If 2020 was the roaring lion, a thrashing and angry cat lashing out at the world, then let’s make 2021 the fiery and defiant Phoenix. I mean, 2020 really kicked our collective butts. From the frontline EMS workers forced to work sixteen hour shifts, to the grocery store stockers keeping the shelves full, to the lonely office worker drifting off from Zoom fatigue, last year was exhausting. There is no easy way back from being broken. For all of us who’ve felt desperate or dependent on a helping hand that always felt slightly out of reach, it will be a long path to travel back to trusting the systems that failed like one domino toppling another. As I’ve reflected on the last year, and all of its heartbreaks and letdowns, a few things have been pulling on me. It’s hard to have an empirically based hope for next year. There’s too much work to be done, too many items on the to-do list. Yet, trudging forward is all that we can do. But how can we trudge forward, when we’re so exhausted? The short answer is: hope. Now, bear with me for a second, I’m about to take a detour into spiritual mythologies. I promise that it will pay off! If 2020 was a cascading volcano, spewing flame and lava sky-high, then let us, smoldering and smoking, rise from those ashes.
Many of us dimly remember some of the famous Greek myths from elementary school picture books and poorly adapted young adult movie franchises. As December dragged its feet into Christmas and the New Year, I found myself drawn to many of my childhood books at my parents house. One of which was an illustrated book of myths. As I reread through this book of myths, I couldn’t help but meditate on Pandora’s box and how relevant it is to today. The story goes like this: after stealing fire from the Gods, Zeus crafts a box containing all the evil spirits of despair, greed, pride, hatefulness and so on. He then gave this box to the unwitting Pandora, who opens it and unleashes all the evil into the world. But, there was one last spirit that Zeus gave to the world. As Pandora peered into the almost-empty box, she saw a weak spirit named Hope. She picked it out of the box, and nursed it until it was strong enough to fly into the world and fight all of the other evils. Here’s my reminder to you from this myth: hope is still here. It may be at the bottom of the Pandora’s box that was 2020. It may be weak, it may need some time to recover from being squashed by countless bad things. But hope never dies, and it can always be nourished back to health. A meditation that is so very relevant to the year of rebuilding that is ahead of us all.
As I turned the pages of this large book of myths, I came across a full page swathed in red and yellow. It was, of course, a full page illustration of the beautiful Phoenix. The legendary bird that in the course of its life would turn into ash, and then be rebirthed in flame. Through fire, it would remake itself into something new, something better. There’s something so compelling about this image, the image of the fire that creates rather than destroys. I imagined, as I continued reading, that the fires of 2020 could be thought of as a creative force rather than a destructive force. What if reframing my perception of 2020 could help lead me to a productive 2021?
I want to avoid pithy conclusions, fire is fire. It burns no matter what purpose it serves. And while it is good to try and avoid the flame, sometimes you careen into it anyways against your will. Think about your own fires that you’ve faced throughout 2020. Can they be reframed into something new? Can losing your job be an opportunity for a new start? Can losing faith in our societal structure lead to a new imagination of what our country could look like? These are the questions I’m asking myself as I head into the new year. This January is looking like a January of reflection and meditation. Instead of framing it as the end of a long night, I want to look at it as the birth of a new day. From deep ashes grow the strongest forests. Let’s make this January a Phoenix.