I remember this time last year, knowing full well that a number on a calendar has little to do with life’s actual ebbs and flows, yet still feeling a sense of relief. The year had been difficult in many ways, not the least of which was losing my dad. I thought, naively, that I had become an expert in loss. I thought that losing three dear friends and my father in a short period of time meant that I had quickly excelled at adversity university, and was eager to share my wisdom. What I didn’t know, at least not on a deep level, is that no matter how many books, teachings, or trainings are out there, understanding death is as impossible as counting grains of sand.
The stories we create are all we have in the end. Science has helped us have a more consistent narrative, but questions of a more soulful nature, cultivated by religion, philosophy and mysticism, remain disparate and vast. Sayings like, “time heals all wounds,” and, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger,” make for nice bumper stickers, but in the throes of grief, you might as well try to fix a bullet wound with a band-aid. Generally speaking, people who’ve experienced loss know this, and those who haven’t typically have the best of intentions. But the words from people who aren’t afraid to ask hard questions, or the laughter from friends who like your morbid humor, or the hands of those who will just sit with you and cry, those become the real opportunities for healing.
Navigating your own feelings, while also trying to remain sensitive to those of the people around you, is an art. I feel essentially in the finger painting stage, but at least I’m learning to embrace the mess. This also means embracing the reality that no one else is responsible for my feelings, nor what I choose to make meaningful in my time here on earth. When we go to sleep at night, when we look at ourselves in the mirror, whatever cliché you want to use, all we have is our own experience and the opportunity to honor our truth as we see it.
The world is filled with traps and persuasive distractions from truly knowing ourselves. Whether it’s ways to numb our feelings, satisfy our existential longings, or worship our deepest fears, our culture perpetuates materialism much more than it supports internal growth. For some reason — call it karma, call it luck, call it stubbornness — finding answers to the impossible questions remains one of my highest compulsions. And the more I find answers, or seek to be at peace without them, the more humbled I am at what such an undertaking truly requires.
2017 provided little relief in the way of challenges. I saw acts of disloyalty, destruction, and general awfulness enacted on me and my closest friends. I saw the media reach new lows in its dishonor and irresponsible reporting of important events. I saw social media provide a venue for some much-needed rallying cries, but I also saw it become reality quicksand, swallowing any hope for civilized, productive discourse. I have rolled my eyes, shaken my head, and used humor to cover my feelings of hopelessness on more than a few occasions. Heading into 2018, I don’t necessarily feel wise or hopeful about the world being different, but I do feel I’ve created a small space inside me that remains at peace, even if the world is not.
I feel a deepening gratitude for the people in my life, even those who have been less than kind. I feel ever more appreciative for what it takes to walk the high road, and what it means to show up for what you believe in. I’m no longer looking for the new year to provide relief. I can only hope, no, pledge, to be a stronger, better version of myself as I venture into new territories and stormier weather. Thank you to everyone who has entered my life, re-entered, or stood by me in times of struggle, it means the world to me. No matter what your struggle, I hope you find a place within yourself to feel compassion for the failures, to embrace the mess, and love the shit out of the people around you.