Wrestling with New Years
Happy New Year! Do you remember the anxiety held by so many around the turning from 1999 to 2000? It seems like a lifetime ago, and we can smile now to think about how much our worries came to nothing. But, oh the worry!
At the time, I was working for the trade association of hospitals in New York State, and we were deeply concerned about what might happen at the stroke of midnight if the computers all failed. Would hospital operations falter if electrical, heating, or water systems failed? What would happen to patient monitoring, to patient records, even to communication channels with emergency providers? Everyone was on edge.
Now in reality, my little corner of the firm was not of concern. I was working on a project to improve and standardize approaches to treating breast cancer. No one was worried about that faltering on New Year’s Day.
Even so, all staff were on deck to respond in the event of a crisis. I remember senior leadership discussing the underground command center (literally under the ground) that would be set up, including chief leaders of the state government, banking, public safety, healthcare and other key personnel. Our CEO, director of IT and chief legal folks were to be in that center at midnight, just in case. There were great banks of telephones and walky-talkies. It sounded like something from an apocalyptic motion picture, but it was very real. The threat of the unknown, and the potential for our negative forecasts were limitless.
And then the 31st came.
Being low on the corporate ladder, I was gathered with friends at a cabin on a lake about 90 minutes outside of Albany. It was a brilliantly clear, freezing night. We ate a terrific dinner and drank good wine. As midnight came closer, some of the braver ones crept out on the frozen-over lake to look at the perfectly clear sky. They went as far as they dared until the ice started to moan and creak, and then those of us on shore laughed to watch them race and slidetheir way back to safety. Our joy at this simple fun was so complete that it eclipsed our anxieties about the potential end of the world at midnight.
And then midnight came.
And …..nothing. Safely back in the cabin with the tv on, we watched the ball drop in Times Square. We toasted each other with champagne and went back outside with sparklers and a few firecrackers. Then to bed, and a very relaxed sleep. Nothing had happened. We were safe.
I have thought back on that momentous night each New Year’s Eve since. The question I always ask myself is: when we were all wringing our hands about the possible tragedy, where had we put God? Why is it that we were so focused on the machinations of what could happen that we lost sight of the ways in which God already was acting?
I know in retrospect that many folks were gathered in prayer that night, wanting to have God close in case the unthinkable occurred. I’ll freely admit that I wasn’t one of them, and I wonder about that. I guess, at the time, I didn’t think this was an issue for God. And yet, was it my own hubris to think that those “in the know” had it under control? Was it my own selfishness to think that as long as the computers switched over to the year 2000, my world would be ok?
I have to imagine that God looked on all of this and thought, “Silly humans.” (Perhaps he thinks that more often that we think.) There we were, some of us hunkered underground, and some of us walking out on the ice, both groups losing sight of the fact that God was, and is, and will ever be the thing that will keep us most safe.
Now understand: I know we had real reason to be concerned about Y2K. But it amazes me how quickly we forgot all that anxiety and moved on with our lives. Until the next anxiety came: 9/11. And the anxiety after that: War in Afghanistan. Then the great recession. And the anxieties now: impeachment. Nationalism. The environment. Race relations. Brexit. Data security. Funny how we went from worrying in 1999 that the systems would fail, to worrying in 2019 that they know too much about us.
And still the question: where do we put God in all of that? An old college friend recently asked me: “As a priest, where do you find hope in all the mess of this world?” My answer is simple: in each other. In the ways in which we continually find ways to give love to each other, to hold each other up, to care (and to annoy), to console and to heal.
It may not be where we expect it. Examples: Every time someone tells me how their physical therapist is torturing them, I hear God saying, “the person is being healed.” When the phone rings with someone needing help, I hear God saying, “be my presence there.” When I find myself feeling stretched too thin and wanting a rest, I hear God saying, “let me walk this road with you through the help of others.”
So as we enter 2020 with new anxieties and new concerns, let us also remember that each anxiety eventually becomes, “oh…that.” Every morning we wake up, and it’s a new day. Every day we wake up, and God is still there. Let our prayer and our resolution for 2020 be: more faith, less fear, more hope, less anxiety, more love, more God.
Peace to all of you, God’s peace I give you.