2014 is at an end. I still have some odds and ends to wrap up despite it being the last day of the year, but on the whole, it’s over. Over the last month, my mind has done its job at reminding me that I need to do this. This is that thing that I do at the end of the year. I sit here at this computer and I write about what has happened, and what I want to have happen. I’ve done this four times now. It’s officially a thing. I don’t have many things like this. I am generally anti-things-like-this. But having a yearly theme has been really good for helping me maintain a focus when I am otherwise a little lost at sea, which is easy to be during the lonely holiday months.
If my tone seems a little off my usual game it may be a result of this being one of the longest, most growingupy years of my life. (Rivaled perhaps by the hellslog that was 2010. Oy.) It might also be a result of spending the last three days blowing my nose every 30 seconds, or being woken by a phone call assuring me that I am facing a few more months of paperwork nightmares from an incident, though almost expired from memory, has suddenly roared back to life like a brain-hungry zombie. In any case, on this new year’s eve, I feel less able to bask in my own bemusement than ever.
What happened this year? I enjoyed excellent health-except for that time I had emergency surgery. I earned more money than I have in a few years-except I had to pay a lot of medical bills. I enjoyed a fair amount of career and academic success-except that I also received a lot of rejection and didn’t achieve the accolades I aimed for. What “honors” were bestowed on me seemed to entail more complications than applause, but I wasn’t seeking applause. So it was fine. I wrestled with some short bouts of jealousy and loneliness, not because of any specific person or circumstance, so much as a persistent feeling of inadequacy, incompletion, or failure of potential. On the whole I feel like I “got by.” And getting by fails to impress me, especially when it’s my life that’s going by. This may be the saddest but more accurate description of why I’ve always dreaded adulthood. Yet here I am, undeniably, A Fairly Capable Adult. (A title as appealing as warm, flat Pepsi. Gross.)
All this is not to say that I am not joyful. I am still able to laughing at my failings and the failings of those around me, and the state of the world generally. I do. Very often. Only now, perhaps, I feel more guilty about it, feel that I might do more about it. There is no pleasure in sarcasm or ignorance left for me.
2014’s ‘Unselfie’ theme turned out differently than I expected. I still took a lot of selfies, a lot of solo jogs and drives. I ate at restaurants and went to movies alone. Lucky woman that I am, I even did fair amount of solo wandering around Europe. There were still a lot of nights when I chose to stay in rather than to go out. I’m still an introvert. The focus of the year was never to become otherwise, just to push myself into more vulnerable situations. I did… I think I did… I tried, I really did.
There were times, especially in the first half of the year when I felt I had simply chosen the wrong theme. 2014 could have been the year of Story. My Unselfie drive lead me to something slightly unexpected. I ended up doing a lot of listening. There were hours, days, and weeks where I felt obsessed with absorbing stories. All kinds of stories: in person, on TV and radio, in the news, in books. Sad, happy, mysterious, angry, peaceful, trivial. All the Whos When Whats and Wheres that make You different from Me. I began looking at stories, fictional, fact, and in-between, like a puzzle.
See, if I could just hear enough stories I would be able to piece the whole world together, make some kind of order out of all the chaotic differences that seemed to divide our communities, country, and nations this year. I want to understand the world, and each story makes up a small part of that world. If I could just hear them all I would understand the big picture. I want to arrange them just so and make them make sense.
As it turns out, stories don’t work that way. Stories are in a constant state of flux. We can hardly know what word is going to come at the end of each of our sentences, let alone how our “story” will end? (That last thought made that last sentence incredibly challenging to type, PS.) I can never really get at the heart of your story. Because always, You are over THERE and I am way over HERE. The words YOU use to tell YOUR story enter MY ears, MY brain, and MY soul flavores YOU with MY life experience. I know who I think you are. I can never really know you, and who you think you are. But stories are our only chance.
Maybe this thought explains why I became so concerned about the telling of my own story and the stories that make me ME. I spent what must amount to entire days of hours alone at my desk researching and typing away at articles, databases, and translations. I traveled thousands of miles and spent thousands of dollars to visit the houses where both my grandmother’s spent their childhoods—one in Los Angeles and the other in Amsterdam. I interviewed family members across four generations. I cross-examined myself. I wrote and read and wrote and read and wondered why exactly did it matter so much to me? Why did knowing where I came from seem so important to who I am now and where I am going? If you want to watch part of what all this study resulted in you can, here:
All these efforts It all felt VERY Selfie, self-serving. But even in the midst, there were lessons in unselfieness. When I was struck down, on the busiest day of my semester, with a sudden illness that forced me to literally call for help there were so many ready to come to my rescue. And when I opened my heart a little to one particularly excellent man, I was rewarded with confidences, kindness, and goodness out of all measure. I traveled and communicated with strangers on trains, planes and buses who were helpful and kind because most humans simply are, even if you don’t speak a work of Polish. What blessings! Vulnerability is power, indeed.
All that was before September. As a refresher, my 2014 goals were to:
1) Do more inviting—to share my time and space with others.
2) Giving more of what I can—financially, emotionally, in all ways.
3) Expend more of my energy doing things that matter.
Let me share a short cut to accomplishing all these goals in just the last quarter of a year for anyone wanting to give it a go: Get called as Relief Society President in a long established, low-income ward.
In a week, done.
Since October I have been a witness to and a participant in the selfless care of hundreds of my brothers and sisters. In a few short months I have prepared meals for families welcoming home a new baby, and for those saying goodbye to a grandmother. I have seen unfathomable generosity from those who I thought had little to share, and grateful acceptance of assistance from those who took no pleasure in asking for help. The trials I see my sisters facing each day, emotional, physical, financial, spiritual—they break my heart. They are meant to break it. There is grace on all sides. Grace for all. Grace in abundance.
Certainly grace for me, as an inexperienced by very willing woman who can’t really make a casserole or jello-salad to save her life. I am learning more about Unselfie than I ever wanted to. I was right, it is hard. Be careful what you wish for.
So on December 31, 2014, I conclude a year of trying, and failing, to live unselfiely with the determination to not give up, but instead to try a new approach: Connection.
More on that tomorrow. Maybe there will be pictures. Sorry.