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A new calendar

First slide

If ever there was a time the whole world was ready for a new year, this is it. Collectively, we replace the old calendar with a new one and exhale a sigh of relief. Just a small one. We inhale hope. But it’s a guarded breath. No one really believes that changing the date from 2020 to 2021 will right all that’s wrong. No one really believes that hope springs from the crisp page of a new year yet uncluttered with the jottings of our days. Everyone agrees we are a weary world in need of a fresh infusion of hope.

We hope to leave behind the anguish and the anxiety of the previous year. We hope to heal. We hope to be restored. We hope to repair the broken. We hope to renew the relationships. We hope to rest. And we can. But not by changing the date. I know this for sure.

I had a bad year in 1990. It wasn’t a whole-world experience — just my whole world. It started in March and "ended" just as the year did. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. Objectively speaking, it was a year of suffering. And even though the treatment ended just as the year did, suffering did not end when the date changed. So 1991 came and I met it, still without hair, still unable to swallow, still fearing the worst, forever changed and more than a little bit broken. There was no magical cure in breaking the shrink wrap on a new calendar.

But it sure was nice to close the covers on the old one for the final time. I learned a lot about that old calendar in the year that followed. I learned that I could drag it with me through the new year. I could pack it in every suitcase, take it to every follow-up appointment, revisit it in every uncertainty, ruminate, and lament unceasingly.

Or I could move on, transformed by every struggle logged in those pages.

The truth is, the last 30 years have been a journey of both kinds — lugging that old year with me and leaping without its weight. As time goes on, I know the value of leaping. I am beyond grateful for the lessons suffering taught me (though I’d prefer never to learn them that way again, please God). But the most precious lesson of all might have been the one that taught me not to hold it tightly. To let it go.

See the way it transformed you. Notice how the mystery unfolded in his faithfulness. Acknowledge the redemption. But don’t relive the suffering every time you remember it. Instead, take up the transformation and lean hard into living. Really living.

Open the new calendar and fill it with meaning. Truth be told, this month is just as much a mystery as last month was. And truly, 2019 was just as much a mystery as 2020. We never know what will happen when we open to a new page. We want to plan. We want to have mastery over the way the days will be filled. Instead we have mystery. Those who have suffered know mystery. And now we’ve all suffered. We know surrender is necessary to live well. Surrender is how we fully live in the mystery. Hopefully, in 2020, we all learned surrender’s lesson together.

We do not know — we cannot know — the ways we will be challenged, the ways we will grow. But if we are to bring the transformation to the new year that we hoped for in the old, we have to know the one who suffered with us. We have to see the ways he carried the crosses with us. We have to understand that transformation begins with compassion, and compassion literally means to suffer with. We are in the mystery together. We have to embrace cradle and cross, ruin and redemption. We have to surrender to mystery with trust and with awe. And we have to live with gratitude and with genuine hope, the way one lives when one knows exactly the treasure that is the gift of an ordinary, hope-filled, mystery of a day.

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

@elizabethfoss