Ah, New Year’s Eve, that date filled with both remnants of the past year and glimmers of hope for the one yet to come; an arbitrary dividing line we devised ourselves, and yet cling to as if it is written in the stars.
It has been interesting to watch as the end of 2016 approached, as there has been an outpouring of emotion against one set of twelve months that began on January 1 and ends tonight. There have been various reasons for this angst, those anxious to usher 2016 out the door and welcome 2017, and equally as interesting has been the reaction of those who have tried to convince those who declare 2016 an “annus horriblis” that it actually wasn’t a bad year at all.
The thing we seem to forget is that no one lived 2016 like we did. We each have our own experience of this period of time, those moments each as unique as we are, and no experience is exactly similar. The truism of this was brought home to me when 88,000 people evacuated the same city due to the same natural disaster and not one had the same experience.
Just as in that experience, our experience of the past year is unique to us, and no one can tell us whether it was a “good” or “bad” year – it was, after all, 366 days (being a leap year) of our experiences, not theirs.
We have a tendency to tell people how they “should” feel. And the mantra is often: Don’t be sad, don’t be angry, don’t be, heaven forbid, negative. Be happy, be positive – always!
I know the hazard of this approach very well, as after my mother’s unexpected death I denied myself the opportunity to grieve, only to discover grief would then manifest itself as a physical illness that led to months of medical visits, procedures and anxiety, until I finally learned all I needed to do to heal was to allow myself to feel what I needed to feel.
I am so very happy for those who had wonderful years in 2016; for myself, when a friend challenged me to rate it – was it 60/40 good vs bad, 70/30, 50/50? All I could respond is that it was a blur, an entire year in which so much happened both good and bad and happy and sad and entirely unexpected that it makes my chest tighten just thinking about it.
Nobody was with me when I stood in a field and watched my city burning, and nobody was in my car with me when I lived as a nomad for a month, just a travelling band of three confused but committed felines who, through the experience, have bonded to me like glue and can now be found within inches of me at all times.
Nobody but my daughter knows the words I said to her on the phone as I stood in that field, those moments when I was calculating my own odds of survival, and, for the very first time in five decades of life, realized they may be lower than I would like.
Nobody knows how I felt when I was finally reunited with her a couple of days later, my physical survival now ensured but my emotional compass spinning wildly as I began to comprehend what had happened to me and the community I have come to love.
Nobody was in my head for all the other moments, the highs and the lows, the laughs and the tears. Even if they were present, right there beside me, their experience differed from my own.
2016 was my year. And it was your year too.
However you feel about it – happy, sad or indifferent, you are entitled to feel it, regardless of what factors led you to develop those sentiments towards it.
I learned a lesson long ago when my mother died. I will never deny how I feel about anything and try to push those feelings down in order to feel the way others feel or think I should feel; they are not me, and I am not them. I will not tell them how they should feel, because their experience is theirs alone, and I am in no position to judge because I have not lived their lives.
And how do I feel about 2016 in the end? It was not the worst year of my life; it was not the best. It was a year filled with those moments, so many emotions that it would be difficult to capture in something as simple as calling it “good” or “bad”.
It was, in my lifetime, utterly unique, and for that reason alone I find myself strangely grateful to have lived it, because life is about experience, and 2016 was, barring all else, one helluva ride.
As 2017 looms large, I look ahead with optimism, because that is what I do and who I am, the eternal optimist; and I reflect on the past twelve months – 527, 040 minutes – with respect, with reverence, with joy, with sorrow, with happiness, with sadness and with immense gratitude that I was here to live them.
In 2016, one of my favourite Canadian bands played their final concerts. The lead singer, someone I have adored since adolescence, chose to cease performing due to the early onset dementia he suffers. Watching that concert vicariously through friends who were there was another one of those moments in 2016 when the emotions could just not be captured in one word. The band also happens to be responsible for my favourite New Year’s song, a bit dark and irreverent, and yet brimming with enthusiasm and somehow joyful, too.
Your new year will not be defined by this New Year’s Eve, or January 1. There is another entire year ahead, and it too will be filled with those moments – own every one of them, whether they are happy or sad or both of those and everything in between.
Because those moments, my friends? Those moments are life.
Happy New Year – and welcome, 2017. I stand ready for your moments.