Mike Matthews photo

Mike Matthews

This is the time of year that I always write about creating a life plan for the upcoming new year and create a compelling vision because as Proverbs 29:18 states, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This year is calling me to go deeper than the usual “Eat to live, don’t live to eat,” “Exercise because motion is like lotion for your body,” or “Stay away from energy vampires in your relationships because your tribe determines your vibe” — which all are true by the way! Most of us know what to do but don’t do what we know in these essential areas of our lives. And most people give up on their New Year’s resolutions within a few weeks because they get caught up in just getting through their day rather than designing a plan for their lives. 2021 will require a deep response to our current shallow and profoundly troubled world as we are poised on the knife edge in a liminal moment where our individual responses can determine our collective future.

My new year article for the News and Tribune last year, titled “Perfect Vision for 2020,” advised that, although I’m an eternal optimist, the year 2020 would be “the most challenging of our lifetime” because of the steep and consistent descent in the level of civility and unity. We are just not understanding that we all are part of God’s funny family and all one people. I called the new decade of 2020 “The Roaring 20s” with the tiger at the door waiting for us to either take control and ride the tiger or get eaten alive by it. And then came the coronavirus, which turned our world upside down and continues to challenge all aspects of society. Piling on was bitter political rancor, corrosive identarian rhetoric, and social strife which collectively has been life-changing and life-defining. The goal of turning our most sacred dreams into reality has largely been replaced by a nightmare of simply trying to survive in these threshold times. The optimum goal of 2021 could be to be humbled, but not defeated, be courageous enough to let your voice be heard, and respectfully and peacefully fight the good fight.

As of this writing the Food and Drug Administration has just granted emergency-use authorization for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine just days after doing the same for the Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, with which an estimated 50,000 Americans have already been vaccinated. Although this is not a panacea or magic bullet for the pandemic predicament, it is like turning on a dimmer switch which promises to turn up brighter and brighter as the months of 2021 proceed because the vaccines are reported to be about 95% effective with the recommended 2 injections and there only are few reports of bad side effects so far. Other pharmaceutical companies are also designing promising COVID-19 vaccines and there is great hope these vaccines will be one of the tickets that will transport us out of the pandemic. By all current appearances, the government and public partnership called Operation Warp Speed has been an incredible and historical success.

At the same time the virus is on fire worldwide and my heart is melting like butter near a fire as several beloved family members are currently battling COVID-19, states across America are experiencing record breaking COVID-19 statistics. Clark County alone has topped 7,000 cases and suffered 103 deaths, and a recent report from the Indiana Department of Health confirmed 7,070 Hoosiers have died from COVID-19, a staggering number. My former doctor, Homer Ferree, had a heartfelt letter to the editor of the News and Tribune on 12/19/20 stating that his brother-in-law had passed away after being critically ill from COVID-19 and my heart is melting even further reading his poignant letter.

The retired good doctor Ferree (“just call me Homer”) is a humble elder with great wisdom and when he speaks, I respect his opinion. I became his patient when I turned 60 and told him that I only came to the doctor once a decade for a token check-up and he replied “those days are over” and he was unfortunately correct. In his letter Dr. Ferree recommends doing everything you can to protect yourself and all others, including washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing, and receiving the vaccine when available, which sounds like good additions for our 2021 physical goals this year. Again, we know what to do but not everyone is doing what they know they could easily do to avoid the disaster of rising COVID cases and calamitous further shutdowns with inconsistent executive orders from politicians, most who are doing the best they can, while others seem capricious and don’t follow their own “Rules for thee, but not for me.”

Mentally and spiritually many of us have come closer to breaking down instead of breaking through to realize our goals in 2020, and I highly recommend seeking professional help if needed. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 40% of Americans are having significant mental health challenges. The enormous tsunami of profound negative energy and bad karma have been ripening and merging in 2020 and has created helpless outrage and contemptuous grievance and has been magnified further by the extended melodrama created by the political grievance theatre on both sides of the isle. Having worked for a terrific Democrat, Sheriff (Raymond “Buddy” Parker), President Reagan (Republican), and Democrat and Republican Kentucky governors during my 30 year government career, I’m as politically center as it gets and see the positives and negatives of both sides. Many of us would love to metaphorically wash our hands of nasty politics and the profoundly slanted mass media that perpetuates division, but this is the time to become more positively involved than ever while relinquishing our cathexis to the adversarial zeitgeist of our time and to develop a mind open to everything but negatively attached to nothing.

Our noblest goal for 2021 would be to maintain an attitude of gratitude for all the blessings we still have and maintain a sorrowful joy and joyful sorrow while sending constant blessings and condolences to those who have lost loved ones and are still suffering. Hafiz said, “It is not possible to complete yourself without sorrow. So endure sadness the best you can when the season comes.” Good music is one way to infuse your life with comfort, joy and hope and literally create good vibes. Yo-Yo Ma just released an album titled, “Songs of Comfort and Hope,” and the great saxophonist Paul Winter’s CD is titled, “Light of the Sun,” and embraces light as spirit, love and kindness. Music is also a medium of unity and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) joined together on Capitol Hill for an impromptu bipartisan Christmas concert recently; there is always hope!

My former secretary graduated long ago from Henry County (Ky.) High School with farmer, poet and writer Wendell Berry, and I had the good fortune to talk with him a couple of times. Like legendary Trappist Monk and writer Thomas Merton, who lived at Gethsemani near Bardstown, Ky., Wendell is legendary and better known worldwide than he is locally. Wendell told me to “always fight the worst with the best you have.” We live in a time when we have the potential to ascend to the highest reaches of human potential, but in our heart of hearts, we know we are not there yet. May those seeking fairness and truth find it. May those saying “no justice, no peace” know justice and know peace. Take a moment to reflect on all the miracles that have to align just for you to be alive in this moment and be overwhelmed with gratitude. Commit to shining your light everywhere you go and making every day in 2021 and forever an awesome example of kindness, joy and even good humor by letting go of fear of each other and begin genuinely caring for and loving each other again.

Mike Matthews is a retired teacher, counselor and mental health administrator with a mission of creating a healthy and cohesive community. He can be contacted at drstmatt@yahoo.com

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