2017: Exposing Cynicism—Keeping Hope Alive

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Here we are, the year two thousand eighteen. Time to reflect back on what the hell happened. And at this rate, a blog every 365 or so days is about all I can commit to, so full disclaimer: it’s gonna be a long one.

It so happens that my December 28 birthday comes at the end of the year too, and marking another year on earth also gets the old noggin pondering life. Maybe it’s especially appropriate given I was born among the darkest days of the year here in New England, that this year I’m thinking a lot about how we keep the light blazing amidst the darkness.

The thing is, reflecting back on 2017, my 32nd year on Earth, I can’t help but think it was a great one for me personally. It was the year my son joined our family, bringing about a wholeness I didn’t even realize I was missing. It was another year of good health for me and my family, filled with the laughs (and a healthy serving of frustration) that come along with raising a two-year-old. It was one where I expanded my role again at Oxfam too, which has been a place that consistently challenges me to grow, and from which I come home feeling good about the fact that I’m contributing, even in a small way, to make the world a better place.

Ah yes, the world…

It’s the the world that had a less than stellar 365 days. The strange thing about my good year is that it happened amidst the tumult. The reality of having a vile narcissist run our country has sunk in, and it has played out in damaging ways for people in the US and around the world. Amidst the daily drama, people continue to perish due to completely preventable causes; hunger, violence, extreme poverty, climate change. I’m exposed daily to aspects of that reality through my work at Oxfam. 2017 was a tough one to stay optimistic about not only due to the awful things happening here and across the world, but because we remain divided in ways that feel insurmountable, and therefore remain impotent in the face of these real challenges facing us all.

It was a year where we had to come to terms with the fact that people we know and love have very different perspectives and feelings about our shared society. A year where we have had to deal with the uncertainty that comes with an inept, loose-cannon president. It all takes a toll.

On the bright side, it was also year where I both got to experience U2 live again at Gillette, as well as a whole new album from the band.

Okay, I know, rough transition. I haven’t blogged in a while. Stay with me.

For anyone who knows me well enough at this point, you know U2 is my life-journey soundtrack (i.e. this speech, I gave). Seeing them play their masterpiece album, Joshua Tree, live at Gillette was certainly a highlight of my 2017. The deepest meaning from U2 came to me through their new album though.

To be honest, I was cautious in embracing Songs of Experience. I wasn’t a huge fan of the last album, and I was sort of preparing myself for some disappointment, which isn’t easy when you call yourself a superfan. Then something sort of amazing clicked, in the way that only music can make happen. I listened to the album as a whole for the first time as I stood in my living room holding my new son. Like the Grinch atop that hill on Christmas morning, I felt my heart open up and grow three sizes. Sure, it was a relief to love the new music from my favorite band. More than that though, I felt moved in the ways that U2 has moved me from the very beginning.

Why? Because in that moment, holding this beautiful new life in my arms, I realized that the spark that lit the way for me over a decade ago, that changed the course of my life and led me to find passion in the cause of social justice, in making the world a better place, had started to dim. It happened without me really knowing, in that insidious way that cynicism operates. It revealed itself in that moment, and as I listened to this music, cynicism began to melt away. Oh yeah, there were tears.

I’m full of anger and grieving
So far away from believing
That any song will reappear
-U2, The Little Things That You Give Away

Funny enough, as I’ve reflected back on this topic, I realized I wrote about it eight years ago, just a few months after beating cancer. That’s the thing about cynicism though—if it goes unchecked, it’ll get ya! The Songs of Experience album, with songs like “Love is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way”, presents U2 at perhaps their most earnest and optimistic. And at first, that can be a lot to handle given the state of things. But it was as I listened to that very song, literally holding A New Hope (had to squeeze a Star Wars reference in here), I was overcome with the reminder of what this is all about, after all. Love IS bigger. As U2 proclaim in this song, “when you think you’re done, you’ve just begun.”

This all sounds terribly dramatic. It was a pretty damn dramatic year for our country though. And while I certainly hadn’t given up or given in entirely to cynicism, it was a big reveal to recognize just how much the events of the last couple of years have put a chill on optimism. That icy negativity has been in the air constantly; we’re breathing it every day.

This journey we’re all on together, it is unique to each of us, but at the same time it isn’t. We’ve all got to figure this shit out. (And there’s plenty of shit to figure out!) As we get more experienced, there’s a tendency to harden up about it all. To be soft, to be open, is to be vulnerable. Young and naive. That’s what love is all about though, isn’t it? We’re open to being completely devastated, but we’re also open to a truly meaningful life where we can do good. That’s an area I’m continuing to explore in 2018 and you can expect to hear more about in part 2 of this blog (yes, part 2 of this already lengthy blog. You read that right.)

As a parent now, with the responsibility to nurture hopeful, responsible human beings, I so appreciate the lessons that U2 are trying to share with their own children in this latest album. Give it a listen. Or not! But find a way to keep your cynicism in check this year. For all of our sakes, but yours most especially.

I’ll leave it at that, and with these words from the last song on the album:

I know the world is done
But you don’t have to be
I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves
Are you tough enough to be kind?
Do you know your heart has its own mind?
Darkness gathers around the light
Hold on
Hold on

There is a light
We can’t always see
If there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
That we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out

-U2, 13 (There is a Light)



Author: John Abdulla

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