A New Year’s Revolution

By Emily Burns,

Another year under our belts. Calendars are switched out, resolutions are written, and we get ready for the year ahead: The New Year. We give ourselves a clean slate, a blank canvas just waiting for us to set our brushes on it, and, at that moment, we are limitless.

But January 1st comes and goes and life marches on. For me, the only discernable difference is that I have to remember to write 2019 instead of 2018, which will likely take me a good month to get right. Because that blank canvas is actually filled with color, and although we may choose to modify or paint over it, what came before is a part of our rich history. Human history. A history riddled with the rise and fall of empires, technological discovery, and advancement, war, rebellion, migration. Victory. Defeat. Terrible atrocities, but also moments of incredible compassion.

Turn on the news, and there’s no shortage of stories about gun violence, immigration, and political unrest. The partial government shutdown has carried over into 2019. We are beginning to see a surge of climate refugees seeking shelter in unwelcoming countries. Mass shootings continue to devastate our nation.

After the Squirrel Hill shooting, I joined the Dayton community at the Temple Israel to be in solidarity with those who had suffered this tragic blow. I’m not Jewish, but I prayed and grieved all the same. What struck me most about the gathering was that the dominant emotion was not sorrow or anger, but an almost overwhelming sensation of love and community.

A week later, I attended the wedding of an old family friend. The moment of joy and love, witnessing two people who love each other united through marriage, was in such sharp contrast to the feeling of devastation I experienced after news of the Tree of Life shooting that I felt like I had emotional whiplash. But the whiplash also came with a renewed sense of hope, that amidst all the horrible things of this world there are also things that are beautiful and good. Words from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings kept coming to mind, and I thought about how although “in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”

I look at the current state of the world, and I sometimes wish that we had a blank canvas. But, since I’m a giant Lord of the Rings geek, another quote percolates in my thoughts. Gandalf appears with a twinkle in his eye, and I remember his words to a despairing Frodo: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. There are other forces at work in this world, besides the will of evil.”

Other forces indeed. The facts may paint a bleak picture of the future. But when I meet people working to better their communities, who are passionate about living sustainably so that the future is one we can all share in, I have hope.

Hope is a tricky word. All too often it is used synonymously with optimism, and those who choose to hope are accused of not being realistic, of not seeing the world as it is. But that is exactly what hope means. Hope is a choice. Hope is recognizing that although the road will be fraught with difficulty and obstacles, it is possible to travel. So I have hope for a future of clean energy, low poverty rates, abolished sweatshops, reduced waste, and fair wages. I have hope for a sustainable future.

Change doesn’t automatically happen when the ball drops. Change begins with people. It was a combination of technology and people that got us to where we are today, and we cannot rely solely on technology to get us out of the hole we’ve dug. Change begins with you. It begins with me. It begins with communities rallying together, sticking up for one another, doing what we can where we are.

My New Year’s resolution is a revolution. Let us love radically and maintain hope in spite of dark times. Let us decide to be a force of change in a world that desperately needs it.

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