In late 1992, Queen Elizabeth II gave a speech in which she concluded that year – in which Diana wrote a tell-all book, Sarah was photographed topless with a guy sucking on her toes, Windsor Castle burned and various other indignities were suffered – was annus horribilis, literally, the ‘year of horrors.’
I remembered that phrase at various points during the last year… during 2011 specifically. It was a year in which I went through radiation, chemo, steroids, and more chemo. I got shingles. I lost my ability to walk more than 10 or 20 feet. I was told in March that I was going to die, probably by year’s end. Steroids led me into a darkness without any promise of light. Simultaneously there were family issues that at times seemed to threaten to destroy whatever else hadn’t already been destroyed. My memory was shot. Efforts to work, to write, were in vain. I look back on the year and I shudder at the depths, despite the miraculous reality that God intervened and has saved my life.
The Queen’s use of the term annus horibilis was her take on an older phrase – annus mirabilis, the ‘year of miracles.’
That phrase was first used by an English poet named John Dryden in 1667. Fully expecting to find that he was commemorating a year of plenty and a year of wonder, I was surprised to find out that actually, he wrote the poem commemorating a year, 1666, in which the Great Fire swept through London, destroying the homes of 70,000 of the 80,000 people who lived there. It was also a year where the English took huge losses in their war with the Dutch. While they eventually prevailed, the cost was high.
Why then did Dryden call it a year of miracles? Because he believed it was only God’s mercy that prevented things from being worse. Suffering? Plenty. But at the end of the year England stood. A year of miracles.
Queen Elizabeth II versus John Dryden. I have to side, reluctantly in a way, with Dryden. It is easier to go the Queen’s route and lament all that was lost in 2011. It was brutal. But it all comes down to my orientation. What do I choose to believe? That I deserve a walk in the park? That I deserve parades and confetti? That the pain is evidence of God’s absence? Judgment?
OR. Do I choose to orient myself, humble myself I suppose, and believe I actually deserve no good thing? I haven’t earned this life, haven’t earned this breath or the last one or the next one? That I surrender myself to God and view any goodness as unmerited blessing? That, finally, I say that my life isn’t actually about my life at all, but that it is about loving, worshipping, praising God because he’s God and I am a vapor.
So, sitting firmly now in 2012, looking back across the last year perhaps I need to categorize it differently. No doubt I suffered. The tears and pain were all too real. But in the midst of that God used my life to show himself to others? That the doctor and the radiation techs and the nurses and friends and strangers caught glimpse of God through all my darkness and faithlessness? That’s a better way of looking at it I think.