In 1997, when I first arrived in Venezuela as a Maryknoll lay missioner, Héctor, one of the youth I worked with commented that all the missioners needed glasses while none of the Venezolanos did. A few months later, all the members of the youth group had a chance to see an optometrist. I tried not to laugh when all of them needed glasses, Héctor included.
Usually, we don’t lose our vision all at once. Gradually, little by little, we see less clearly. We do not always realize we cannot see too far ahead without squinting or getting a headache until it is too late. It becomes easier to look at things close to us. When we get a new prescription, everything jumps out at us, it is so much clearer. We are amazed that we thought we could see anything with our old glasses.
The same thing is true of our spiritual vision. We think we are seeing clearly like in the past. Yet slowly, over time, it has become easier to focus on oneself and not on others. The clarity of the civil rights movement, women’s equality, or farm worker rights is lacking in our current blurred vision. It has been said the protesters of the 60’s became middle class men and women focused on their family and job. They became so focused on the here and now of everyday life that they kind of forgot about the rights movements.
I have heard and read many people saying what a terrible year 2020 was: COVID, racism and police killings, the elections. They were so glad to see it finished.
But I think that this past year also gave us an essential new perspective. It was like a new pair of glasses that allowed us to clearly see the things that had become blurry over time: Greta and her wakeup call about the environment, the disaster that is healthcare coverage in the U.S. (which failed miserably, compared to the universal healthcare in all the other developed nations), the lack of a living wage for our essential workers, white privilege, fascism, the inherent biases in our legal systems — the list goes on. All these issues came back into sharp focus with our new 2020 vision.
I don’t want to forget 2020. We needed this horrible, awful year to finally see clearly again.
Like a new prescription that makes things jump out at us, it gives us headaches as we learn to refocus. But as a people of faith, we need to remember all who are oppressed, marginalized, and forgotten. We need to examine with an intense focus the racism and sexism ingrained in our systems and in ourselves. We need to work for justice for poor people who often have to work three jobs just to make ends meet. We need to look at the structures that allowed the richest people to get wealthier while the front-line workers in their companies got poorer and sicker and died. We need to rebuild our healthcare system to be affordable, high quality care for all.
My New Year’s prayer is that we keep the clarity that 2020 gave us and that we don’t return to our former comfortable way of life.