Sunday, January 5, 2014
What did you learn in 2013?
One of my favorite bloggers recently asked me that question. Well, she didn't really ask me...she asked everyone who follows her blog, but of course, I take everything personally.
I almost didn't answer.
A few years ago, I decided to try to not take the new year hoopla so seriously. I used to journal and reflect on the passing year every December 31, and then plan my entire new year: resolutions, grand changes and plans. I put this inordinate amount of pressure on myself to come up with some really poignant, life-changing stuff. It really was exhausting, and most of the time, it felt completely contrived.
So I decided I would sorta ignore all the hype. I would not make any grand resolutions. The year that had passed was simply another year, just like the one that was coming. I forced myself to approach January first as just the day that came after December 31. Admittedly, at the beginning that was tough. Sorta like when you have an itch you're not able to scratch (say, on the arch of your right foot, and you're wearing socks and boots, and you're driving), and you have to white-knuckle it until the moment passes. That's sorta what it was like. I was worried a Very Important Day was here and I was ignoring it.
But after a couple of years, it started to feel very freeing: no self-inflicted pressure, no overly dramatic ponderings.
So when Lindsey Mead posed that question at the end of her New Year's post, I almost ignored it: "Oh, I don't do that stuff anymore. And really, I don't think I learned anything different or significant in 2013." If you'd been here, you probably would have seen me shrugging, dismissively, as I sat at my kitchen counter in my pajamas, drinking my coffee.
But then I took one second to think about it, and it took no longer than that to realize that 2013 probably ended up being One Of Those Really Transforming Years in my life. I highly doubt most people--even those who are close to me--notice the difference, but there has been a shift in me over the last year.
They say that who you are as a person at 20 years old is certainly not who you are at 35. (Public Service Announcement: Having realized this to be absolutely true, I am a firm believer that if you are going to get a tattoo, you should wait until you're at least in your very, very late 20's. I currently have 7 tattoos, and thankfully, none is a Winnie the Pooh, which is what I was absolutely positive I wanted when I was 23.) I remember when I was going through my twenties, which was a decade filled with the best and worst decisions of my life, tons of therapy, and really growing up and becoming who I was meant to be, my wisest, dearest friend (who happens to be 30 years older than I) would tell me this repeatedly. "You won't change that much from 40 to 50, Liz, but there will be a stark difference between who you were at 25 and who you will be at 36." But now here I am at 41, and I feel some major changes inside myself from just a couple of years ago. These changes, in part, came from the first really big serious life stuff I experienced: my sister's cancer, some financial issues, major friendship break-ups, and watching my children go through the seismic shift from babies to boys.
I don't feel like the same person I was a year or so ago.
It was towards the end of 2012 when I dug through a book I had read months prior, searching for a particular quote from a biography, needing it, finding comfort in it, without knowing at the time how desperately I would turn to it again and again over the coming year and a half:
"There's no real point in mourning all the sadness and suffering in the world....So this is my therapy, to sing about the end of the world and dance. We don't find solutions in despair--we find solutions in the defiance of it....Everybody needs a little horn section." ~Dave Matthews
I had always been one of those people that if anything was "pending" I couldn't be fully happy. It was a futile battle, since those of us who have grown up realize that there is always something pending: bills, schoolwork, a messy house, medical tests, dirty dishes, a necessary but difficult conversation, sick family members, a torturous work project... I found myself waiting for things to be Perfect. Of course, they never are. Whether it's really serious scary shit (like my sister's cancer battle last year) or stupid stressful shit (like a never ending laundry pile), there's always something "bad" to be upset about. I always used to think that I wasn't really supposed to be fully content and joyful unless everything that was pending had been "taken care of."
But then that quote--a quote I had read months prior to actually needing it--did something to me. It made sense. It was one of those a-ha! light bulb moments that is very personal and, really, only the person experiencing it can truly understand its depth and importance. I couldn't solve any problem--big or small, real or imagined--by feeling despair. But I could defy that despair. I could sing and dance, literally and figuratively. I could say "Fuck you" to the problem, to the fear, to the suffering. And then, no matter what, I had won. I had taken that moment in my life and lived it. Really lived it. With horns blaring.
I put that quote up at work by my desk. I put it up on my mirror in my closet where I get dressed everyday. For a while, it was even the wallpaper on my phone. Throughout 2013, when I wanted to huddle up and hide under the covers...when I felt the fear and anxiety and despair seeping in and threatening to take over...I reread it, and it got me through.
My perspective has changed over the last year. I am quieter inside. The infamous noise inside my head doesn't drown everything else out (usually). I stress less. I put more importance on the things that need my attention. I have less time and patience for bullshit--not just others', but my own as well. Somehow, my sister's cancer diagnosis, my little babies no longer being babies, and entering my forties have all combined to make me less fearful of life, but acutely aware of its passing and its opportunities. I want to dance and sing and travel and laugh and explore and grow and love more every day, because I've come to realize that it is my responsibility to do so: I have been given this life...just one chance to get it right...and I want to live it as true to my own desires as possible.
Happy New Year.