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Column: Still trying to make sense of what we learned in 2014

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By Christopher Harrop

We are a curious people, to say the least.

The ways we take stock of what has happened to us, the ways in which we look ahead to what is going to happen to us — even the ways in which we rationalize if the actions are happening to us or whether we are somehow making them happen for us. It’s one of those things that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom, makes us human.

I resisted the urge to write about the year that was in 2014 and the urge to write about the year ahead of us for two weeks since staying up until midnight to mark yet another planetary journey around the sun. But here I am, nevertheless, trying to make sense of it all.

I wish I had much more insight than that to offer you, dear reader, and in addition to wishing you a happy and prosperous new year, I also wish you the best of luck in your own effort to make sense of it all.

We are in a brave new world, a day and age in which marriage equality is soon becoming the standard and the number of states still prohibiting marriage equality will soon be able to be counted on two hands. Even if you are a person of faith who reveres the Scripture and believes the words of Leviticus, you must acknowledge a sense of pride if you are an American that our nation of laws and justice is prevailing as it should.

At the same time, in our theaters is a movie about the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., that only reinforces the feeling that this nation of ours hasn’t come nearly as far as we’d like to believe in equality before the law. The name Jimmie Lee Jackson echoes across America not quite as loudly as Michael Brown or Eric Garner, but they all share equal membership in a terrible fraternity of men who have met their mortal end, unarmed, at the hands of the state. Our society has climbed for quite some time beyond Jim Crow, but that proverbial mountaintop still appears far away for many Americans.

We in Colorado have enjoyed the fruits of the labors of marijuana growers and the burgeoning tax revenues the sales have funneled to our state government, yet we still seem unsure of how to even handle our grand experiment in wacky tobacky. Colorado is spending $6 million this year to educate people on the intricacies of the laws that were approved by voters two years ago. Perhaps we should have been paying attention back when it was on the ballot? Are we too high now to remember, or were we not even thinking clearly from the get-go?

We see news out of Europe about another terrorist attack against a publication that offended Muslims with depictions of their prophet Muhammad, as well as numerous other targets of its satire. In our zeal to rightly proclaim the necessity for freedom of speech and a free press, few of us seemed to take any time to ponder if mocking someone’s religion is an appropriate use of that tremendous power the press has. We love our freedom, but we sometimes blissfully ignore that our great freedoms come with great responsibility, and sometimes we don’t do our best in holding up the latter end of that most precious bargain.

We all awoke to this new year probably far less worried about the spread of Ebola than we were perhaps five months earlier, although seeing how our local hospitals, medical centers and airports rose to the occasion to put preparedness plans together, we are resting easier with good reason.

And most of us are also going about our daily lives with far less apprehension when a day goes by without hearing of another American or British captive falling victim to the barbarism of the Islamic State. But I would argue that if we are to hang onto memories of these atrocities — and we should — it should be of the good work being done by the likes of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines and others who were either documenting the unrest in the Middle East or actively providing humanitarian aid. We can undo their perpetual re-victimization by thinking of them for what they achieved in life, not by how their lives were ended and used for sickening propaganda.

And while we live to see the day that the long-frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba has begun anew, we must remain mindful that other areas of the world have not been as well-mannered with their neighbors. Vladimir Putin remains largely unchallenged for Russia’s annexation of parts of Ukraine, and that may remain true while also serving as a testament to the shifted global power scheme.

But we have a mostly clean slate for 2015, somewhere underneath all the snowmelt-filled gutters and Broncos watch party favors that will now be tucked away until September. We can choose to make whatever peace we can with 2014 and move forward, boldly and confident that no matter how much things stay the same, we can be assured that they will nevertheless change in 2015 — and some of it might even make a lick of sense. Happy New Year.

Reach Managing Editor Chris Harrop at news@metrowestnewspapers.com.