"...it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair..." Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Gerry Turcotte: The best and worst of times

  • January 23, 2021

An early December editorial cartoon struck a sympathetic chord with me. It depicted a weary Father Time, sitting at a bar and pleading to be relieved of duty early. Enough is enough, his hoary visage seemed to say.

It’s a sentiment most of us share. Ironically, for decades now, 2020 has been used as a metaphor for hope and clarity — like eyesight. In some speculative fiction it was used as a symbol of a nation’s modernism and awakening. But like Y2K, the reality of 2020 wasn’t what we expected. And so all of us, surely, bid farewell to 2020 with relief.

Perhaps I should remember my youth before I write such things. Whenever I wistfully longed for something other than the tragedy that was befalling my teenage self, my father would purse his lips and say: “Better the devil you know.”

That always stopped me in my tracks. “I don’t know any devils,” I always shot back and he would smile knowingly. “If you only knew,” he’d answer cryptically.

It took years for me to realize that the devil was sometimes just a metaphor for things going wrong that masked greater calamities or spared me from making even bigger mistakes.

Another cartoon that resonated with me recently was a drawing of an editor sitting with a beleaguered writer. “Make up your mind, Mr. Dickens,” the editor implores. “Was it the best of times or was it the worst of times?”

The reality, of course, is that it can be and often is both. This is the reality of our human existence — that we do not share tragedy in equal measure. That our community is deeply divided and challenged, and while all might struggle, many struggle worse. It is also true that our age brings great hope and goodness to many. The one does not negate the other.

The challenge, in our day, is to avoid surrendering to grief — to darkness. Despite statistics that tell us fewer live in poverty or war than ever before, our technology magnifies the tragedies that befall our wounded world. Our television screens and phones amplify the very real inequities on our planet and dominate the news, so that we can be forgiven for feeling our acts of charity are pointless.

The reality is the opposite. Just as we are able to tap into our fluid media to see the great hurt in the world, so we can use it to identify community, to reach out to others to make a difference and to take solace that great good exists to counteract the bad.

The opening paragraph to A Tale of Two Cities goes on to say:

“It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

We could say the same of our present age.

In the end, it is all about hope. But hope isn’t just one simple equation. As Pope Francis reminded us in his surprising TED talk several years ago: “Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow.” Hope rests in and is a product of the best and the worst of times. It is how we tackle the possibility of hope that makes the difference.

Despite every challenge we have faced, we are right to approach the year ahead with hope. We are justified in being enthusiastic and joyful about our future — as long as we do everything in our power not to leave others behind.

Our hope has merit when we remember to care and be compassionate, to others and ourselves. 

The New Year is a fictional mark on a calendar with nothing magical about the change of date. And yet we invest it with tremendous meaning, throw resolutions at the wall and hope they stick.

In a way, though, it doesn’t matter. Whatever lever we can use that helps us gain perspective and regroup is valid. And however arbitrary it may be, like Father Time, I’m relieved to be leaving 2020 behind.

(Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.)

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Sign up or login to your account.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible, which has become acutely important amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.