Last year, I traveled thousands of miles to realize that it doesn’t really matter where you are – your capacity for happiness doesn’t change, whether you’re on a beach in Central America or in the house where you grew up. I watched the wind of my first hurricane whip past the second floor of my friend’s house on Staten Island, bending towering trees in half, like they were genuflecting to the eye of the storm. I had my first panic attack in the parking lot of a hospital. I handed out thousands of dollars in cash. I went soaring over the jungles of Costa Rica. I got kissed on a bridge in Amsterdam. I watched both my parents become incapacitated and unable to communicate. One recovered, one didn’t. I learned that seven almonds buy you a lot of attention from a squirrel. I lay by the side of the highway next to the Intensive Care Unit, tears running from the corners of my eyes and into the grass.
Driving away from the hospital after saying goodbye.
Last year, I watched New York marathon runners jogging from the Staten Island ferry to Rockaway beach with supplies on their backs. I learned that when the power is out for a week, it’s not the electricity you miss, it’s the heat. I roamed the streets of Manhattan the way I did in college, music pouring through my headphones to create a soundtrack to a city that seemed to expand and contract around me, as my own feelings ebbed and flowed. It was hard to be so far away from my family during that month as my dad was failing and my mom had a concussion from hitting her head on the kitchen floor, but it patched over the gaping hole I felt had been kicked in my chest. Taking that time allowed me be who I needed to be during the last week we spent with my dad. There’s still some guilt there, but I’m learning to trust in my own instincts, to know that I can balance my own needs with those of my loved ones.
On the Staten Island ferry.
Last year, the furrow between my brows – the one that appears when I’m confused or in pain – became permanent. The ridges smooth out when I relax, but they’re always visible now, something that would have horrified my younger self and occasionally still does. That furrow is the physical legacy of my 35th year and my father’s death.
Other things are less visible.
Last year, I learned to sit on my hands when what I really want to do is yell and scream and react. I learned to be kinder to people who lash out, because it stems from their own pain and they’re only really hurting themselves. You’re allowed to feel your feelings, but when you use them as a whiplash to sting others in a desperate bid to make yourself feel better 1) it doesn’t work and 2) now everyone’s mad at you. I learned that being kind to yourself means making healthy choices and other people don’t have to like those choices. I learned that the journey toward death – even when it’s painful and hard and you begin to think that no hell devised by even the fiercest of religions could be as bad as this – can be full of grace. Even joy. Certainly love.
The world is a beautiful place, and I saw more of it. Autumn leaves on Staten Island, canals in Holland, fireflies in Central America. I met and reconnected with amazing people. It was a year of adventure and stuck-ness and great change. It was a year where I further cemented my faith in myself and in the world around me. It was a year where the roots in my heart grew and extended down through my legs and my feet and into the center of the world. I feel like you can’t face death with a loved one without your roots both growing deeper and also disconnecting you from what you previously knew. But where you feel untethered, there are always people to catch you, to be the rubber bumper as your heavy ball hurtles toward the pins. People – friends, hospital workers, folks on Twitter – helped guide my family and me as we picked and spun our way down the lane from my father’s accident to his death.
The second half of 2012 was tough for me. But there was a lot of grace and magic in it too. I’m learning not to be frightened by the tough stuff. Because it opens the door to so many good things. Love. Relief. Growth. Change. Pattern busting. Sinking fully into each good moment – the ones with bikes and color and grace – because they’re worth so much more when what surrounds them is hard. Parties glow with brighter light, tea with friends takes on new weight, and the words that flow through your headphones and into your brain assume fresh meaning. But I got what I needed from 2012. I think the best you can hope for from a year is to love yourself and the world better than you did when it started.
I couldn’t have possibly imagined what 2012 held for me back in January. So I’m letting go of the need to know what this coming year will hold. I want to find an easier forward motion because I tend to go full-throttle and then slam the brakes on myself, which makes for a rather lurching existence. I want more stability and creation and giving. I want to be a better person, a better friend, a better daughter and sister.
Beyond that, who knows? Some things will be good, some bad, some painful, some joyful. But whatever it holds, there will be love and there will be grace and there will be discovery. Before my father died, my brother grabbed his shoulder and said, “I’m excited for you, dad. You’re about to go on an adventure.”
I think that’s what 2013 holds for all of us. So I’m excited. We’re about to go on an adventure.