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A good half of my Facebook newsfeed on New Year’s Day was devoted to groanings and lamentations over the dumpster fire that was the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand and Seventeen. I think most of my friends and acquaintances were making political and social commentary, but for me, 2017 was also a rough year personally.

In January of last year I had no idea what awaited me in the coming months–as we never do–but it’s been interesting to look back at what I wrote then and how it was precisely what I needed to know, before I needed to know it. I had given myself a mantra for the year, and it turned out to be a good one. Let me quote myself:

Like proverbs, or the Jesus prayer, or praise choruses, the brevity and pithiness of a mantra makes it memorable and easy to hold onto when we might otherwise be tired, confused, hungry, anxious, or frustrated—or in other words, when our rational selves are less capable of making good decisions.

Unlike a resolution, a mantra doesn’t have as its goal a particular outcome. Instead, the mantra reminds us to stay present in the moment, to stay alert, to stay awake, to stay mindful. It’s our state of mind that is important, not a change in our material circumstances.

So here’s my mantra for 2017: “Even the clarinets.”

Let me explain by way of narrative:

I had to miss my son’s first band concert because of a work event, so I asked him when I got home how it went.

“It was great, mom. Except my friend was really nervous. She was so nervous that on the second song her slide slipped out of her trombone, and then she started to cry. And then she was embarrassed to be crying on stage.”

I murmured my sympathy and asked what he did in response.

“I said to her, ‘It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes—even the clarinets.’”

I love so much about this story. I love my son’s tender heart. I love that he interrupted his own playing to comfort his friend in the middle of their performance. I love his deep wisdom that mistakes are a regular part of life. And I love, love that inexplicable reference to those glorious clarinets. Are the clarinets, as a section, particularly accomplished? Does the band teacher hold them up as an exemplar section for the others to emulate? I don’t know. I just know that even clarinets make mistakes, and I’m going to hold onto that this year.

Because whatever 2017 holds for all of us, it surely holds many trombone-slide misadventures—moments of sadness and exposure and vulnerability and awkwardness. And when those moments happen, let’s turn to each other and whisper, “It’s okay. Everyone makes mistakes—even the clarinets.”

Perhaps 2018 is another dumpster-fire year, none of us knows. But I’m going to give myself a new mantra for this year, one my mother uses: “Steady as she goes.”

Onward, friends.

Sarina Gruver Moore teaches English literature and writing at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

Sarina Gruver Moore

Sarina Gruver Moore is a writer in western Pennsylvania.


  • Daniel James Meeter says:

    So simple and so valuable. Even for failed clarinetists and worse bassoonists.

  • Daniel James Meeter says:

    With this new button, the Comments button is hard to find. Is that intentional?

  • Judy Loucks Gruver says:

    “Steady as she goes” is one of your dad’s favorite sayings. Another wonderful writing Sarina.

  • Abby Zwart says:

    I used “even the clarinets” all year, Sarina. Thanks for the 2018 idea. I’m really attached to those darn clarinets, though 🙂
    Hope your school break was restful and you’re ready for the new semester. Miss you!

  • Marty Wondaal says:


  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    As a former clarinetist, I can attest to the fact that no section of the band is without error. Yes, the destructive effects of the fall stretch even to the purity of the clarinet (and whoever is playing it).

    I find troubling the phenomenon in some corners of Christianity to be so influenced in outlook by current socio-political events/realities. This article makes several references to 2017 as a “dumpster fire”. Kate Kooyman recently wrote this on this site: “2017 was, by everyone’s every standard everywhere, the absolute worst. This whole year I think we’ve felt the panic that comes with knowing there’s an emergency, and having no idea what to do about it. It smells bad, it’s somewhere close by, it’s going to change lives. And we can’t seem to stop it. If 2017 has left me with one thing, it’s heavy-eyelid, soul-dragging weariness. I’m tired — tired of outrage, tired of fear, tired of disgust and anxiety.” Kate did not hint that she was being hyperbolic, at least as far as I could tell. I’ve seen this type of sentiment expressed any number of places throughout the last year. I feel bad for those who are so affected by external circumstances that it affects their outlook and sense of perspective this much.

    There truly is nothing new under the sun, and an outlook that says that 2017 was the worst year possible is historically myopic and lacks balance. It seems to me that Christians ought to model an outlook that doesn’t simply mirror the cultural panic of the moment and gives a greater weight to God’s sovereignty.

  • The 12 Editor says:

    Thank you Daniel, mom, Abby, and Marty. Eric, I won’t presume to speak for Kate, but if you read my piece you’ll note that I’m referring to my own *personally* difficult year. I make no political or social commentary in the piece. I will take a moment to respond to your more general claim about how Christians should respond to suffering, however. It’s true that St. Paul encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances–and I can assure you that I have often done so. However, Scripture gives *many* examples of how humans respond to suffering. Consider King David, beloved by God, who rails against God and calls down brutal, reprehensible curses on his foes, even the children of his enemies. He sounds rather unhinged to me, to be honest. But his suffering is real and he’s responding to it as best he can. Not even the most pious Christian appreciates being lectured on how she should express and deal with her pain. Instead, like Job, we long for our friends to sit with us in sackcloth and ashes–no advice-giving, thanks–and merely wait with us until we are ready to rejoice again. And while it may be true that some of us get a little hysterical or myopic or weepy or what-have-you, I think God can take it. Meister Eckhart reminds us that nothing we say or do–whether good or ill–can harm God or prevent his will from being accomplished. God remains sovereign–there we agree.

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      You actually did more than refer to your own *personally* difficult year. Recall how you began your piece by mentioning how many people were referring to 2017 as a dumpster fire. Your opening sentence: “A good half of my Facebook newsfeed on New Year’s Day was devoted to groanings and lamentations over the dumpster fire that was the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand and Seventeen.” Then you bracketed your personal observations by concluding with a similar reference: “Perhaps 2018 is another dumpster-fire year”. I did not assign to you those sentiments, but did comment on the broader phenomenon that you introduced. Seems like a fair thing to comment on when you brought it up, no?

      You are assigning to me things I did not comment on. I made no ” general claim about how Christians should respond to suffering”. Not even close, really. Nor did I “lecture” any one on how to deal with their pain. I made no mention of dealing with pain. If you want to interact with what I actually said, feel free. “I think God can take it”. Has anyone suggested otherwise? I certainly haven’t.

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      Also, to be clear, expressions of personal pain typically are in the first person singular. Kate’s comments referred to “everyone’s every standard everywhere”. That’s decidedly not a simple expression of personal pain, but a much broader attribution, which is frankly untrue.

      I wonder, why is it ok for you to critique me for my personal observations, but you insinuate that I should stop “lecturing” others? By your own standard, aren’t you the one now giving the unwanted lecture? It seems to me that it would be better for us to engage in conversation without seeking to squelch each others’ thoughts with such pejorative language.

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      Hello Sarina,
      In retrospect, I think I struck a tone with you that was less than helpful when I said “If you want to interact with what I actually said, feel free.”. Please accept my apology.

      • Sarina Moore says:

        Eric! I’m so sorry I missed your comments before–I hope you see this eventually. No need for an apology–actually, I thought my own initial comment struck the wrong tone and I thought I had deleted it. Alas, no.

  • RLG says:

    Thanks Eric, for your comment. I also get tired of hearing the Christian frustration with life and culture. That 2017 was a “dumpster fire” year politically, culturally, and personally is a typical Christian perspective. Christians tend to say that about every year. That’s because the Christian world and life view begins with a sinful fallen world, and they cannot help but see a world that is marred by sin. So when looking at culture or politics (and often the church), instead of seeing the good they see the past as a dumpster-fire past heading for destruction. And when coming to the end of 2018, I imagine the same will be said for this year. When looking at or listening to a musical score we tend to focus on the single mistake rather than the 99% percent that was played with perfection. We have a great God who has given us a great world, and daily we see wonderful new accomplishments being made in so many different fields. Give thanks and give God the glory.

    • Eric Van Dyken says:

      For what it’s worth, I know many Christians whose belief in total depravity and the far-reaching effects of sin does not lead them to conclude that every year (or life generally) is a dumpster fire. I disagree with your assertion that this is a “typical” Christian perspective. There is an undeniable political calculus to when certain groups of Christians seem to fall into excessive weeping and gnashing of teeth that I think is less than helpful and often divisive. I contend that overwrought reactions on both sides of the political spectrum are too often caused more by political leaning that by pure Christian zeal, and the phenomenon is demonstrable.

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