‘It’s been a year filled with problems’: A retrospective and prospective study

Aficionados of Relient K will recognize my headline from their classic song “The Best Thing.” They will also most likely know that the next lyric in that song goes, “but now you’re here / almost as if to solve them.” While these lines, in many ways, represent the way I feel when I think about getting vaccinated (second dose here I come), my big, mean human brain is quick to correct me; the solution to our problems is not one person, and our problems are far from solved. 

I think it’s going to be hard for many of us to accept that the world will be a different place when we emerge from this pandemic, whatever that means to begin with. Last year, a little less than a month after Hope College transitioned to online classes, I wrote a piece that talked about how the world we were living in was “exceptionally ludicrous” (quoting myself feels a bit gratuitous, but none of us can afford to self-plagiarize). Looking back on that piece, I almost feel bad for naive April 2020 Eli. It’s also scary to think that in April of 2020 I was naive. 

The grim reality is that in the face of COVID-19, the United States has not responded in a way that is conducive to fostering community or connecting people on a human level. We have seen greater division, greater tension and even more disparities between privileged and marginalized communities exacerbated by the effects of a global pandemic. Getting a taste of socialized medicine with the COVID-19 vaccine, even after a year of daily exposure to the weaknesses in our existing healthcare system, did not create more leeway for universal healthcare. After almost a year of virtually non-stop protests from the Black Lives Matter movement, nothing has been done to fundamentally change (or abolish) the existing policing system in America. We have continued to see the effects of climate change and have refused to address it in any significant way. It has been a year filled with problems; who is here to solve them? 

I wrote another article this year (the self-references will end here) that talked about how weird and borderline nonexistent time feels right now; I didn’t do a great job of explaining it then, but Albert Camus hit the nail on the head in “The Stranger” when he wrote, “I hadn’t understood how days could be both long and short at the same time: long to live through, maybe, but so drawn out that they ended up flowing into one another. They lost their names. Only the words ‘yesterday’ and ‘tomorrow’ still had any meaning for me.” While our narrator is describing his experience in a French prison on charges for murder, I don’t think his commentary is too unlike what some of us have been feeling this past year as a result of state mandated lockdowns and safeguards. 

What I’ve presented to you so far, dear reader, seems pretty fatalistic and unhelpful in terms of continuing to navigate this thing we call life. This is partly because I do not see myself qualified to help anybody “navigate” anything (as I’m sure you saw in the Ranchor, the Captain of the boat that was stuck in the Suez Canal got hired for Co-Editor-in-Chief over myself, and I would argue that he is not the best navigator in the extremely literal sense). The other part is I cannot transition into any sort of optimism without explicitly addressing the darkness of our circumstances. Like Anchor Co-Editor-in-Chief Claire Buck wrote quite eloquently in our last print edition, “I hate the quote about how we’re supposed to ‘see the stars, not the bars’ of whatever figurative prison holds us captive. Unless we see the stars and the bars, the good things worth fighting for and the complexity of the problems that stand in our way, we deceive ourselves and diminish our ability to act with informed compassion.” 

So now that I’ve thoroughly examined these proverbial bars, let’s shift our attention to the stars.

Recently I’ve been stuck on this idea of a Spiritual Saturday, and what that Easter Saturday meant for the disciples. On Friday they watched Christ be crucified, and on Sunday He will be resurrected, but right now they just have to wait. And they don’t know exactly what they’re waiting for. For a long time, the Messiah was expected to arrive in conquest and in the earthly conception of glory, but that’s not what happened. We were given a carpenter, born into the humblest of circumstances, who lived a life of service, not militancy. So now that the man we believe to be the Savior has been put to death, where do we go?

Thanks to our 2000 years of theological context we know how this story ends: Christ leaves death in its grave, redeeming us through His blood, giving everlasting life to all who believe in Him. Sunday has come and hope has been restored, but the disciples are still waiting, living through their Saturday, wondering what’s going to happen next. 

I find it reassuring that our planet itself experiences seasons, proclaiming the faithfulness of God. Winter is Saturday. When the wind and cold of February, and, in Michigan, some of March, gives up its grip on us, the world feels so much lighter. We see the sun again, and we are reminded that life itself is not bleak and grey like the world we found ourselves in for so long. Spring is baptism: the rains come and the ground thaws, making way for new life, and the trees decide that they have been bare long enough, thank you very much. 

So when we’re in these seasons of transition, from what is known into the unknown, our hope has to be in Him. Only by His grace are we enabled to live, and only through His sacrifice are we forgiven. To quote Relient K once more, if I may, “The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.” Each day His mercies are new, and each new day is one day closer — to everything: a semblance of normalcy, that second vaccination, finishing the class that you are so truly and entirely sick of, graduation, if you’re a senior. The next Sunday is coming, so for now, let God take care of it. 

Talking about hope at Hope is, without a doubt, the corniest thing I’ve ever done, but I don’t think there’s another option. Hope is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Hope is what’s going to keep us sane while the world tries to figure out where to go and how to operate.  

And now, like in Haruki Murakami’s “U.F.O. in Kushiro,” I’m beginning to feel as if we’ve come a very long way. But really, we’re just at the beginning.

Eli ('23) is a senior from Noblesville, Indiana currently working as a Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Anchor. He is a psychology major with minors in classics and writing. In addition to working at the Anchor he is a writing assistant at the Klooster Center for Excellence in Writing and the SARD of Cook Hall. After his time at Hope, he plans to further his education and become a therapist.

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