As 2017 draws to a close, one thing is pretty clear: This last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know. Jason Isbell was talking about 2016 when he wrote these words in “Hope the High Road,” but they couldn’t have resonated more in these last 12 months. It hit hard, right out of the gate, and kept going relentlessly, a perpetual run of the bulls through everything that once felt near and dear. American life has never been anywhere near perfect, but, nowadays, we’re only feeling more and more frayed.
But “Hope the High Road” isn’t just about lowering ourselves into that ditch of depression and disaster; it’s also about the simple act of choosing to keep going, to keep being a better person, to helping others, to taking the high road somewhere greater when everything around us is falling. Isbell’s been a steward to us all through this past year with the songs off The Nashville Sound that are all moments to look at our country’s inescapable patterns, our own personal crutches, and the promise that lies around us — even in the darkest places or death, itself.
So there’s hope, too. And there’s been hope this year, even from the beginning … with millions of people marching for women across bridges and streets in January, to Danica Roen making history as the first out transgender elected official in Virginia, to Doug Jones beating a bigoted, pedophile homophobe in Isbell’s blood-red home state of Alabama. It’s easy to look back on 2017 and feel despair and fear as we approach the falling ball of the New Year. Will things get worse? As Isbell tells us, nothing good ever comes from living life that way. So, when you raise your glass of champagne this Christmas or at midnight on December 31, look into the eyes of another — or just your own — and repeat this wise phrase: “I hope the high road leads you home again.” Maybe it just will.