone who has for their entire life been forced to deal with people who hate for no justified reason, I feel no shock and awe that certain things we’ve seen this year are happening in 2016. For a lot of us they’ve always happened. They’re just being broadcast, now. The only thing I do find odd are the people who have somehow convinced themselves the world is far, far different than it actually is. In the face of everything that’s going on, I’m honestly intrigued by how they do that.

That said, I know how to not let hatred break or deter me from making the most of my life. I’ve had a lifetime of practice, and anyway, doing so would be an excuse. An excuse I won’t make because I know better. My mama always told me, “Baby, before you let the evil in the world change you, you’ve got to keep looking for ways to change it, first.” That’s the philosophy I was raised on, and it continues to inform my reactions to everything in life, including what’s happening in America and around the globe right now.

Don’t get me wrong. I think 2016 was a tough year on many, many fronts. It just felt that way. But feelings about the year are not facts. It wasn’t all bad. No year ever is. So instead of walking around disillusioned that 2016 wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, I choose to be hopeful about what 2016 taught me. Instead of believing there is no safe place, I choose to dwell in faith, because it’s the safest place I know. So far, sticking with this approach has ensured my surviving 100 percent of the worst things that have ever happened to me. I believe there’s a reason for that; perhaps it’s God’s way of preparing me for the work I’ve yet to do.

It’s hard being hopeful these days, because there’s a lot of noise out here. There’s also a lot of pain, suffering, and hatred at the root of it all. Although we hear more about the negative things happening everywhere in the world than we do all the positive things, it’s necessary to pause for a moment or two and realize that’s only because negativity is being shouted at us with a bullhorn, all the time. We can’t escape it, and even unwittingly embrace it as some twisted new normal. Well, if this is normal, then we’re all in trouble. Unless we have something real to believe in, that is.

When we cannot see the stars in a cloudy night sky, they’re always there. It’s no different with good news and good people, people. Both are always there. All around us. We’ve just got to look for the information we seek and demand to know who these hopeful warriors are. Doing that ensures we never lose sight of the millions of people who fight the good fight, every day, without the attendant news coverage, follows, likes or tweets all the negative things happening in the world routinely get.

That’s on us to do, because while we loudly bemoan the media’s bias and penchant for the bloody and ugly, they’re only giving us what we want. If we didn’t consume all the negative information, or hunger for imagery that dehumanizes people, they wouldn’t share it. There’s no money in that, and today’s media conglomerates are businesses, committed to making a profit. If we want something different from the media, we have to change what we consume. It starts with us. We are not victims of the news cycle, after all. We’re purveyors of it.

Wanna change things? Expect more and demand better. From everyone. I avoid letting my life be defined by the “news of the negative” by seeking out accurate, insightful information about the people who, in a world of “us” against “them,” consider everyone “us.” I believe in and support these people, and so should you. I will not concede that angry people are in control of this nation, or the world. And I sure as hell am not going to accept that good people are now in the minority of the world’s population. That’s ridiculous, and I know better. I’ve witnessed better.

On the cusp of leaving this painful, frustrating year behind, it’s no time to be hopeless or feel helpless. It’s no time to think humanity has finally lost out. Instead, it’s time to raise our voices. It’s time to remind those who would take us backward that we’ve brought things forward before, and will do it again, through acts of sheer will and a whole lot of human compassion and understanding. This is not the year, after so many years of progress, to give up.

As I head into these final days of 2016, I’m reflective, but also resolute: I’m not giving up. I’m going to live in 2017 — and beyond — dwelling in a place where possibility and hope define the very best of what we can achieve as loving, caring human beings. I’m going to trust in humanity to do more good than harm. And no matter what happens, I’ll have no regrets. I’m not interested in sour grapes. I am interested in continuing to work through all the uncertainties we face, using the rooted-in-experience courage I learned from the members of my family and some really good people over the years. I won’t worry. I’ll have no fear.

I’ve had to live my entire life this way. I honestly know of no one who hasn’t. But I realize that sometimes we forget what we’ve gone through because we’re so focused on what we’re going through. I get it. Still, I won’t engage in that behavior and will discourage everyone I can from doing so, as well. That’s because it’s about to be a brand-new year. I’m on the other side of pain and suffering; I’m thankful for my perfectly imperfect life and for having a renewed sense of purpose after a couple of exceptionally rough years punctuated by tremendous loss and unexpected change. Given the alternative, I’m just grateful for another year.

I don’t know what lies ahead, but I know for certain that I’m not bringing 2016’s baggage with me as I embark on this new year’s journey; I hope you won’t, either. It’s time for all of us to look forward, letting 2016 quietly slip into collective memory. The past, after all, is best viewed a place of reference, not a place of residence.