A recent sunrise at Willard Beach in South Portland. Credit: Susan Young / BDN

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.

It’s the holiday season. It’s a time of good cheer and good wishes, and soon a time to reflect on the year that is ending and to list our hopes and desires for the new year.

It’s been another challenging, some might say depressing, year. COVID is still a dangerous presence in our lives, sickening friends and disrupting plans. Thankfully, the death rate from the dread illness has declined, but it is still a significant worry, especially for those with other health concerns.

Mass shootings remain too common. In the past month alone, more than three dozen people have been gunned down, while shopping, while enjoying a night out, at colleges, at workplaces, in what is the most deadly year for mass shootings.

Far too many Americans don’t have a permanent place to live. For some their rents are too high. Others were rendered homeless by job losses or large medical bills.

And, far too many Americans continue to die from overdoses.

While we may have rejoiced in a  warmer-than- usual fall, we know that our planet is warming and our climate is changing, with consequences we can scarcely imagine.

Even this partial list feels bleak and overwhelming.

Yet, still I am optimistic. Perhaps, I have mused, that is the calling of an opinion writer. We are, I’ve told friends, an odd mix of curmudgeon and optimist.

We are curmudgeons because we’ve seen so many promises and golden opportunities wasted. Budget surpluses that vanished without improving lives, good policies doomed by politics. Good people worn down by those filled with anger and hatred.

Yet, we remain optimistic. This time, we think, lawmakers will come to their senses and pass a needed bill or reject a dangerous one. The sun will come out tomorrow. We have to hope for the best or we’d stop telling people to follow the moral arc of the universe, which Martin Luther King Jr. tells us is long, but bends toward justice.

New York Times opinion writer Margaret Renkl captured this sentiment in a column she wrote before Thanksgiving.

“I will let my whole heart fill up with gratitude for what is still breathtakingly beautiful about this weary, ragged world; for the many people who are fighting for our democracy; and for all the people I love,” she wrote.

“I can’t force polluting nations to work together to hold climate change to planet-surviving levels. I can’t force Congress to work together for solutions to the economic inequities and information silos that separate us. But … I can remember the loved ones who once shared this table and fill their seats with people whose loved ones are distant or otherwise missing. And I can be grateful for every single fantastic moment we have together.”

Amen sister.

I, too, am grateful for every privilege that I enjoy, knowing that much of it comes without skill or hard work on my part. I am grateful, of course, for my family and friends. And, for the readers of the Bangor Daily News, even the ones who call to complain and cajole. I appreciate their optimism, their faith that if they set me straight, I’ll do better next time. But, fair warning, some things are not negotiable: If you do not support equality and dignity for all, if you believe that helping someone else hurts you, if you see those who you disagree with as flawed enemies, you won’t change my mind.

So, what do I wish for in the new year? Generally: Peace, love, prosperity and good health for all. This is a wish list after all.

More specifically: Politicians who focus on governing, that is drafting and passing laws and policies that will improve our lives rather than trying to score political points with payback investigations, messaging bills and angry, divisive rhetoric.

Safe, affordable housing for people who need a place to live. There are a lot of options – tiny houses, boarding homes, shelters. Instead of trying to find the perfect one, cities – with the help of state and federal agencies – need to try them all.

Treatment and hope for those seeking to reclaim their lives from opiates and other dangerous substances.

Economic and educational opportunities for all who need them. Affordable, accessible health care (including abortion care) no matter when you live.

These are all achievable, if we dedicate ourselves to solving problems and helping one another.

I remain optimistic.

I will be taking a break from this column for a month. So, I wish you happy Hanukkah, merry Christmas, happy Kwanzaa and a happy new year. See you in January.

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Susan Young

Susan Young is the opinion editor at the Bangor Daily News. She has worked for the BDN for over 25 years as a reporter and editor.