"Sometimes the mainstream goes right over Horseshoe Falls [...]"

— Douglas Wilson

2011 Year-In-Review

It's time to look back at the year now passed.    Whether now or at tax time, I always enjoy the opportunity to review what I've done, and all that has happened in the previous year.   It provides the perfect moment to ask oneself,  in the words of John Mayer (not strange, present-day John Mayer, but earlier, up-and-coming-acoustic-prodigy John Mayer), "Am I livin' it right?"   Before we get to questions like that, however, it'll be helpful to review the raw material.    Here are some of the things that stand out (to me) about the foregoing year:


2011 was, more than anything else, a banner year for disasters.   From the Japanese earthquake / tsunami, to the Thailand floods, to Hurricane Irene (a friend of mine and I rode out the worst of it in a very leaky Chili's dining room), to any number of other occurrences, it was a rough year to be minding your own business.   Here are a few of the stories that will stick with me from the past 12 months:
  • '74 No More

    Growing up, I'd always heard stories about April 3, 1974.   Every time a tornado came through, people would say it was bad, but nothing like '74.   Well, now that spot in the collective memory of North Alabama will be replaced with the events of April 27, 2011.

    I sometimes forget that I wasn't physically present that day.   I watched the storms develop from far away in Northern Virginia.   I knew from the weather radar that things were taking a turn for the worse.   By midday at work, I called my manager to explain to her that I was signing out to concentrate on feeding information back to friends and family in AL.

    Every kind of natural disaster is different, I guess.   With tornadoes, it always feels a bit like a high-stakes game of Battleship.   The storm calls a number, and you wait to see if it is a hit or a miss.   The only difference is:  if it's a hit, somebody you know dies, is hurt, or loses everything they own.   On April 27, though, the storm got 92 turns in a row.  That's how many tornado warnings the NWS office in Huntsville issued.   For the people I knew, all 92 came up "miss", and I thank God for that.   For many others, though, one or more of the numbers called were theirs.    I saw some of that the following weekend when I traveled down to try to help.    The national focus has long since moved on, but for anyone connected with North Alabama, "2011" will long be remembered as shorthand for  "that day".

    If you're interested in learning more about the events of April 27, I'd recommend this article as a starting point.
  • Just Football

    Yeah, the whole Penn State thing.   The story itself was tragic enough in so many dimensions:  the crimes and the victims, the sad end to Joe Paterno's career.    It felt like a big piece of whatever decency America had left sort of crumbled loose and fell away.    Then to watch what happened next as the self-justifiers and Monday-morning quarterbacks in the media (and, to be honest, in the office, or wherever you looked)  took their turn dancing around while State College, PA, burned.  

    The whole thing was like watching a giant wreck in slow motion, standing close enough to see the facial expressions of those involved.  N.D. Wilson, commenting on the situation, observed that, "Little decisions [...] that don't really seem to matter can turn into massive problems.".    There are a lot of lessons to learn from what happened, but looking back, it's hard to get past just feeling sad.
  • DC Shake-up

    There are two moments I'll remember from the great DC earthquake of '11.   The first came a few seconds into the quake itself.   I work near a major airport, and not far from a heavily trafficked highway.   Vibrations from big trucks and low-flying jetliners shake the building at a low level regularly.   For the first few seconds, we thought it was more of the same.   Then, the shaking crossed some sort of invisible mental line, and everyone instantly knew that something was wrong.    That "wait, what?" moment will stick with me.  You can see that moment unfold for some tourists in the Washington Monument in the embedded video below.   The second moment came a few days later, when we discovered that the earthquake had actually done quite a bit of damage to the ceiling tiles at our church.   We had to spend most of Saturday afternoon that week at the church's first-ever earthquake clean-up work day.

  • This blog got its start in 2011 (though some posts are antedated to previous years, due to a large backlog of what-not that I'd been saving).   Instead of waiting around infinity more years to launch a well-formed and fully-polished blog site, I made the decision to go ahead and jump, doing my best to pack the parachute on the way down.  

  • And, lest we forget, Randy "Macho Man" Savage snapped into the afterlife this year at the age of 58.

2011 seemed like it might be the very beginning of a comeback for music, or at least for the sort of music I want to hear.    Maybe my tastes are just changing with the time.     I won't rank them against each other, but here are five albums from the past year that I thought were excellent, along with a taste of each:
  • Blitzen Trapper - American Goldwing

  • Owl City - All Things Bright and Beautiful

  • The Decemberists - The King Is Dead

  • Burlap to Cashmere -  Burlap to Cashmere

  • Redbird - Live At Café Carpe


So, for better or for worse, I don't often read things that have come out recently.   Consequently, it wouldn't make much sense to talk about books that were published in 2011.   Instead, I'll note some of the books that influenced me over the course of the past year, their publication date notwithstanding.

  • Uncle Tom's Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe).   So I'd heard this or that about the book, and had a vague sense that it dealt with important issues but was somehow embarrassing in its treatment of them.   What a surprise when I actually read it.    It ended up being one of the best (and most thoroughly Christian) novels I've ever read.    Uncle Tom is such a virtuous and strong character that the next person I hear using his name as an insult in my presence is liable to get punched in the mouth.    I can't for the life of me understand why this isn't required reading in every Christian school in America.

  • I finally started in on Wodehouse, who comes to me much recommended.    I read Carry On, Jeeves, which familiarized me with the general idea of the Jeeves stories.   Some of the turns of phrase are as amusing as I had been promised.    One character refers to another as "as vague and wooley-headed a blighter as ever bit a sandwich".   In addition, the hero prefers a good game of skee-ball to more serious pursuits.   I only just recently discovered that there is an early-90s British TV series based on the Jeeves stories, starring Hugh Laurie (yes, Dr. House) as Bertie Wooster, with Stephen Fry as Jeeves.  

When considering something as long as a year, you are sufficiently "zoomed-out" to start to notice big trends in what the events of your life are meant to teach you.   I don't believe that any event or circumstance comes about by chance; rather, they are ordered to some purpose — or, better, to many different purposes at once.   One of these purposes is our instruction.     When major or minor happenings begin to line up in one direction or another, it's possible to begin to see intention and meaning in them.   What did I notice (in my life) this year?

  • Insufficiency.    I could have told you this in 2010, but I didn't really understand it the way I do now.     Do you believe that you can make yourself be the person you want to be, and do the things you want to do?   Do you believe that if you just try harder, get a system, increase your net stick-to-it-iveness, that you can have what you want?   Do you believe that if you believe it, you can achieve it?   Then you're believing a lie.   It just isn't possible to will yourself to perfection, or even adequacy.   We are every one of us broken, and unable to do it (whatever "it" is) on our own.    The longer you defy gravity, the bigger house of cards you are building.  "Get busy living, or get busy dying," but with all due respect to The Shawshank Redemption, you'd be better served to get busy dying, and then get busy rising from the dead...  

  • Grace.   ... because God prefers to work with dead people.   Two little girls went to the store to buy a snack.  Each had ninety-nine cents, but the items they wanted cost a dollar.    Seeing that they were short, they asked a nice man in line if he would help them.   "Of course," he replied.   The first little girl approached the cashier, put her ninety-nine cents on the counter and turned to the man.   "I just need one cent," she said.    He supplied the penny, she thanked him, and took her snack.   The second little girl looked at her money, looked at the man, and put her money away.   "I can't afford the snack," she said.    The man took out a crisp dollar bill and paid the cost outright.    I tell you that the second little girl went down to her house justified.

    If I were in the cheesy sermon sloganeering business, I'd say:  "Grace doesn't make up the difference, grace makes all the difference!"   The bumper-sticker people beat me to it, though, with: "If God is your co-pilot, switch seats!".   I forget this lesson about twice a day, but I was reminded throughout the year of my own inability, and of my own need for someone who is able. 

Well, much more could be said about 2011, and much of it will be said — elsewhere.   As the Christmastide rolls on and into 2012, I wish you all the best for the coming year.    Now,

"May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His divine countenance upon you and give you peace."