So how was your 2016? Yeah, mine too.
2016 felt like I was pushing a cart up a hill and every time I paused to track my progress, I saw I had been going backwards despite my exertion. I was skimming the surface of life, always mentally focused on where I had to be next and never being where I was. It was a year of surviving rather than living. Every time I thought I had a handle on the state of the world or my personal life, another thing would send me reeling. Deaths, medical issues, elections, and the validation of the worst in people barraged me and things only escalated each week as I trudged on. The worst part was that we had to watch person after person abandon their carts because the duty became too hard. People resorted to being selfish and dismissively outraged because the alternative of helping others and having a thoughtful debate was just too hard. Those of us who are not of the give up mentality kept moving, just trying to make it to midnight on December 31st, being tested every day.
Then Princess Leia died. Come on.
There are certain events (and years) that you can’t process all at once. There’s no place to put it all. So you live your life with deferred emotion. Then one day, a song can set you off or a smell on the air reminds you of your burrowed pain. Suddenly you feel something you weren’t ready to feel at the time. It’s like driving 120 miles per hour and hitting a bump in the road. It takes your awareness time to catch up. I’m not ready to experience all the pain and anger that went into 2016. Despair is an emotion that touched me personally in 2016 and I know that flipping over the last page on a calendar doesn’t fix it all. These things linger like the damp in your basement that lasts weeks into spring.
That’s what a lot of people are experiencing right now. There was good in the year too and the worst part of the year for me was looking back and realizing I hadn’t spent the proper time to appreciate it. I don’t mean just a new Star Wars movie good. People that I will love with all my heart hadn’t existed at the start of the year and now they are here or on their way. A lot of scary stuff happened in the world in 2016, but there were acts of goodness out there too that gets lost in the hurricane of madness.
If you’re like me, you let the good in and then slammed the door on 2016 and checked all the locks several times before you felt a moment of closure. Looking around during the first couple of weeks of 2017, we collectively realized that the bad found a way in anyway, didn’t it? Nothing changes just because the year changes. Not really. Still, we fragile humans are nothing if not creatures of hope and a new year begs for change. For me, in the quiet moments as one year changed to the next, I looked back at 2016 and felt that the year itself had been asking us a question.
I got on the bus one day and looked around at a bunch of people staring at Candy Crush and looking all-around-miserable. I saw people cut each other off on my way to work. I saw media outlets fall all over each other trying to tell me how bad things were in the world. I saw confirmations of ignorance and laziness in our society and validations of hatred and bigotry. I’d look at my reflection and I saw a tired man who was barely holding on and not someone who was fully diving into life with the defiance of someone who knows the finite nature of his days. I came home, frustrated and annoyed and scared and tired, but it was a new year so it was a time of dealing with shit instead of running away from it.
So I started to pick apart the tangle of overwhelming issues the only way I knew how. I wrote. I started by writing what was on my mind and I wound up with a list. If your 2016 was anything like mine, then I recommend you do this same thing and be brutally honest with yourself. First, I wrote down the top things that were bothering me. These were the things most sucking away at my energy, my time and my focus. I wrote down things like the parade of terrifying political developments, worrying about my finances and the hamster wheel style of living I had settled into – always reacting and never experiencing. I wrote down what bothered me most about my own personal responsibilities that had exploded in a way I can’t fully grasp yet. These were things that I worried about even during times I was not able to do anything about them. They followed me into conversations on unrelated topics and stoked the fires of my anxiety as I distractedly played with my kids. These things bled my energy like festering wounds and they hurt me to even write them.
I took another sheet of paper and wrote down ten specific things that are the most important to me. I decided that just writing “my kids” was too vague. So I wrote things like: spending focused, undistracted time with my children so they know they are the most important thing in my life. I wrote that I wanted to outrun the fate of my medical inheritance by staying healthy. I want my wife to know that I don’t just love her for her coffee and that she’s not only my spouse but my best friend. It’s important that my friends know I remember our bond is forged from honor and trust and that our brief and sporadic interactions are unworthy of the value we put on brotherhood. The things on my second list use energy and focus too but they create more energy than they take. They leave me feeling stronger and more focused instead of frustrated and tired.
I looked at those two lists and realized to my despair that not a single thing matched between the two. NOT A SINGLE THING. The roar of 2016 quieted enough that I heard now the question 2016 was asking me loud and clear. I heard what I wanted to shout at the people I saw droning their lives away and what I wanted to demand at my tired reflection at the end of a wasted day. I thought back to the events of 2016 that drowned out any aspect of good and turned us all into survivors rather than grand explorers of life. In the end, it was simple:
What the HELL are we doing?
Something stirred inside of me when I asked myself that question and maybe it just did with you too. Because like me, deep inside you is something that slumbers and is sick and god damn tired of the nonsense you see all around you. Tired of letting people get away with laziness, selfishness and bigotry. More than that, sick and god damn tired of your own nonsense. Just SICK OF IT. It’s like a sleepy beast, caged within the confines of the things you “have” to do. Some days the beast sleeps. Some days the beast paces and eyes its captors. 2017 is feeling like a year for testing the enclosure.
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
-Zora Neale Hurston
2016 asked me what the hell we’re doing and I didn’t have an answer. Let’s all make 2017 the year that answers loud and clear. For me, this is the year where the things on list two become my primary list. We can’t ignore the things on list one but we also don’t have to let them take up all our time and energy. We don’t need to let them be all that we have.
Let’s start by remembering that the terrible people of this world don’t hope for us to feel differently. They only hope for us just to stay quiet and inactive. Also, the crises in our lives need to be addressed and not run from, but let’s address them and move on with living a good life and refuse to allow the bad things to overshadow the good that’s right in front of us. All your creative energy should not go to your to-do list. All your emotional reserves should not go to those who have not earned it. Don’t spend your energy hoping things are different. My plan is to make things different as I go forward and then when the time in the day comes to build a fort with two very excited children, I will leave all the real world nonsense on the outside of it. Forts don’t allow real world nonsense (or sea monsters). It’s a rule.
2016 was a reminder that I shouldn’t have needed of how fragile things are both in our society and in my personal life. Things can change in a moment and every day is a gift. The year asked me the question and I intend to answer it. Life needs to be lived all the way.