Many of my Facebook friends have decried 2016 to be the worst year ever. I fully understand their feelings, and I cannot disagree with the sentiment. The sheer quantity of beloved cultural icons that died this year is mind numbing: Prince, David Bowie, George Martin, Alan Rickman, Garry Shandling, Muhammad Ali, Kenny Baker, Gene Wilder, Gwen Ifill, Bill Nunn and George Michael, to name just a few of the ones who were important to me. The latest addition to that list, Carrie Fisher, is the rotten cherry on top of the 2016 shit sundae.
But prominent celebrity deaths alone don't tell the whole story of this terrible year. That would exclude the unending drivel coming from the parade of politicians, pundits and Facebook feeds that passed as political discourse this year.
But before we declare 2016 the worst, we should pause just a moment to look back even further. America has experienced bad years before. By most accounts, 1968 was an utter disaster. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, there was horrific carnage in Vietnam, violence surrounded the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and years of racial tensions boiled over into riots in American cities.
And, oh yeah -- let's not overlook that 1968 brought the election of a corrupt, ethically-challenged president. Hmmmm. Let's just hope that our current president-elect will, like Richard Nixon before him, demonstrate a sufficient sense of civic duty and choose to resign before his inevitable impeachment hearing, because an actual impeachment could rip the country apart worse than he already has done by his own divisive campaign.
But 1968 had some redeeming qualities, too. The nation's space program provided one uplifting moment, which was recalled in a memorable scene from the HBO docudrama "From the Earth to the Moon." As depicted in the show, while Apollo 8 astronauts were on their voyage home after becoming the first humans to orbit the moon and lay eyes on its far side, the CAPCOM called up and read a telegram that said simply, "You saved 1968." That was no small feat.
I love this moment from the show, but I appreciate 1968 for another reason. My lovely wife was born. And, well, not for nothing, so was I. So even after learning about all the tragedy and strife of 1968, I simply cannot hold the entire year in contempt. Some value came of it.
As 2016 comes to a close, we should acknowledge the good things that happened this year. Beyoncé turned lemons into lemonade, the force awakened, and the Cubs won. I think you can remember at least a few good things, too.
For me personally, I'd like to offer gratitude for the wonderful things that happened in my life this year, and say thanks to all the people who have made this time so deeply gratifying. I've had an amazing opportunity to take a sabbatical, and the time off has been refreshing in many ways. In the last several months alone I have been able to write and perform regularly with fantastic musicians -- students, colleagues, friends and family -- at local venues and around the country. Strange as it may sound, I feel like a musician again. Y'know, makin' music... because music.
Now we're about to start a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend five months in London. Beginning this Thursday, before 2016 has even ended, we'll get to check out British museums, concerts, theater, food, and then travel to other parts of the UK and Europe. And I've never even been to the continent before. I almost can't believe it's really happening.
As we head off on our adventure abroad, I feel grateful for the gifts I received in 2016, and remain hopeful for a better 2017. I'm not ignoring the bad stuff, but I'm trying my darnedest to put it all into some type of larger context. I know it's not easy, but I do hope you're able to feel the same.
Cheerio, and happy new year-