“Every last one of us can do better than give up.” —Cheryl Strayed
Looking back at 2016 with gratitude and ahead to the New Year with optimism.
Before you jump to any conclusions — I’m not crazy — 2016 sucked! I’m not going to rehash all the reasons why, because we all know why, and we’ve talked about it around the virtual, social media water cooler from glasses half-empty for the past year and more. As we’ve all been reminded by a quote from Albert Einstein (who knew he was the first to say it?), “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Instead, as I look back at 2016 and ahead to the New Year, I’m going to drink from the glass half-full. To do that, I choose to remember with gratitude the things and people in my life that helped sustain, support, and comfort me, and in a larger view, the actions and accomplishments of people who made a difference in our world. When I raise my half-full glass to toast the New Year — don’t worry family and friends it will be alcohol-free — I look ahead with resolve to move forward and contribute to change. We have a lot of work ahead of us — and we can do it together!
A disclaimer: I know that in the scheme and scope of things, I’m lucky. I have a family and friends who love me, a job that helps pay my bills and employs my skills, a home that shelters and protects me, food in my kitchen, my health, and a belief in a power greater than myself, which I can’t define in words, but know deep in my spirit that I’m buoyed when I have a dark night of the soul.
Looking Back with Gratitude
2016 as most of my readers, friends, and family know, began with loss. My mother died in January, 10 days after my birthday. The last day I talked with her was just before she was going to be released from the hospital. She was tired. My mother was tired most of her life, yet she always marshaled on and did the next thing. That day, after I talked with my sister Kelly and father as they were handing her the phone, her first response was, “Tell Linda I’m tired and I’ll talk to her later.” Then just as quickly, being the nurturing mother that she always was, concerned about one of her children, she changed her mind and told them to hand her the phone. We talked briefly, I asked her how she was doing, she asked the same of me, and we said our I love yous and good-byes. Grateful.
One of the gifts of loss and mourning is learning who are the people in your life who love and support you — and show up. Some show up in person, others find the right words at the right time, some people know the importance of being still and silent and the comfort of a hug or a shoulder to cry on. In the midst of all the loss, both my family and I realized how much both our mother and we were loved.
For me, this was the first of many changes this year, which I’ve written about in detail in this blog. I began collecting Social Security and Medicare, I made decisions to reduce living expenses, I moved into more affordable housing in a walkable neighborhood, turned in my Mercedes-Benz work lease, and leased a Mazda. Next, I tackled new technology. First, my cell phone provider stopped supporting my 2G flip phone and in September got my first Smartphone (just this past week, I finally learned how to answer a call — yes, I’m laughing at myself). My nine-year-old laptop with Windows Vista gasped its last breath and after purchasing a new laptop, I began a renewed relationship with Geek Squad agents, and recently before the holiday, I had a conversation with my employer about my future, how long I intend to continue to work and when to transition from full to part-time.
What’s important to me, what I’ve learned from the experience, is that I had agency, the ability to choose and make decisions, not always about what happened, but how to respond. Wisdom is an interesting phenomenon, it’s the cumulative experience of a life lived, mistakes, regrets, and lessons learned, gratitude for the good stuff, for people, and love, and for making a difference in the lives of others. Yes, my glass is half-full.
While all this day-to-day, mundane living was happening, concurrently there was tragedy and death, wars and terrorism, refugees seeking asylum, families looking to find jobs, feed children, and provide healthcare, immigrants searching for a better life, shootings of innocent people of color and police officers, and a presidential election.
For over a year many of us were engaged in observing and commenting on the campaign, first watching the circus of the Republican candidates’ debate, followed by the drama and infighting in the Democratic Party, the divide between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and their supporters, thinking outside of the beltway or more of the same. In the end, Trump became the Republican nominee and Clinton the Democratic candidate.
Some of us, including this writer, couldn’t get enough campaign news; I obsessively watched talking heads and “political experts” debate and defend their candidates and sound bytes, I read social media every morning while drinking my cup o’ joe, and basically added an extra dose of caffeinated anxiety to my day. Oh my!
We all know the outcome. Many of us, regardless of how we voted, are now questioning our choices and grasp of reality, vacillating between denial and despair, or passionately and desperately defending our point of view and values. We’re afraid of what’s ahead in the New Year, how our lives may change — and not for the better. It would be easy to lift a glass this last day of 2016 and see it half-empty. Instead, I’m going to move forward with optimism.
Looking Ahead to the New Year
This is where you may be questioning my sanity. You may ask, “How can she be optimistic?” It’s simple. I’ve watched people galvanize for change, plan actions on the local, state, and national level. We’re becoming an engaged electorate. We’ve been a sleeping giant too long and now because of this rude awakening we’re reminded that a democracy is a participatory process and we better step up and act now!
As a second-wave feminist, my rally cry has always been the personal is political. The presidential election and the shit storm that influenced the outcome and now threatens our future, is further evidence that the political is personal. The writing on the wall by the new regime is that if we don’t do something — and do something now — the quality of our lives will be diminished, our rights and protections lost, and our pockets picked.
Again, this how I see the glass half-full, people are talking, organizing, rallying, and marching. As Elizabeth Kubler-Ross taught us, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. What typically follows grief is action, a decision is made to either move forward or remain stuck in the past, frozen in place.
I offer these quotes from Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild, and affirmations from her book, Brave Enough, as toasts to consider for the New Year. Our glasses are half-full and you are all warriors, waging peace and love.
Happy New Year readers, family, and friends for being on this path and journey with me. I’m grateful.
“The thing about rising is we have to continue upward; the thing about going beyond is we have to keep going.”
“We don’t reach the mountaintop from the mountaintop. We start at the bottom and work up. Blood is involved.”
“Ask yourself: What is the best I can do? And then do that.”