Here we are at a new beginning. As 2021 came to an end, I feel like we are just leaping from one burning building to another. We continue to bear the weight of burden from the pandemic, economic strain, and civil unrest that has dominated our headlines for two years. 

How can we expect to find renewal and fresh perspectives when we are not given a reprieve from the turmoil that is modern times? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If 2021 was like eating dirt, and we survive the intestinal anguish our constitutions will be steelier afterward, and we will be able to stomach 2022. 

 “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a broad maxim, often spoken in sympathy during hardship as an effort to rally those struggling and inspire hope that something good will come of suffering in the end. I don’t like the implication that merely surviving the difficulties improves our overall outlook and condition, this is substantially lacking. 

It is not our having survived trauma in our lives that is the most formative, but how we handled ourselves during the crisis that counts. We are more than bystanders to our life in this mortal veil, what we do, say, and how we act is the fiber of our being. It is this ownership of our circumstances that make us stronger and gives purpose to the struggle. 

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Today, I see people gathering not in the churches or town squares but in the isolated fringes of our society; observing in the shadows how our social, political, and economic systems are breaking down. 

Unblinkingly watching our screens with morbid curiosity as the world crumbles; we are voyeurs to our own suffering, chanting “What doesn’t kill us…” I’m not wanting to be grim, especially since the New Year is always a time to be optimistic; however, I do want to call attention to the hard work that is going to be required of us all to come out of these turbulent times ahead and unified in the end. When our tough circumstances call to question our character, priorities, and values will we fight to make exemplars or martyrs of ourselves? 

Like the fabled phoenix rising from the ashes, I am deeply inspired by individuals who break free from the sidelines and rewrite their stories. Shirley Raines incredibly is one of these people. Last month Raines accepted the CNN Hero of the Year award for her non-profit’s Beauty to the Streetz’ dedication to the homeless community in Los Angeles; specifically, her work on Skid Row, a neighborhood known for the country’s largest stable homeless population. 

 According to the 2020 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s census, more than 66,000 people are living in the city who are homeless, with an average of two hundred people becoming displaced every day. 

These numbers are estimated to have doubled since the pandemic-economy crisis, however, because the annual homeless count was canceled in 2021 due to the pandemic current numbers are not available.  

Raines struggled with anxiety and panic disorder for decades after the loss of her young son, living her adult life in financial insecurity and feeling labeled by society. In 2017, when on a church group feeding mission to Skid Row, something clicked inside Raines as a scene from the Walking Dead unfolded before her eyes. “All the resources stopped. People were starving. Some were using old socks tied around their face and noses for make-shift masks.” Raines describes. 

She finally found a purpose for her pain and worked tirelessly to supply not only food and health and hygiene supplies to the people on the streets but also haircuts and facials- a physical touch that made them feel human and of value. At the CNN Hero of the Year award ceremony, she emotionally shared, “I stand before you a very broken woman. I am a mother without a son and there are a lot of people in the streets without a mother- I feel like it is a fair exchange.” She stated how important it is to know that broken people can be useful. 

The question I want to pose to you even as I ask myself, “What exactly will we—what will I—contribute to make our community and our country stronger?” Is it my will and can I put forth an effort to find compromise and common ground with my political neighbors? 

Is it important to me to combat the incitement of violence in our schools and neighborhoods? What choices can I make in my daily life that will be the example I wish to inspire my children for a peaceful and fulfilling life?  

Our roles in this world are more than peripheral, and we are more than mere witnesses within our society.  There are so many ways to get involved, make real connections, and find common ground and support in people who have been written off as allies. 

Look for local events, volunteer, shop locally, join a class or group, and donate your resources; we have 365 opportunities to rise to the challenge to make each day of 2022 better; because unity is what makes us stronger. 

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