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Image: Toa Heftiba for Unsplash

No matter what religion you connect with — including no religion at all — that phrase from a Christmas song rings true: midwinter does indeed feel bleak. And perhaps this year might feel bleaker than ever, with 2020 not exactly off to a great start for either these United States or indeed for the world. What is there to wish for, to aim for, to cite as a goal when we live in a country whose administration is doing everything it can to destroy civil liberties and the planet itself, to wage a war against poor people instead of against poverty?

I broke my arm recently and so have had more time than usual to think about this. To dwell on the disaster that was 2019. To think about my usual obsessive-compulsive list of What I Will Accomplish This Year. To wonder if there’s even a point to any of it.

I finally got out of bed and Googled “how to find hope in 2020,” only to see that most of the entries pointed to Joel Osteen and his merry band of evangelicals preaching that somehow Jesus and money are really totally compatible, and we all just need to attend these conferences and wealth will be ours for the asking. If it isn’t, we don’t have enough faith.

That should have gotten me more depressed, but in fact, it didn’t. It made me angry.

While my religion isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, it works for me. I think everyone’s religion should work for them — if it doesn’t, maybe it’s time to try something else. But what I can’t deal with is someone saying that they share my religion and then hijacking it. To quote Maggie in Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant series The Newsroom, “She’s insulting me, she’s insulting my family, she’s insulting my congregation, and she’s insulting my faith. She’s implying that Christians are imbeciles who will believe anything while reducing God to a party hack who endorses political candidates.”

And just as the right-wing evangelicals have hijacked Christianity, the right-wing crazies have hijacked the American government. Is that something to get depressed about? Probably. But if someone broke into your home and stole your favorite possessions, isn’t it more likely that you’d feel angry? And isn’t that what’s happened here?

They took something that was ours.

No, I can’t write, “change the American administration” on my to-do list for 2020. I’m not going to be able to wish either Joel Osteen or Donald Trump out of existence, no matter how passionately I want it to be so. But there are things that I can do — and that you can do — to make 2020 better. Don’t give up on them.

Everyone’s making lists this time of year. I’ll add mine to them. I hope that one or two of these items make sense to you… and might help make your 2020 a little better:

1. Learn how to accept defeat when it happens, and move on. I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn from our failures. But we can’t keep saying that Hillary should have won. Moving forward involves… moving.

2. Challenge yourself to grow. Decide that this is the year to learn a new language, or pick up a new hobby, or read a different book every month. Do something that will make you stretch. It will feel really good, I promise.

3. Make your bed every day. No, I’m not your mother, but she was right. All our lives feel cluttered right now, and an unmade bed is messy, both literally and symbolically. Get out of bed, make it, and move forward into your day.

4. Forego one coffee every week. Just one. And take that money and give it away. To Helping Our Women, to SKIP, to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Just give it to someone who will do some good with it.

5. Just say no. If you would prefer to stay home and have an early night and someone wants you to come out for a drink, it’s okay to say no. To take care of your own needs. That’s the only way you’ll ever be able to do anything for anyone else. Stay healthy and fit, because we need you.

6. Get involved outside of Facebook. Let’s face it, most of the time when you post something political, you’re preaching to the choir. You’re not really changing anything. So do something for change. Understand the issues and make your voice heard on Countable. If you’re not registered to vote, do that right now. Write Congress with ResistBot. Write a letter to the editor.

7. Volunteer. A lot of us don’t have a lot of money to give, but we can all find time to help. Volunteer opportunities are endless and you can find someone, somewhere, who needs what you have to offer. Just to make the world a better place.

8. Look for the joy. It’s everywhere, but we get so engrossed in our problems that we don’t see it. A walk on the beach with your dog. Watching a spectacular sunset. The smell of bread baking. A hot shower when your muscles are stiff. The smallest things can bring joy if we let them. Don’t look for the pain; look for the joy.

In Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot wrote, “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

Be that voice. Claim those words. They belong to us.

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