Limping to the finish line

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I know of no one who will be sorry to see this year come to a conclusion. For a year without a major war, global famine, or world-wide depression, it has been a long journey from January to now.

There are, of course, two major events that contributed to the bitter turn this year has taken. Those events would be 1) The COVID-19 pandemic, and 2) The never-ending political campaign that, as far as I can tell, is still with us. In fact, both of these miserable factors are still with us and are likely to continue to be present in, at least, the early months of 2021.

Speaking of politics, the fate of the nation for the next several years is in the hands of the voters of Georgia. In just a few days, the run-off vote for Georgia’s two U.S. Senate seats will be held. The Democrats must take both seats to win the Senate and, apparently, occupy the White House and have control of both houses of Congress and do whatever they want without fear of opposition.

If the Republicans win just one of the two seats, they retain the Senate and have the opportunity to act as a brake on the ever-left leaning agenda of the Democrats. There is likely to be no end to the clawing and biting between the two sides.

And, speaking of the pandemic, vaccines have been approved and are being rushed into service. Still, it will take until late spring of 2021 before everyone who wants one will have access to the vaccine.

Anti-vaxers are warning of dire consequences of this and every vaccine and a very vocal number of evangelicals see (or continue to see) a vast government conspiracy that leads to the forfeiture of constitutional rights and/or a direct line leading to the ascension of the beast or anti-Christ (take your pick) of the Book of Revelation.

There are those that are happily anticipating the demise of 2020. And not without cause. It seems that whenever someone says, “How could it get any worse?” it does.

This has been a terribly difficult for businesses, especially small businesses. Some will never re-open, having been driven into bankruptcy. The Barna Group says that 20% of all U.S. churches will close as a result of the pandemic. The viewing audience of the National Football League is down 7% but I suspect that is more the result of millionaire athletes taking a knee during the National Anthem rather than the results of the pandemic.

Politics and the pandemic have, in one way or another, touched nearly every person in the country in significant ways. Currently there are 300,000 Covid-19 deaths in America with predictions rising to 500,000 by spring. Families have been separated by the disease and many of the sick and elderly have had to suffer without their loved ones even allowed into the hospital or hospice room. Thousands who have died have died alone.

Families and friendships have also been destroyed by the politics of the past year. In my lifetime, and I’m getting up there, I have never seen a more uncivil, contentious, hate-filled election than the campaigns of 2016 and 2020. And, make no mistake, both sides are guilty. The country hasn’t seen this kind of division since the Vietnam War and I personally think it’s worse now than then.

Calendars are artificial methods that we use to mark the passage of time. If one year comes to an end we often think that the New Year will be pristine and a chance for a fresh start. We even depict the old year as a tired, worn old man making his way with faltering steps toward the end of his journey. We depict the New Year as a smiling, crawling baby headed toward what promises to be a brand new, uncluttered, season of excitement and bliss.

All know that it isn’t like that at all. When January 1 comes, we simply drag all those problems and issues with us into that new day. Before we ever get out of bed, the same difficulties that were there when we went to sleep on December 31st are there waiting for us.

Yet, I am perfectly happy to greet this New Year. The old year tested my temper, my patience, my attitude, but it also tested my faith. And, while my temper, patience, and attitude were found to be lacking, my trust in God grew. Perhaps, because so many times there was nowhere else to go.

With the familiar stripped away, we had to learn to walk in the unfamiliar and to become comfortable with it. Life has radically changed for so many but, the people I know at least, are, as the Marines say, “improvising, adapting, and overcoming.” We will do the same in the days ahead, whatever lies out there waiting for us.

My son, James, ran cross country in middle-school. I remember one meet where he finished dead last. Why? Incredibly painful shin splints. I watched as every step he took produced a grimace of pain on his face. No one would have blamed him if he dropped out of the race. But he did not. He continued to run and he never stopped. I couldn’t have been prouder than when he finished the race. The courage and grit he demonstrated in that race was inspirational. Even if he did limp across the finish line.

That’s what many people have done this year. They have continued to work, to hope, to pray, to run, step after painful step, to the end of this year. Now the end is in sight and they, too, with heroic efforts will limp across the finish line, bruised and broken, but by no means defeated.

I have to admit, having said all this; I am still looking forward to bidding 2020 adieu. I may stay up to see the one year end and the other arrive. If I do, I shall raise a glass and quote Col. Sherman T. Potter of the TV series, “M*A*S*H,” who toasted the New Year after a difficult old one: “Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damn sight better than the old one…”

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). During the crisis, the church is live streaming at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays at http://www.facebook.com/cctksharpsburg/ He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He may contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]