To close out each year’s calendar, I indulge in a final pleasure that is retrospective in nature: a celebration of the accumulated achievements in dance, music, theater, opera, movies, or television of five Kennedy Center honorees.
The televised gala never disappoints, filled as it always is with the best of the best moments of the most star-studded stars of the performing arts. Such was the opening tribute to Gladys Knight, from Garth Brooks’ rendition of “Midnight Train to Georgia” all the way to Patti LaBelle’s self-descriptive “That’s What Friends Are For,” plus everything in between. A delighted audience moved with the beat and sang along – impromptu Pips backing up “The Empress of Soul”!
Vaguely associating Amy Grant with Christian music, I was unprepared for the several genres belted out by musicians as eclectic as Sheryl Crow and the Winans. No meekling, years ago this “Queen of Christian Pop” crossed over – by marching right in. And clearly, Mrs. Vince Gill has long abided by her grandmother’s sage advice to “sing something that matters.”
A retrospective look at the rock stars known as U2 was quite helpful to my shamefully-uninformed self. I have probably read more about Bono’s social and political responsibility than I have heard “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “One.” In tribute, Sean Penn described these “scrappy Dublin punks” as “good musical poets,” who across their careers have helped establish the “usefulness of music in the world.”
The list of honorees often includes someone totally unknown to me: this year Tania Leon, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer/conductor born in Havana. At 4, she discovered the piano; at 22, she discovered her future upon arrival from Castro’s Cuba via a Freedom Flight. Performances featured dancers highlighting her half century of leadership at the Dance Theater of Harlem and an orchestral arrangement of “Stride” representing her global status as composer and conductor.
The best part of the evening was devoted to actor George Clooney. Yes, there were movie clips, but more inspiring were vignettes with his proud journalist father Nick; colleagues Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Richard Kind praising his high standards – while tattling about his hijinks in high places. And Julia Roberts pronounced him the “best combination of gentleman and playmate.” George Clooney has established himself a true Renaissance man: ever learning and growing in his craft, morally courageous and socially responsible – all the while refusing to take himself too seriously.
Each December I also anticipate a mind-stretching exercise in perspective. I take note of a title annually bestowed upon the man, woman, group, idea, or object that “for better or for worse…has done the most to influence the events of the year”: known more succinctly as the Time Person of the Year.
Far more important, however. than the final decision are the conversations and considerations that ensue as VIPs and just plain folks examine individual pieces of an entire year for global perspective.
Newsmakers considered this year included Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the Supreme Court, philanthropic ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos MacKenzie Scott, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Chinese President XI Jinping, none of whom I felt rose to a sufficiently-high level.
Last year’s honoree Elon Musk, head of Tesla, SpaceX, Twitter – and the richest man on earth – was again in contention. Chosen in 2021 “for creating solutions to existential crisis…for driving society’s most daring and disruptive transformations,” of late he has seemed more intent on creating disruptive crises.
I would have given Liz Cheney further consideration had the entire House committee been included in recognition of their careful and deliberate investigation of the events surrounding January 6.
The plague upon our nation of easily-accessible assault weapons had me leaning toward gun safety advocates. And I have been deeply moved by the strength and resolve of the protesters in Iran under the slogan “Woman, life, freedom!” Personally, I would have also co-nominated the courageous women protesters of Afghanistan.
However, I wholeheartedly agree with the Time editors that President Volodymer Zelensky and the Spirit of Ukraine have out-influenced everyone else on the planet. He and his fellow citizens have inspired us all by standing bravely against Vladimir Putin, who continues sending troops across sovereign borders to aggress their way into the homes and lives of peace-and-freedom-loving Ukrainians. President Zelensky has informed and updated, pleaded and represented, remaining strong in the face of incredible odds for 315 days – and counting. That’s grit. That’s determination. That’s love of country. That’s inspiration for the rest of the world.
Sometime before or since the ball fell in New York and New Carlisle – and let’s not ignore the Peach Drop in Atlanta or the Big Cheese Drop somewhere in Wisconsin – it behooves us to spend a few introspective moments with ourselves.
Taking stock of my most recent trip around the sun: I battled a termite infestation while managing to complete my hat-and-scarf-knitting plan and had my dryer vent completely rerouted while becoming totally engrossed in more than a few library books. Our family lost a dear brother-in-law but found a new niece-in-law and her daughter. And in the end, heartwarming kindnesses and sweet moments edged out my many reasons for shouting at the TV. Upon introspective examination, 2022 was as balanced a year as one should hope to experience.
As my 75th milestone rapidly approaches, I am more convinced than ever that retrospective experiences and introspective consideration bring clear and calming perspective to our lives.