This Past Year: Some Thoughts

Here I am, dear reader, wishing you a belated season’s greetings. What a great way to celebrate the New Year: with you! Quite a bit has been happening, which I’m tempted to use as an excuse for my absence, but we both know that writing is the first thing to go when my schedule begins to fill. And I know that it’s no consolation to know that I think of you often, but it’s the truth. I really do.

I’ve had a change in employment since we last met. I now have an office job, which I love, and in turn I’ve once again fallen deeply in love with my life. I learned many things in my previous position, but possibly the most important was how to find things for which to be thankful. That necessary and hard-won skill has carried over and enriched my experience and appreciation for all of the wonderful things I’ve been given. So, here are some of gifts 2014 gave me:

  • A deep trust and reliance on God. This year I surrendered. Time and again when I thought that my heart could not hold any more grief I learned over and over that it didn’t have to—I could let it go. Prayers morphed into meditation that became folded into stretches and exercises that opened my shoulders and chest, which turned into prayers that replenished resiliency and love.
  • My dad. Two weeks ago my dad was declared “cancer-free” by his oncologist. Even before he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I thought he was forever lost to me. Although I constantly prayed for a miracle during his illness, his pancreatic cancer forced me to look at the possible outcomes and actually appreciate what is in front of me. It was in this way that grace found us, healed us, and bonded us together again.
  • The ability to say good-bye to my granddad and my “Aunt” Barbara.
    • As you may or may not remember, my granddad died earlier this year. At the time I was overcome by grief. Nearly eight months later I can honestly say that it doesn’t hurt in a sad way. Rather, it is the ache that manifests from a gratitude this yawning at having known such a common and uncommon, significant man. And even though I could not ask for anything more, I was privileged with more because I was able to attend his memorial where I saw proof that my grief was not just mine. That I saw that the grief was shared made all the difference.
    • This year I saw my Aunt Barbara (who was actually my mom’s aunt, but that’s what I called her) not once, but twice. It was years (probably more than a decade) between the visits this year and the last time I saw her. She also passed away this year about 3 months ago. I was lucky to have seen her and to have felt her warmth and love so very recently. Even though she must have been very sick when I saw her, she rallied like a true champion, and that in and of itself was a very precious gift.
  • Self-improvement. This was the first year I took a deeply scrutinizing look at myself and decided that I needed to (and could) do better. In my quest to “not make the world a worse place” I completely forgot to factor in my family. In fact, I realized that I was treating complete strangers much more kindly and much less judgmentally than I was treating my own family. As Rick Perry might say, “Oops.” Around the same time, I also realized that if I really did want to make the world better by not making it worse I needed to take care of myself (through discipline and organization based on self-directed care and compassion), work on my empathetic listening skills, and determine what it is that I truly value. While most of this was going on, I was also trying to find a way to be now that I was displaced from my former “Needing to Be Super Student” identity. I finally feel like I’m starting to come out of the other side of this particular leg of this particular journey, and the thing that has surprised me the most about all of it is how grateful I continue to feel for every opportunity to do better.

I feel like I’m on the precipice of being able to mine the last several months for material for this project or maybe something else, but I’m not there yet. Quite honestly, I still don’t know what to do with this space. I continue to be interested in ethics, just as I continue to try to re-envision a world that is hospitable to all, but honestly, the news has just been so sad. This is the first time in years that I took a news hiatus and let myself feel not guilty about it. And, the truth is that while I know the value of my voice I don’t feel comfortable chiming in at this moment. Every single item in the news right now is woven out of complexity. We can try to cook things down into slogans we can hurl at one another, but those slogans are only half-truths or full-lies. And often they’re about other people’s—too often even strangers’—lives.

At the end of the day, at least for now, I feel like observing is all that I can commit to. But observing is doing something. In this case it’s just doing something without knowing what the anticipated outcome is yet. That’s a pretty privileged place to be, but lately I’ve been detaching the privilege in my life from the shame that’s always accompanied it. Working on dropping my own guilt has freed me in ways I couldn’t even imagine.

So maybe I don’t have to worry so much about not making the world worse quite so much. Maybe this coming year, I’ll work on making it even better.

Happy New Year.