A seafaring captain in Mark Twain’s Following the Equator tells of an Arctic voyage so cold that the mate’s shadow froze to the deck and had to be ripped loose by brute strength.
With wind chills in sub-zero teens, many of us felt frozen in place as well.
I don’t mind it. A frigid break between an old year and a new, it was an opportunity to sit still and take stock.
At face value, 2017 doesn’t appear to be our best effort. Politics got uglier. Concertgoers in Las Vegas were gunned down, and worshippers at an Egyptian mosque were blown up.
Hurricanes flooded neighborhoods and demolished islands. Civilians were bombed in Syria and Yemen, while hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas risked death to flee persecution.
Frozen in place, though, we have the time to go deeper. It wasn’t all bad. The caliphate of ISIS was defeated. This ended some of the most horrific human-rights abuses in recent years.
Researchers gave us CRISPR, a gene-changing tool. The excitement was not designer babies but the repair of mutant genes in the human embryo and the prospect of preventing inherited diseases.
Scientists also discovered that enzymes from mushrooms decompose plastic that would otherwise take centuries to dissolve. Good to know when we may find more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
Pondering the bigger picture, 2017 continued trends in the direction of life.
Last summer, experts feared that a famine caused by civil war in South Sudan and drought in the Horn of Africa could take 2 million lives. International relief and the Famine Early Warning System averted that disaster. Today, the risk of dying from hunger is just .006 percent of what it was 50 years ago.
Polio has dropped from 350,000 cases in the 1980s to 19 last year. Death from measles has fallen over 80 percent in this century. Guinea worm disease is almost gone and cholera is set to follow.
The number of people living in extreme poverty has been diminishing steadily. With each passing day, there are 217,000 fewer people in those ranks.
Literacy is up. Child mortality is down. More people have access to clean water, and fewer live without electricity.
We still have our poor, our sick, our endangered and unwanted, but we’re better off than we were.
Christmas reminded us that God has not given up on our world. That little ember of hope, tended with time, will warm our winter hearts.