I spent the last several months of 2020 like many people did…willing the year to be over. I even teased visitors to my social media pages with questions like “Want to make 2020 magically disappear?” and “Want to leave 2020 in the dust?” and “Ready to ride 2020 out on a rail?” I truly believed we were all in for better times ahead.
And why wouldn’t I think that? 2020 had been the worst year most of us could remember, and things had to right themselves eventually. So I tried to use my time wisely, clearing the clutter, resetting my compass, sharpening my vision for the new year.
In dark times, I suppose it’s only natural to look ahead. And frankly, when you’re in the calendar business, you have to. But, as my new calendar reminded me when I hung it up last week, it’s not always enough to look ahead. Sometimes you have to look up.
My illustration this month features Tom Friedman’s sculpture Looking Up at the entrance to McDonnell Planetarium. The 33-foot figure is made of stainless steel and has an anvil-shaped head tilted back almost 90 degrees to take in the entire night sky. But what I love even more than the statue itself are the kids standing underneath it in the January print. The kids are more interested in that tall skinny guy than they are in the moon and the stars, because that’s how children are. Literally and figuratively, they look up to us.
While looking up to others is not a quality that is unique to children, it does seem to lose some of its virtue as we get older. When I look up to others, I do so with full knowledge of the many ways I am failing to measure up. I am not just looking up in wonder. I am looking down in shame for the qualities I lack.
But there are a few people in my universe who seem to have the ability to return me to a childlike sense of awe. These “easy heroes” illuminate my path instead of darkening it, because they are not focused on their own achievements, but on the greater good. Like those gathered at their feet, these people continue looking up.
I created the planetarium artwork exactly one year ago, before COVID and political unrest descended on our country. But I must have had a premonition, because I felt strongly about including the yellow traffic sign, designating the planetarium as a safe place to go for help. In the past year, so many of us have been searching for such a place, a place where we might find protection, reason, guidance, care. Isn’t that where we want to go in 2021?
I was reflecting on this last week as I hovered over my birthday candles, formulating my most earnest wishes for the year that lay ahead. I can’t tell you what I wished for, though – if I did my wishes wouldn’t come true! – but I can tell you that I made wishes for all the people I look up to – those in the room with me, those in the neighborhood, those in the community, in the country. Those who light my path and make this world a safer place.
McDonnell Planetarium is the featured subject of my January 2021 calendar page. It is also one of four images on my Forest Park Gems notecards. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com/products.