Tomorrow night we say goodbye to 2017 and hello to 2018. I think I’m ready for that. This year has been a butt-kicker, but it has also had some surprisingly good things in it. Patrick and I went to Ireland and England, and I found a sense of home in Ireland I never expected and have never experienced elsewhere. A few years ago, losing my job would have undone me; this year, though, it was exactly what I needed. Patrick and I added a puppy to the Thornphy family, and she has been delightful and fun and only a mite annoying.
Back to that butt-kicking, though. When 2010, the year Shaun committed suicide, turned to 2011, I felt such relief. I needed to be out of 2010. It had brought so much pain, grief, anxiety, sadness. The calendar needed to say 2011, something new, something potential, something refreshed. This year, though, I’m less willing to rush 2017 away. I think this is Patton Oswalt’s fault. His wife died unexpectedly in 2016. He’s written and spoken a bit about his grieving process in a way that’s candid and genuine. One of the things he said was that he really struggled when 2017 began and it was no longer 2016. He said that in 2016 his wife was still alive; she had been a part of that year. But in 2017, she wouldn’t exist at all or experience it or know it. There was sadness for him in that fact.
I wouldn’t have appreciated that in 2010/2011. But I do this year. In 2017, Ryan was alive for a part of it. He breathed in 2017, if only for a few months; he held his daughter, loved his wife. He was struggling more than any of us knew or were perhaps willing to admit, but he was alive. In 2018, he’s just gone.
The lights on the top quarter of our Christmas tree have gone out. It’s the middle of a strand. I tried to find the faulty bulb, but couldn’t. We talked about replacing the strand with a functioning one, but I didn’t feel like it. Getting the tree up was hard enough this year. The idea of undoing half of the ornaments, unstringing lights, restringing lights, and rehanging ornaments is just too much.
Besides, this year’s tree fits this year perfectly.
I have a somewhat fraught relationship with Christmas lights. Well, I don’t so much. My mother does, and that makes me mistrust them. One year she was so frustrated trying to put the lights on the tree that she wadded up the strands and threw them in a ball on the tree. Her partner had to come over to disentangle and properly string them. I’m fairly certain that was the last year we took down the tree. Instead, we would take off only the ornaments, and mom would take the whole tree, lights strung, downstairs to store it in the basement. Truly, this is a brilliant solution. (Until a strand goes out, but my mom has grown slightly more patient, so restringing them isn’t quite as bad.)
As I turn on the tree lights every morning, I’m reassured. Some of the bulbs aren’t functioning, but most of them are: bright, colorful blips of light. This has been a year of partial nonfunctioning. Between Trump and Ryan and my job, there have been some heavy hits this year, some deep darkness. But in the midst of these things, there has been goodness. Ryan’s death casts a pall over many of my days, but not in a way that Shaun’s death did. I think it would surprise most people to know how heavy Ryan is on my heart and mind. Maybe not; maybe I’m not that good at hiding things.
Regardless, there is darkness, but there is also light. Maybe as I get older I’m just more willing to let these coexist.
I don’t know what 2018 will bring. The temptation to set goals and resolutions is so ingrained in us. Exercise more! Eat better! Be nicer! Do more! Do less! Yes, I have a few things I’d like to work on, a few goals rattling around in my head. But I’m resisting the urge to write them down. Partly because I don’t want to be disappointed when I don’t achieve them. Partly because I want the freedom not to do them. Partly because 2017 knocked me off my feet, and I’m afraid to expect much from 2018 for fear that the same will happen. Ah, yes, there’s something to dig into, huh?
As I write that last bit I’m reminded of a phrase Wangari Maathai used in her Nobel Peace Prize lecture. Speaking of the people of Kenya who fought for democracy, she described them as “stubbornly hopeful.” Perhaps we are all called to stubborn hopefulness despite fear, despite anxiety, despite our histories.
Hmm. I seem to have written myself into a resolution: 2018 will be a year of stubborn hopefulness. May your year be so as well.