I thought 2021 was going to be a year for optimism.

Vaccines were rolling out earlier than hoped and it seemed as if we might be looking forward to a COVID-free future by summer. But then the delta reality hit and our summer dreams fizzled as quickly as the temperatures rose.

The racial justice uprising and “reckoning” that held promise in 2020 was met by the resistance of a frustrated, anxious and fearful country as well as the obstinance of centuries of systems designed to keep the status quo in place.

Nearly 12 months to the day later we are still wrestling with the fallout of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and the country is as politically divided as ever.

And now, at the start of the new year and nearly two years after this nightmare started, coronavirus cases are again breaking records — driven by omicron, whose mutations and virulence are abetted by the resistance of the 15% of U.S. adults who refuse to get even a single dose of a vaccine. Can we please stop learning new letters in the Greek alphabet?

It seems hopeful that omicron will bring fewer hospitalizations and deaths thanks to those who did get vaccinated and due to the nature of omicron, but weary health care workers had already had enough long ago

The mental health impacts of all of this are terrifying, with deaths from despair — like in the form of tragedies like overdoses — breaking their own terrible record.

So where can we find hope amid all this misery?

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Since the passing of Archbishop Desmond Tutu last week, I have been revisiting his writings and reflecting on the lessons he left us.

As we face what can seem like insurmountable challenges, what can we learn from a relentless champion for justice and peace who fought successfully against the entrenched forces of apartheid?

One of the things Tutu taught us in his fight to end apartheid in South Africa is that being paralyzed by hopelessness is not an option for people of conscience. “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness,” he said.

No matter where you stand, he said we all have a role to play. “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

And doing that bit of good on behalf of those who are most marginalized — when it’s the least popular — is what creates the conditions for change. In reading about Tutu’s life, I was struck by how he stood up on behalf of LGBTQ+ rights in the face of opposition and lack of popular support. He was not afraid to stand alone and did not let religion or an ahistoric view of tradition dissuade him from a just path.

Tutu said at the launch of the UN’s Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town, “I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place. I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”

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One of the biggest reasons for hope in 2022 is that we have the rare opportunity to reassess the ways our society was not working for all of us and start to make long-overdue, systemic changes so we can all survive and thrive.

As we see our health care system pushed past the brink, could we finally address how the profit motive entrenched in our system is hurting our collective health and causing unnecessary pain and suffering — especially for the most vulnerable? With teachers and front-line social service workers deciding the low pay for grueling work is not worth it, could we finally decide that they are the essential workers we should be paying a premium for? And can 2022 be the year we finally recognize that child care is a crucial part of our nation’s infrastructure?

As Tutu said so beautifully, “There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

But I think the biggest lesson Tutu left us with is to have principled struggle with one another, struggle grounded in truth and fearless honesty in pursuit of reconciliation, justice and healing. Struggle that creates change, and change that brings hope.

“Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong,” Tutu wrote in 2004. “True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”