This year, 2016, has been a tough one for a lot of folks. The headlines have been, well, often highly unpleasant to put it mildly. We’ve had war, terrorism, an isolationist referendum in the UK and a controversial election in the United States both fueled by ultra-nationalist (often racist) sentiment, a president-elect who thinks nothing of tweeting haphazardly about nuclear weapons, millions of people afraid of losing health coverage or jobs, and of course: dead famous people.
It’s somewhat disturbing that as I look at my social media feeds, the only one of those things that people really seem to be all that upset about is the dead famous people. One of the news sites that I often read had a headline the other day that trumpeted “It’s not just you, more celebrities really have died in 2016.”
Now I don’t wish to downplay the death of any human being, but I kind of think that refugees taking their lives into their own hands to escape war torn areas probably don’t really care all that much that Prince died. No, really, they don’t. I know that’s hard for us to fathom as we sit in our climate controlled homes, browsing the latest smartphone, with an endless supply of David Bowie music streaming from Spotify, but it’s true. I believe that when history finally gets a look back at 2016 it will be memorable, but the dead famous people will barely be a footnote. I pray that the rest of us learn to see past that into the lives of millions of people who struggle and often die everyday without a single peep from a newscast or a single tweet popping up about them.
Fifty years ago, in 1966, Simon and Garfunkel recorded a song called “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night.” As the folk duo sang the sweet melody of “Silent Night” in the background, a newscaster read recent headlines. Among them were:
The fight over housing discrimination in the Civil Rights Act
The death of comedian Lenny Bruce from a drug overdose
Police and National Guard troops being called to a protest by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
A serial killer in Chicago
The House “Un-american Activities Committee” investigating anti Vietnam protests
Richard Nixon promising at least 5 more years of the Vietnam war.
If this song were to be redone with today’s headlines, what headlines might be in there?
The slaughter of innocent people, including children, in Aleppo?
Future congressional hearings into Russia’s influence into the election?
Refugees drowning while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea?
The new president promising to build more nuclear bombs?
A new wave of white supremacists and their destruction of lives and property?
Young black men being killed by police officers and the unrest that follows?
Yeah, any of those and more.
I don’t want to be a downer here before Christmas, but many of us will spend time seriously reflecting on 2016 over the next week or so, and I think we need to remember more than just the famous folk who have passed. I believe that it’s important, as we look back on 2016, to reflect and then decide what kind of world we want to have in 2017 and then work to make it so. Lord willing, things will be better for a lot of people, but we’ll see.
Here’s the original song by Simon and Garfunkel. Take a listen. It’s haunting.