Life in 2020 reminds me of a hippogriff: the mythical creature that is half horse and half giant eagle. Fiercely proud, independent, and dangerous, the beast is tamed only when respected and understood. A subject of literature and art throughout centuries, the hippogriff might be best known thanks to J.K. Rowling and her vivid description of Buckbeak in Harry Potter. Hagrid, a half-giant on the margins of the wizarding world (not unlike many men and women who live with intellectual disabilities in our society), teaches Harry to respect and love this ominous creature. Quite literally, Harry learns to take a deep bow before approaching the beast.
Bowing to 2020
As we’ve neared the end of this year, I’ve wondered how to bow to brutal racism, to devastating illness, to the loss of livelihoods, to unfulfilled longing for hugs, to systems on the brink of collapse, to heart-breaking isolation, to death, to my daughter’s sense of feeling overwhelmed, to my family’s claustrophobia, and to my colleagues’ exhaustion?
Hagrid, the outlaw, advises: “Yeh always wait fer the Hippogriff ter make the first move. It’s polite, see? Yeh walk towards him, and yeh bow, an’ yeh wait. If he bows back, yeh’re allowed to touch him. If he doesn’ bow, then get away from him sharpish, ’cause those talons hurt.”
I recall many moments when I sensed that the year made the first move, when the dual nature of 2020—this beast of light and dark, of danger and healing—revealed itself: the incredible courage of people of color forcing us all into reckoning, the resilience of nurses, doctors and other essential workers risking their lives and well-being, the outpouring of generosity and civic engagement, the slowing down of life’s pace, the ingenious creativity of underpaid public school teachers, the gift of science and research leading to a vaccine, the endurance of our children and grandparents, and your humbling generosity and commitment to L’Arche’s mission.
Bowing to the beast of 2020 also reminds us of what fuels us in L’Arche: the rights and sometimes the very existence of people with intellectual disabilities are not to be taken for granted. Yet, L’Arche exists because we are – together. Together, we are learning with one another to take a deep bow in front of life. I am thinking of so many stories from this past year: of finding home, of #LArcheLife, of Milk and Cereal, of Adam’s delight, of a brain, a heart, and courage. So many moments that allowed us to touch this year without getting hurt by its talons.
A Hippogriff’s Flight into 2021
Harry’s encounter with Buckbeak doesn’t end with a curtsy. Somewhat taken by surprise, he finds himself on the back of this horse-eagle. They take off. Harry is afraid. His arms tightly wrapped around Buckbeak’s neck, they fly up and over the lake. Slowly, Harry begins to trust. Eventually, he loosens his grip and sits up straight. Spreading his arms to feel the wind and speed, he knows that he is safe and free – alive. His “woooooohhhhooooooo” echoes delight and joy over the lake.
John Williams, Hollywood’s famed composer, created a great score to this scene. If you know nothing about Harry Potter, it won’t matter. The music speaks for itself.
Tonight, we will mark the passage from one year to another. This beast of a year 2020 will carry us into the next year. Will your 2020 allow you to ride on its back?
If you have a couple of minutes before midnight, I invite you to listen to Williams’ music. Take a deep bow to your very own sacred and personal experience of 2020. This hippogriff of yours deserves respect and understanding. If your experience bows back and if you’re up for a ride, get up on this wobbly and beautiful life that we all live. Hold onto it and wrap your arms around her neck. Can you feel her heart beating under the feathers? Take off with your life, feel the wind, feel the speed, feel your being, feel your body. This hippogriff is about to take you into your future. When you’re ready to make the passage, straighten your spine, spread your arms, take a deep breath, and shout out a full-hearted and joyful “Woooooohhhhooooooo”.
With gratitude for you and the gifts and sorrows of 2020, I wish you a very happy New Year.