Be careful what you ask for, so the old saying goes. I couldn’t wait to get out of 2016, counting down to the last day of what I thought was the worst year I’d ever experienced. Wrong. Like so many other people, I feel as though I’ve spent the last year trapped on a bad ride unable to land on solid ground. From worrying about the threat of war with North Korea and a spreading neo-Nazi movement, to witnessing devastation from category 4 hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the painful birth of a movement fighting sexual harassment, the last 12 months have demonstrated an important life lesson — bad can always get worse. Be careful what you ask for.

But in the words of novelist D.H. Lawrence, “We have got to live, no matter how many skies are fallen.” But how to keep from sinking into a depression while approaching a New Year that many of you and certainly I can reliably predict will likely have a lot of fallen skies? Frankly, I couldn’t figure out a calming strategy, one that would keep me from falling back on counting down the days in a feverish attempt to put 2017 behind me.

So, I turned to history and the legacy of the thousands of enslaved people who had even more at stake in the waning hours of Dec. 31, 1862. Legally, they were the property of slave owners in the South — pawns in the midst of the young nation’s Civil War. They were also standing on the precipice of claiming their African-American heritage, one guaranteed by a document to be signed by President Abraham Lincoln on New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 1863. They gathered together wherever they could — enslaved and free — to await news that President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation. The president actually approved the edict in September, but held off signing it until there was a Union victory. They watched and waited through the night to receive the priceless gift of freedom — a legal freedom that many thought they would never see. I am humbled by their strength and faith at a time when all they could hope for was a New Year that held the possibility of better times.

That night of watching and waiting became a communal tradition known as watch night, a New Year’s Eve service still celebrated in African-American churches across the country.

As midnight came last night, watch night celebrants gathered much like their ancestors did that December midnight 155 years ago.

As for me, I watched the ball drop along with the millions crowding New York’s Times Square, and welcomed in this first day of 2018 without any expectation that what’s coming will be better — and a fervent wish that it won’t be much worse. Bring it, 2018.