I was still a banker at the end of the last millennium. The cloud looming over our head then was Y2K … and it was a thunderhead. Billions of dollars across the globe were invested to prevent the ultimate blackout. There were predictions of planes falling from the sky, dollars being drained forever from our bank accounts, and an apocalypse resulting from the chaos.
As a family, we went to celebrate New Year’s Eve that year with my in-laws and their respective families together at their remote farm in Pioneer, Missouri. If the world came to an end, we felt like we might be passed over, since nobody knows where the heck Pioneer is.
We were all there playing games, our kids and their cousins thoroughly enjoying themselves, and the clock ticked toward midnight. As we all counted down, and shouted “Happy New Year!” Suddenly, the power went off.
We stood in silence, until we heard the giggling from the mischievous kiddos who found the fuse box. Armageddon was avoided.
At that high point of a new century, we couldn’t foresee 9/11, the Great Recession or the current pandemic. On that eve of a new millennium, we all “faced the future without flinching,” to paraphrase Victor Frankl. We shared a sense of hope.
As we are on the cusp of yet another new year, most of us look forward to bidding 2020 adieu. The year has been unlike any other during many of our lifetimes. (As one of our local nonprofit leaders says, “Hey, give me a break. It’s my first pandemic!”) The fear, anger and disruption of the past year has taken a toll on our minds and hearts.
As the holidays approach and a new year awaits, we face an uncertain future. Vaccines are being distributed and some light seems to be appearing through a crack in a most formidable wall; however, we also know the coming few months could be our most challenging.
At the end of the last millennium, one of my dear friends, the late Dr. Lloyd Young, sent me this poem. It was written on the eve of the prior century’s end, yet remains timeless:
The Darkling Thrush
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
Thomas Hardy, 31 December 1900
As we face the challenges of 2021, let us remember there is still “Some blessed Hope” that remains.
We will get through this … together … just as we have so many other challenges over the centuries. And, I hope someday in the coming year, we might yet find that “joy unlimited” of a hug, a night out, full shelves and empty hospital beds. And may we not ever take them for granted again.
Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.