It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
2016 will forever go down as one of the strangest years of my life. There have been so many ups and downs over the last 12 months that it’s honestly hard to keep track of them all. But suffice to say, I can’t remember a time when I was so heavily invested in the events playing out on the news or so sickened by so much of what I was seeing there.
This year’s negatives write themselves. Not only did 2016 see the death of pretty much every good musician we had left (David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen…), but there was the Brexit vote to contend with, not to mention Zika, the war in Syria, the US presidential election and the death knell of liberal democracy itself. Oh yes, and the Euros happened as well. England, predictably, did not do well.
In terms of the world as a whole, then, this year was pretty much the antithesis of everything I hold dear. All across the world, the centrist, moderate politicians around whom the global axis of power has turned for so long seem to be falling by the wayside to be replaced by hordes of angry, misinformed people blaming literally every problem on globalization and immigrants.
And yet… in my personal life, this year has been one of constant surprise and change.
In January, I moved into a new house, one which actually belongs to me. In October, I changed my job so I don’t have to work during the night any more. And then, over the summer, my wife and I received the news we’d been praying about for months: we have a baby on the way. A little girl. She will be born in February.
All of this puts me in mind of the last time the world went totally crazy. That year was 2008 – the year of the global credit crunch. At the time I was working for Lehman Brothers, who you might know were once one of the world’s largest investment banks. Until, that is, the US housing market suddenly collapsed, the sub prime mortgage bubble burst on a pillar of bad debt and dodgy insider dealing and the world was plunged into the biggest global recession since the 1920’s. A recession, which, in many ways, it still hasn’t recovered from.
Since I was only working as a temp at the time, I was one of the first people out the door when the bank finally realized just how much trouble it was in. Considering how quickly the job market was shrinking, I knew I had to find a job fast, so I applied for the first thing I found: a job working on the news desk of a business magazine. A few months later, I bumped into a young French girl who was doing an internship at the same company. We started dating. We fell in love. One year later, we moved to Poland.
Today, that woman is my wife. It is with her that I now have a baby on the way.
So, in short, I can look back on the 2008 credit crisis and I can say with my hand on my heart that it led directly to my daughter being born. Without that critical moment in world history, over which I had no more control than any of us did, I never would have moved to Poland. I wouldn’t be married to my beautiful wife. My life would be completely different.
I look back on the crisis today with mixed feelings. On one hand, of course I know on a cerebral level that the world in 2008 was in a terrible state. The global economy was tanking, the US was haemorrhaging more than 250,000 jobs a month. Whole industries were collapsing or else being propped up through massive government subsidies. The EU found itself slugging through almost a decade of banking crises and austerity.
And yet, despite all the people who lost their jobs and all the livelihoods and businesses which went up in smoke, I can honestly say that at least one piece of good news came out of that period. I met my wife. And for that, I will always be grateful.
Perhaps, in time, I will come to feel the same way about the events of 2016.
It’s worth remembering that global events never occur in isolation. Just like how a butterfly beating its wings in one part of the world can lead to a hurricane in another, events link together in ways we cannot predict and lead to consequences we cannot expect.
So my advise to anyone who is as worried about the year that was 2016 as I am is don’t worry about it. The world will take care of itself. Don’t try to make sense of the events playing out around us. They’ve been playing out in much the same way for as long as mankind has existed.
Instead, look for the unexpected good that comes from the bad. Because for every Trump or Brexit or Syria or Zika, there’s a boy who meets a girl and falls in love.
And life goes on.
To all of my readers, have a very happy new year. May 2017 bring you everything that 2016 year didn’t, and even more of the things that it did.