The introduction to the mid-1990s tome "Simple Abundance", Sarah Ban Breathnach's daily guide to living more simply, reminds readers there are "years that ask the questions and there are years that answer." Each January, when I begin the book anew, I hope for a year of answers. My wish for 2016 was no different.
And answers it provided aplenty.
If my social media feeds were any indication, however, like countless others, I wasn't prepared for the answers it had in store.
Jian Ghomeshi? Acquitted. Gord Downie? Brain cancer. One-time patriarch of the idealized Every-Family, Bill Cosby? A predator.
Each time it seemed we were able to catch our breath, 2016 would smack us back down. Spanning the spectrum, the ugliness ranged from terror in Brussels, Nice, Aleppo, Orlando, and at a German Christmas Market to Russian hacking, fake news, and the incessant late-night tweets of an insecure septuagenarian using words like "bigly", "braggadocious", and "unpresidented" in the most bigly, braggadocious and unprecedented way.
Like any year, 2016 took and it gave. But the balance seemed to weigh heavily in the "took" column. As an ad copywriter, I have the irksome tendency to think in taglines, and if 2016 were my client, I might suggest something like: "I took and I took and I gave." Yes, in its own perverse way, 2016 gave.
The gifts of 2016 weren't sweetly wrapped in chic silver bows beneath a popcorn-trimmed tree. Rather its gifts were hiding under piles of muck, mire, and metaphorical dirty diapers. 2016 made us work for its rewards; an ongoing dichotomy. Low meeting high. Pain meeting beauty. Injustice meeting a renewed fervour for truth.
Fingernails-down-chalkboard three-word slogans ("Lock her up.") reminded us that mob mentality is alive and well. On the flip side, these chants were met with ones of progress and optimism ("Love trumps hate."). In the face of the name-calling, violence-inciting, and hot-mic footage, we were reminded that "when they go low, we go high" by our current-day FLOTUS -- an acronym so presently synonymous with integrity I'd use it as a name for a future daughter except that a) I am done having children and b) I sense its purity may somehow be tarnished from 2017 to 2021.
2016 year tested us. It made us sweat. 2016 was the Phys. Ed teacher we loathed because she didn't just let us play dodgeball; instead it was chin-ups and crunches and that God-awful climbing rope that only lead to the dusty gym ceiling.
Time and time again, 2016 asked the questions and gave the answers. What do we do when we fall? We get back up. What do we do when we fall? We get back up. What do we do when we fall? We get back up.
On and on, it took. David Bowie, Harper Lee, Patty Duke, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Gene Wilder, Florence Henderson, Alans -- Thicke and Rickman, Garys -- Shandling and Marshall, Zsa Zsa, George Michael, and in a 24-hour window, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. The fermented cherry on top of a curdled sundae: it took Leonard Cohen too, when we most needed his poetry to guide us homeward.
But while 2016 took so many of those who enriched the texture of our days and it challenged much in the way of our dignity, it also gave us a renewed sense of focus. As recently as one year ago, topics as basic as kindness and inclusivity simply weren't part of the daily dialogue. Today we tweet, we march, we connect. And every weekend, we watch Saturday Night Live and for one night, we exhale.
Above all else, 2016 gave us a newly infused commitment to our in-need-of-a-tune-up values. Like an old friend we rarely check on, on account of the misguided belief that the relationship no longer requires tending, so too did our collective goodness need some TLC. And so, in the face of taking that which we most cherish for granted, instead of figurative rainbows and butterflies, we saw signs of hope's opposite.
At various points, we might've believed we'd hopped in a DeLorean and time-travelled back to, say, the Deep South of the 1950s. When the Ku Klux Klan publicly celebrates a President-Elect's victory -- and thinking-people are left to wonder if it's even possible to high-five under those horrid white sheets -- you can't help but suspect the calendar is lying.
Alas, 2016 was many things, but a liar wasn't one of them. The answers 2016 provided in its propensity to take-take-take were the truth. Our justice system? Flawed. The Electoral College? Broken. The idols who stitch the fabric of the cultural richness of our lives? Human, mortal, temporary. In keeping with the theme of truth rearing its head in unexpected places, the genius of Gord Downie revealed itself yet again when he chose to shine the spotlight not on his own trying path, but on the reminders of our broken relationship with Canada's Northern populations. Despite how much it hurt, 2016 was always honest.
It took and it took and it gave.
Before anything can be fixed -- a broken system, a broken heart, or Donald Trump's broken spellcheck -- we must acknowledge it is in need of repair. And in 2016, we did. As sure as darkness dissipates in light, so too will this heartburn eventually subside and "2016" will be the punchline to the joke we're all so eager to tell.
As we reflect on the casualties of this unforgettable year, let's not fixate on the vast hole they leave, but rather on the ever-lasting quilt they compiled while they were here. I imagine the New Years Eve party they were at in whatever version of Heaven they each partake in. George Michael is singing: "You've got to have faith, faith, faith." I'll drink to that, 2017.
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