It’s almost that time of year, one of my most favourite times of the year. Not Christmas, not my birthday (although I do look forward to my birthday, too), not summer…but New Year’s!
During the first two decades or so of my life, December 31 usually meant going to a service at the church that my family attended and then heading to some friends’ place for food, fellowship, games, a movie. A few years after my move away from the church and my hometown and seemingly everything else that was so familiar for so long, I spent a New Year’s Eve evening wandering by myself through the New Year’s celebrations in downtown Kelowna with a cup of coffee, grateful that a particularly difficult year was almost over and anticipating snuggling up with a book and then sleeping through midnight. In 2015, the Handyman and I were almost a year into our relationship and celebrating New Year’s with new friends. A year or two after that, we sat with a big group at Dakoda’s, ate appies, listened to a country band, and had champagne at midnight. Even during years when I’ve lacked any sort of Christmas spirit and didn’t send out Christmas cards, I still very much enjoyed the process of going to different shops and purchasing unique, sparkly New Year’s cards.
Gone are the days of staying up until 3am or 4am, of making resolutions, of thinking that somehow all the hurts of the previous year will disappear just because the year is over and a new one has begun. Even so, I think there’s something at least a tiny bit magical about the clock ticking over into a new year.
In the weeks leading up to it, I am usually quite well aware that another year will soon be beginning and another year is coming to a close. Around the beginning of November, I print out my work schedule for the following year. Shortly after that, I buy a big calendar to keep on my kitchen table or counter. And in December, amidst all the Christmas festivities and decorations and the inevitable feelings of nostalgia and sadness and the suspicion that much of the holiday cheer is just so fake…well, there’s the promise of a new year just around the corner.
Of course, along with looking forward to the upcoming year, this time of year is often also a time of reflection. For me, in recent memory, there was the end of 2011, which was the year during which I started to transition away from the Christian faith that I grew up with — something that I never, ever imagined would happen. There was the end of 2012, that most exhausting year of a very unhealthy relationship and a move to a new town and an apprenticeship in a funeral home and the challenge of figuring out life outside of Christianity. There was the end of 2015, a happy year. The end of 2017, a year of reunions and a trip to Cuba and new hobbies. And the closing now of 2019.
Undoubtedly, 2019 will be etched in my memory for several reasons, particularly my dad’s sudden death after a heart attack on March 14. The days following his death were a blur, and I was filled with mixed emotions: shock, sadness, relief (I’m the kid — my parents are supposed to pass away before me), curiosity (how would this change my relationship with my mom? my other family members? what would become easier, or more difficult?). As the weeks went on, other thoughts came up, too. Why wasn’t I sadder than I was? Why did the tears stop so much sooner than I thought they would? Had I been having anticipatory grief during the last couple years already, after he’d been diagnosed with other health problems? Our last several exchanges had been decent and I felt at peace with how things ended between him and me, and yet… there were also hurts that hadn’t quite healed. Why didn’t – why don’t – I have an easier time letting go of those hurts and just remembering the good times, as one is “supposed to” do?
There was losing my dad. A big loss, for sure. And there were some of the other losses that we experience in life, sometimes in conjuction with a big loss and sometimes not. In her book “Necessary Losses,” Judith Viorst writes, “[We] lose not only through death, but also by leaving and being left, by changing and letting go and moving on. And our losses include not only our separations and departures from those we love, but our conscious and unconscious losses of romantic dreams, impossible expectations, illusions of freedom and power, illusions of safety – and the loss of our own younger self, the self that thought it always would be unwrinkled and invulnerable and immortal.” The death of someone close to us is a reminder that we’re not invincible. The world keeps spinning as it always has, but we’re a bit more aware that we won’t always exist in it. Life seems a bit more fragile, a bit less predictable.
Other happenings in 2019 were also reminders for me that life and our relationships don’t come with guarantees. The expression “Hard times will always reveal true friends” popped into my head on several occasions. More so than during previous years — perhaps because of my dad’s passing, perhaps because I’m 35 and I’m more aware than I used to be, perhaps because I’ve had a wide variety of relationships by this point – I felt let down by several people in my little world. I’ve learned that some people cannot or do not want to sit in on another’s difficult times. I’ve learned that inconsiderate behaviour often isn’t due simply to absent-mindedness or a social blunder – we all have those moments – but to a selfishness that outweighs another’s needs. I leave the door open for most people, but this year I’ve definitely re-evaluated how much effort I’m willing to put into some relationships. Coming to these realizations can sting.
Yet, there is hope, even after times of loss and disappointment. With those doors being left open and with life being the way it is — unpredictable, full of surprises; the future, a big blank canvas – there is such a wonderful thing as hope. There are, of course, also hopes that are based on things that are not real. After that startling realization hits us, these hopes are crushed. And then what can there be but distrust, disheartenment, despair? For sure. And also, a determination to come up with new hopes, again and again. New plans. Another perspective. An adjustment of expectations. Eventually, the powerful feeling that although you cannot control everything out there, to a large extent you can control your own little world. You can do what you have to do to have peace of mind and no regrets. Over time, perhaps you learn that that will help you face the future, no matter what crosses your path and no matter what eventually falls to pieces.
As 2019 comes to an end, maybe you’ll be somewhat successful in letting go of the less pleasant parts of the year… and maybe not. Maybe it’ll take until July or August or later to fully deal with the hurts, the unhealthy habits, the pain that accompanies the losses you’ve experienced. Fair enough. And perhaps you’re not quite meeting 2020 with big dreams and lofty plans; perhaps, more than anything, the upcoming year looks a bit scary at the moment. Whatever the case may be, my wish is that we can meet each day with at least a bit of curiousity and hopefulness.
And whether you’re celebrating New Year’s amidst crowds, music, confetti, grown-up beverages and whatnot, or working a night shift, or spending it in a deep sleep, I hope it’s a good start to the year.
All the best wishes for 2020!