When historians look back on 2016 in America, the most prevalent word gracing their reports will be "bonkers".
They will see a presidential election that forewent rational discourse in favour of pro-wrestling vitriol; that offered manifestos not on policy but on how "my opponent is unfit for office"; that forced voters to consider not whom they will vote for, but whom they will vote against; that pushed—every week—the boundaries of decency to a new, unfathomable level; that made a mockery of not just the electoral system, but of the electorate itself.
They will see evidence of isolated pockets of social unrest, a pipeline controversy in North Dakota, and the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
They will see an onslaught of hateful rhetoric directed at women, minorities, and members of the LGBT community, not to mention local legislation aimed at undermining the rights of those groups.
But there is one thing they won't see. They won't see that in 2016, despite everything, there was still beauty left in America.
It wasn't the kind of beauty that would make the front page of the New York Times. After all, newspaper sales—by their very nature—bear an unwavering dependence on the uglier side of human nature.
No. It wasn't our daily papers in which this beauty quietly flourished—it was our daily lives.
It was you, extending help to a person in need—an act of generosity not influenced one way or the other by his or her political leanings.
It was the stranger assisting a single mother with her baby's stroller atop a stairwell, the long-distance commuter giving up a seat to the elderly person getting off in two stops, and the motorist jump-starting another's car despite a barrage of rain.
It was the busker giving life to an otherwise dreary street, the artist doing likewise to a sunless underpass, and the photographer following suit to a nondescript subject.
It was the teacher working through the night with the betterment of her class as her justification, the nurse remaining on-call with the well-being of others a priority, and the police officer patrolling the streets with community safety a must.
It was them. It was us. It was now.
It was the volunteers helping to restore a street's cleanliness to pre-festival levels, the rescue workers braving frozen waters to prolong the life of a stranded Alsatian, and the group of friends spending months meticulously planning your surprise birthday.
It was the autumn leaves rustling so delicately in the wind, the cat meowing in their direction, and the owners capturing the interaction on film. It was the social media users sharing it with the world.
It was your sports team emerging triumphant—perhaps in spite of the odds—and the shared joy of seeing that trophy hoisted aloft.
It was the summer ocean, calm and blue, just as many of us were the opposite of calm, if admittedly blue.
It was the train ride along America's east coast, the winding journey across Appalachia, and the boat ride along Lake Michigan.
It was a simple "hello" between two complete strangers when silence would have been enough.
It was you.
The point is, no matter what happens on the political landscape, no matter what becomes of our climate, and no matter what story is leading the evening news, the true beauty of America—and indeed the world—emerges quietly in the background.
History will not see this beauty because—like me and you—it belongs in the present, because it is conventional, and because it is not—when all is said and done—bonkers.
But it is there. And it quietly comprises the vast majority of all our lives.
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