If, in the final days of 2016, you are feeling a little world-weary and heartsick from the year that has just passed, if you are responding to the death of celebrities with “damn you, 2016!” and if you are feeling a little cheated by the fact that you had to live through such an upsetting and tumultous year, then please take the following meditation exercise as comfort.
Close your eyes.
(I mean, not right now, finish reading the piece first, then close your eyes)
I want you to imagine that you’re dead. Sorry. I know 2016 has been a big year for death, but bear with me for a second. Imagine you are dead, and your soul is in some kind of heaven-ish place (let’s not quibble about heaven right now, this is merely an exercise) and you are chilling on a chaise longue eating grapes in some great heavenly drawing room, accompanied by all the other dead souls that populate heaven. Someone is arguing about what the worst year in human history was. You raise your head from its silken pillow, and get ready.
“I hate to break it to you, everyone,” you say, whirling your ace card. “But 2016 was the worst year.”
“No,” says a woman in a wool shawl. “1952 was the worst year.”
“In 2016, we got Trump. And a bunch of cool people died.”
“I don’t know who that is. In 1952, a killer smog swept through London and killed up to 12,000 people. And we had rationing.”
A man with charred shoes overhears the conversation.
“In 1666, everyone in my family that wasn’t already wiped out by plague was killed off by the Great Fire of London,” he says with a smirk. “And 666 is the devil’s phone number, so we legit thought it was the end of the world.”
“You don’t get it,” you protest, convinced 2016 was the worst year. “The terror and anxiety was awful. The world was filled with propaganda. War crimes were committed.”
With that, everyone who lived through the years 1939 through to 1945 starts clamouring that, no, their war crimes were worse, and, no, their propaganda was weirder. It begins to dawn on you that this is all part of the narcissism of being alive: that you are always the main character, and that the play you are in is unlike any other that has ever occurred before or will occur again.
The year has become a celebrity in itself – one with a vicious following – and its death is the final big 2016 death you’ve been waiting for
Because that’s the general vibe around 2016, isn’t it? That we’re living through some kind of tragic end-times, and the only thing we can do is white-knuckle our way through it until a) everything blows over or b) we’re all wiped out in the great Nuclear Holocaust of 2018. The reality, however, is far less glamorous: it will be, as it has always been, something in-between. Bad things and good things will occur. There will be cowards, and there will be heroes. There will be great, timeless stories of human bravery and compassion, and there will be horrifying accounts of cruelty and callousness. The only choice you or any of us have is our own conduct. You cannot stop Trump from tweeting. You cannot stop The Daily Mail from Daily Mail-ing. Theresa May probably doesn’t care what you think about Brexit. But you can make a choice to be aware, and to be awake, and to help when you can, and to choose how history will see you.
And that’s what 2016 is now: not a character in a horror story, not a monster under the bed, not something that creeps behind you like a Panto villain while a crowd of children shriek “he’s behind you!” 2016 is, literally, history. The year has become a celebrity in itself – one with a vicious following – and its death is the final big 2016 death you’ve been waiting for.
So you can blame it, and you can clutch to the idea that it was some kind of unpleasant cosmic fluke, and that 2017 will be easier. But the fact remains that your heroes will age and die, and the political seeds sown this year will influence the next, and you will feel every bit as helpless next year as you did in this one.
But it might be easier on all of us if we give 2016 the send off it deserves. Give 2016 the respect you might give a dead relative who you were never crazy about. Talk about its good points, and how it tried, and how it dropped the ball a little, but that it changed you in ways you didn’t expect. Talk about how it woke you up: how you became more aware of the world and its many problems this year. How you gave more to charity this year, even if it was just because you felt helpless. How your ability to feel empathy and sorrow and compassion grew three times in size this year, because it needed to, because you needed to adapt to understand what was going on.
Because 2016 was a hard old bastard, but it made you a better person for having lived through it.