Herschberger Family Letter 2021
Updated: Dec 25, 2021
I started using a new word in 2021, “malaise.” It seemed like the right word, but I had to double check Google for the meaning. Malaise is “a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.” A NY Times article used a different word, but I get it.
“There’s a name for the blah you’re feeling: It’s called languishing. The neglected middle child of mental health can dull your motivation and focus — and it may be the dominant emotion of 2021.”
Do you feel it? It seems we all stumbled into 2021, a little dazed, like groggy, first graders the morning after a sleep-over. We vaguely remember the pillow fight followed by a midnight game of “man hunt” but how it all ended is a bit foggy, and all we can do is stare into our bowl of cheerios.
This street art I saw yesterday captured the feeling perfectly. Look closer. One child has only red crayons, one has only blue. How can you color a nice picture if all you have is red and blue? This is the national malaise we are in. The opposing social/political worldviews in this country gave the media much to talk about, but it has left us ill-equipped to actually live and love.
The Roman general, Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, in the movie Gladiator said that he prefers war over politics, because in war at least you know who your enemies are.
In 2020, we all thought we were Maximus, but in 2021 it seems we are a nation of Don Quixote’s fighting windmills.
The enemy is just a caricature of our own pain, and real solutions are elusive. So like this little girl we stare into the Artist’s face with malaise.
Down the street, I saw another painting. I recognize the look. Children show with their eyes what we all feel in our hearts.
Where do we go from here?
Sam in J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings speaks my language. “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. Sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when there’s so much bad that had happened?” And later on, Frodo adds, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” Gandalf replies, “So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, . . .”
So what will we do with the times we are given? Is there a better story to live?
2021 brought my family a few hints, mini-stories if you will.
With the support of a couple of friends, we started the podcast “Word of Their Testimony” where I help people tell their stories. It’s been interesting.
Another group of friends and I launched www.restorativefaithcollective.org. A good story about race and restoration is being told there.
In March, Liam and three of his friends asked me to teach them running. We did a 5K in May then a Half Marathon in November. Their dedication feels like the stuff of a meaningful story, a goal worth sacrificing for, though Javier looks like he is dead inside. That is not his usual look. In fact, he is advocating for a full marathon next year.
In August, we lived another semi-interesting story. Two teenagers with their parents in a Subaru Forester for 21 days to drive from NYC to LA and back. Yeah, that was a story alright. Visiting the site where my 7-greats grandmother was murdered by the Lenape, then visiting the site where Sands Creek ran red with blood, these are places where real stories happened. I wonder at the millions of stories to be told if these rocks could talk.
Fall came and we still had no school for our boys, so we started a Homeschool Coop with a couple of other parents who were equally burned out on homeschooling. Six students basically just get together to do their homeschool work and parents share responsibilities. It’s turning out okay. Other than the daily “eye-roll” I get when I lead the morning devotions, they are great kids. Who knew, our pastor’s wife, Annlyn Kulp, would jump in and volunteer three days a week and teach Spanish? Guess we just needed to “Vive la historia,” live the story that comes our way. By the way, Linda is the backbone of this little venture with her creativity and care.
And this year, Captain died. Our family pet of 9+ years held a special place of love and angst in many hearts. We miss him dearly; some others will not. He had a way of holding grudges, not to mention the constant barking at fireworks in the weeks leading up to Independence Day. His story is over.
And what happens when you coordinate a community garden for 10+ years? You might lose a friend to cancer, her daughter might offer to do a free concert in her honor, and you might experience a raucous, cathartic jazz event. Linda’s garden stories keep growing.
So we are living a few stories I guess.
As I write, the classic song by Ben E. King plays over the live stream at Panera Bread.
“When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No, I won't be afraid
Oh, I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
So darlin', darlin', stand by me
Oh, stand . . . by me.”
In summary, 2020 brought us battles to fight, a crisis to meet, but now in 2021 we need new clarity and connection. We need to be roused from our malaise and carried into a true and meaningful story.
My favorite scene in all of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy is near the end. Frodo is almost lifeless. Sam yells at him, “Come, Mr. Frodo!' he cried. 'I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride.” Sam proceeds to hoist Frodo to his shoulders and stumble forward up the slope. This is what we need, and this is the message of Christmas, Someone has come to wake us up, then carry us and remind us of the story we are in.
Yes, that’s my wish for you and for myself, not Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays, not even Happy New Year, but I hope you see the story you are in. It's not the one on the news; it's not the one yelled in memes; it's not in a fundraising letter. It's the simple story of Christmas available to us all. See that baby in the stable; He is the one who has come to carry you and move The Story forward. Maybe I'll trade my malaise for a manger this holiday.