I brimmed with optimism at the close of 2012, having finished the year in the warm and fuzzy embrace of freshly minted marriage, and with the prospects of a cancer-free future for my father tied to an upcoming bone marrow transplant like a curled red ribbon of hope. The outlook was golden a year ago today, for me, for my family, for my life.
But now, as the last few rays of this setting year are about to be clipped by a calendar horizon, all those spots of joy in 2013 that should be illuminated by sunset’s final shine are lost to shadow. I should feel so satisfied, so blessed to have been able to achieve what I did this year, but no light seems to penetrate the heavy black robes that lurk and lurch around the corner of every memory and at the edges of every photograph.
I finished my master’s degree a few weeks ago, but the sugary sweetness of that achievement is sour on my tongue like Belgian chocolate made with rancid milk. I won an award for my writing, the first formal recognition of its kind, but the Richter scale of my emotions won’t register anything below world shaking fault.
I wish I could dig deep into the swirling mess of stomach acid and nausea to find a good word to say about this year – because there certainly were some great singular events and experiences – but it’s really difficult right now. Every time I stick my hands into the bloody guts of my reality, I find nothing but regret and fear and a whole pantheon of emotions I try so desperately to keep locked in Hades.
But life has a way of perpetually trying to strike a balance, teeter-tottering and see-sawing, sometimes wildly, like a poorly calibrated set of scales. I managed 28 years without any major swings downward. Perhaps, in some incomprehensible twist, the universe is pulling me back to center after nearly three decades of steady climb. Not a wake up call necessarily, as I’m already pretty conscious, but more of a baseline, a level set, a reminder that the bigger the light, the longer the shadow.
In the midst of reeling loss, I got to see the posthumous results of loving deeply, working passionately, and squeezing every drop of wonder out of this lemon wedge of life. And not just well written obituaries and eloquent eulogies, but the full cascade of love that falls down so beautifully in torrents, a person’s passing wake that washes over those left behind to purify, to pacify. I got to literally revel in the echo of a fulfilled soul, remember it, feel it, suddenly appreciate it in a way I never imagined possible when it was breathing and laughing, all corporeal and here and now.
I witnessed something in death that I think is often hidden behind the veil of mourning. I saw how one can reach and effect so many, and what even a fleeting relationship or casual conversation can mean as I connected with people who I hadn’t seen or talked to in years to share memories of my dad. I ate and drank and smiled and cried and in my most doleful moments realized that the best people go out with one last ripple of energy, a wave that brings everyone together not out of sadness, but out of admiration and adoration of a life well lived.
I lost two role models this year, but I gained some perspective. I have some tangible goals for 2014 that I’ll work hard to realize, but those are just pages in an ever-growing book. My biggest goal is to live in such a way that my book is worth reading, and that when you close the back cover and place it back on the shelf, you’ll remember who wrote it, and how much he loved this life, despite how unfair chapter 13 might have seemed.