Matt Knutson: Remember to journey together into 2017

Published 9:39 am Friday, December 30, 2016

Rochester resident Matt Knutson is the communications and events director for United Way of Olmsted County.

“Though so many are lamenting 2016, you’re right in that personally, we’ve had a truly incredible year,” I said to my wife as we reflected on all that has occurred in the last 12 months. Our year was particularly bookended with good news. January brought the birth of our daughter, and just today we received word that my wife has been deemed a permanent resident of America. Both of our biggest worries turned into our biggest joys.

Looking at a year in its entirety can be daunting. We tend to recall the highest highs and lowest lows, while losing sight of the journey that led to those mountain top peaks and deep valleys. It is more often however, the journey to those places that shapes who we are on our path in life. This year has been a revelation as we’ve seen who accompanies us on the journey rather than just celebrating when we’re reaching peaks.

Email newsletter signup

We celebrated Christmas with both my family and my wife’s family over the last week, and during our time with her family, we went to see the Disney movie “Moana.” I caught Sera viewing the trailer multiple times over the last several months, so it was clearly at the top of my wife’s must-watch list. The story highlights the Polynesian culture through the lens of a young girl, Moana, who will one day lead her island nation. My in-laws, from the island nation of Madagascar, are often referred to as Malayo-Polynesian. Their culture is a mixture of East African, Polynesian and the countries that later colonized the island nation, mainly France. Growing up in six countries throughout the world, Sera and her siblings are sometimes challenged by defining who they are and where they’re from by any specific place and culture. At their core though, Madagascar and the culture represented in “Moana” is flowing within their veins.

The film was a wonderful glimpse into my wife’s childhood. The tribal activities she witnessed in Papua New Guinea, the style of music she so often sings, the different uses of drums, the coconuts and growing up near the water were all brought back to the forefront of her mind as she giddy whispered in my ear as the film played.

Sera watched this movie imagining Gracelyn as Moana, while I watched the movie imaging Sera as the lead character. Moana longs to explore the water beyond her island; she loves her home but knows there is something more for her. When I think of all the journeying Sera has had in her life, I can only imagine that she understands that longing of something greater more than most of us ever will. My wife’s life has always been split between the island of her ancestors and the wider-world where she now finds herself with me and Gracelyn in Minnesota.

If life, and particularly this last year has been about the journey our family has been on, then I can only assume we’d all be better off if we charted a path together for 2017. Perhaps so many of us are viewing 2016 as a rough year because so many paths divided instead of came together. A hostile election season left many of us wondering what the true values of this nation are while opening the eyes of all sides of the political spectrum with just how divided we can be. The loss of life, from soldiers to celebrities, reminded us of the temporary nature of the journey we’re on together. Together, we mourn and celebrate 2016, and together we count down the seconds late on Sunday night as we prepare to welcome 2017.

My father-in-law once shared with one of his daughters this African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” For many, 2016 didn’t seem to go as far as they had hoped. As you reflect and begin the new year, remember the importance of journeying together in 2017. The peaks and valleys are so much better that way.