On New Year’s Eve, the pastor began his sermon as if he were delivering a funeral meditation. Dearly Beloved, we’ve come together to remember the dearly departed … 2017. I bowed my head to bid the year adieu, though truth be told, I felt a glimmer of joy. A sinister kind of joy. You know that little emoji with the sideways smile and mischievous glance … the “heh, heh, heh, I’m up to something” emoji? Yea, that’s how I felt. I’m ready to put 2017 six feet under. Hand me the shovel. I want to throw the first clump of dirt.
It isn’t the year’s fault. It wasn’t a suicide. It was a yearacide. I killed it. And I don’t mean that in the fist-bump, conquering way. I mean I shot it down in its prime. I confess. I’m guilty. Lock me up and make me stare at a bare wall with nothing but a lonely clock ticking away the seconds. It’s been a year filled with nothingness, a void. It’s the first year in my memory that seems pointless. And it’s my fault. It was a year of nothing because I didn’t fill it with something. No life changes. No adventures. No risk. No new encounters. No writing. No real meaning.
I realize how pathetic that sounds (cue violin), but stay with me.
There was some continuity throughout the year. I worked (such that it is), attended church regularly, spent time with friends on a pretty consistent basis, and celebrated holidays and birthdays with family. And there were some losses. Failed job interviews. The deaths of loved ones and friends. Singed confidence and damaged hope. Some good things happened too, of course, but they were largely not of my doing and felt few and far between, so it’s hard to fully take pleasure in them.
I spent too much time alone, a really easy thing to do for a dyed-in-the-wool introvert with social anxiety tendencies. And too much of that time alone was spent doing meaningless things, like watching TV. I rarely even read a book, something I’ve usually taken great pleasure in doing. It just seemed like work to me since my actual work requires a ton of reading. At the end of the day, I just wanted to be swept away into some other realm. And indulging in a good sci-fi story or fairy tale on the boob tube seemed just the ticket for easy escape.
I feel I owe Father Time an apology.
Dear Father Time,
I want to thank you for your generosity and offer my sincere apologies for abusing your resources. On January 1, 2017, you generously filled my chronology coffers with a bounteous supply of seconds, minutes, and hours. Your generosity is truly more than I deserve, considering my lack of stewardship. And yet, I suspect you will fill those coffers again on January 1, 2018, without asking anything in return. Such a selfless gift. But I know what it’s like to give a gift only to learn that the recipient never used it. So, mea culpa.
Your appreciative but undeserving friend
The thing is, the end of 2017 feels like the end of a really long year, a year that lasted about 39 months – a three-year season that was unexpected, unwelcome, and unsettling in many ways, but a time that brought with it some graces and gratitude as well.
A few months ago, I went on retreat with a small group of ladies, some of whom I had never met before. We sat in a circle one evening and shared about our lives – not in any planned or contrived way, but organically and honestly. It is amazing how easy it is to share with others when you encounter the right group of people. The whole atmosphere was one of acceptance and openness. No judgment, no agenda, no advice. Just listening and receptive hearts. I told these willing hearts about the struggles and losses I’ve experienced over the last three years, beginning with the loss of a job, followed eight months later by the death of my father, and eight months after that with the death of a friend and mentor. In the midst of those and other losses, I struggled to redefine my place in the world, seeking out my calling or at least meaningful employment but finding disappointment and uncertainty instead.
The next morning, one of the women approached me and apologized for having gone to bed early, fearing she may have left the circle before I finished telling my story. I hadn’t even noticed, but she had awoken concerned that I might have been hurt. So sweet. She thanked me for sharing and trusting them with my story. Then, she said, with heartfelt compassion, “You’re still grieving.” And I was dumbfounded. Truly, I stood there in shock, thinking, I am?
And I realized, in that moment, that I had not allowed myself the possibility that grief could last that long. Even though my heart and mind know that grief has no timeline, my intellect had determined that it was time to move on and, furthermore, that I was doing a lousy job of it. It was like I had thrown myself into the deep end of a pool with no ladder or set myself adrift in the ocean without an anchor or a paddle. Self-compassion had been left behind on the shore. I can’t help but recall the dream I had after Dad died, in which he told me I would need a boat to escape the flood.
But now, a new year is upon us – that spot on the calendar that we’ve all agreed marks the moment when a fresh start can be had. And I find myself wondering if that might be a possibility.
Last year, on Epiphany Sunday, my church handed out Star Words. We shared communion and, as we walked back to our pews, we were handed a star, emblazoned with a word to carry with us through the year. Now, I’ve indulged in this practice myself for several years, inviting a word to be my companion throughout the year. But this was the first time I had been given a word without offering the invitation. I looked at my word and felt nothing. I guess that should have been a clue as to how my year would go. I put the star in my kitchen windowsill where I knew I would see it every day of the year. I’d glance at it occasionally while washing dishes or peeling potatoes, giving it the opportunity to speak to me. And it tried. Oh, it really tried. But I resisted its every attempt to make contact.
The star’s invitation was Acknowledgment. I’m just noticing that the word is acknowledgment and not acknowledge. A noun instead of a verb. Maybe that’s why I resisted it. Maybe I needed an invitation to act, rather than to notice. But then again, I probably lacked the motivation for action, so perhaps the star knew my only capacity was observation. Of course, I looked up the word, and it has two meanings. The first is “acceptance of the truth or existence of something,” while the second is “the action of expressing or displaying gratitude or appreciation for something.” I guess some action is involved after all.
So now, as Epiphany Sunday and a new Star Word approach, perhaps I’ll attempt acknowledgment. I acknowledge my complicity in my year of nothingness. I acknowledge my grief, my sadness, and my disappointment. I acknowledge the graces and moments of joy that peppered the year. I acknowledge my supportive family and faithful friends who threw me a rope when the void tried to swallow me. I acknowledge my hope that 2018 will be a year of something. And I acknowledge that I’m the only one who can ensure that something happens.
I have a greeting card that I bought many years ago, thinking I’d eventually give it to someone who needed it. Turns out, that someone was me. The card offers a quote from Zora Neale Hurston: “There are years that ask the questions and years that answer.”
Mea culpa, 2017. Thank you for the questions. May 2018 be a year of answers.
Fearless and universal insights… Welcome back Sara…
Thanks, Ralph. Happy New Year!
Your writing is so real, Sara. You spoke the words of many people who could not have done it so eloquently. I wish continued acknowledgement for you in 2018, as well as much peace, joy and love. And I agree…welcome back.
Thank you, Pete.