One of the many reasons I love my job as a professor is that the start of each new year feels like a new year: new students, new courses, new materials. It also causes me to reflect. At the end of each course, I ask myself what I could have done differently? What could be more engaging?
And, for me, that’s the purpose of the new year: it’s a time for reflection.
On social media, a number of friends began posts counting their blessings in 2017. For each month, they highlighted something that made that month memorable – 12 events that made their year exciting and joyful.
Indeed, this reflection often rings out at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Day. In the midst of fireworks and kisses, often you’ll hear the familiar sounds of “Auld Lang Syne,” the Scottish ballad written down by Robert Burns in 1788 after collecting lyrics from older songs. The song begins with a reflective question: “Should old acquaintance be forgot?” We rarely make it past the first verse and chorus, but if you continue reading the ballad, you realize that Burns answers his question with an emphatic yes.
We should remember fellowship and the friendships that have grown over the last year. The remaining four verses are recollections of events between friends in the past year: drinking, wandering in the fields, paddling in the stream.
Recently, a friend lamented the beginning of 2018. In recent years, each new year has seemed to bring additional violence, turmoil and unrest. Dictionary.com’s “Word of the Year” seemed to confirm this message. “The Word of the Year serves as a symbol of the year’s most meaningful events and lookup trends,” reads dictionary.com. The word for 2017 is complicit – choosing to be involved in that which is illegal or questionable.
The article provides a timeline of lookup trends and associates those trends with the historical timeline: Ivanka Trump’s attempt at redefining the term in April; the complicit refusal in acknowledging climate change; the complicity involved in turning a blind eye to sexual misconduct.
Despite this trend of negativity, we also saw in 2017 a refusal to be complicit: a refusal to take part in that which we know to be wrong.
Dictionary.com includes the #metoo movement and the Women’s March; but I would add also that the Pro-Life March on Washington, D.C., 2017 saw record numbers for participants refusing to be complicit in the life-ending choices of abortion or assisted suicide and the lack of protection for human life in the immense poverty we witness every day.
Certainly, our church has stood behind its message in its refusal to be complicit in the destructive tendencies of an increasingly self-serving society. Now, more than ever, I find it essential to take time to remind ourselves of all that God has provided for us. Within our religious tradition, we take ample time for reflection, but with each new year, our secular world also asks us to reflect, not only to make change and resolutions, but simply to be thankful and to be mindful. Perhaps 2018 will be the year for mindfulness.
Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.