“There is no path to peace. Peace is the path.” – Gandhi
Behind the scenes, 2017 has been the hardest year of my life. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of the highest highs and some despairingly-low lows, and now I find myself here in December feeling pretty shell-shocked. Did that really happen? No, really?
I hate to be ambiguous, but I’m not ready to share this year’s story with the world just yet. Perhaps because I can’t find the words; perhaps because it isn’t over yet. In reality, I know there will be an ache in my heart from this year forever. As my husband so eloquently said, “We will never get over this. But we will learn to carry it forward.” So, maybe one day when I’m carrying it better, I will tell the story. Maybe I won’t. Time will tell.
As I approach the end of such a big, transformative year though, naturally I want to try to find some meaning in the mess. There’s always some salvation in that. So, here they are – lessons learned from my hardest year so far:
1. Control is an illusion – aka (really bad) sh*t happens.
Everyone gets this in theory, right? We bandy around sayings like ‘Life is short!’ and ‘Seize the day!’ We watch the news and recoil at the world’s unpredictable horrors. We hear of other people’s struggles and think, ‘Can you imagine?’ But really, we can’t. This year, I finally understood this from the other side of the coin. For the first time ever, I had one of those turning-point, movie moments. The floor really did disappear beneath my feet. I spent a whole hour waiting in a foreign room that felt like one minute. I listened to the traffic drone on outside and felt completely baffled that the entire world hadn’t stopped, like ours just had. Until that moment, I always thought life could never be so cruel, but of course (how could I be so naïve?) life does as it pleases. We are merely passengers. I know that now.
2. It’s okay to feel sad.
Naturally, when life takes you by surprise with something really bloody awful, you’re going to feel shocked and cheated and angry – and gut-wrenchingly sad. I think the sadness is the hardest part. It has a way of eating away at you from the inside out without you really even knowing it, until it rears up and grabs you by the throat again in the most surprising moments. Coupled with the sadness, for me, has been guilt. Because, of course, there’s always someone worse off than you. Who am I to feel sad when this person is going through this, and that person that? But sadness isn’t relative. It just is. And that’s okay.
3. It’s okay to be open about feeling sad.
I have never been much of a crier. This year, well, I’ve certainly made up for that! I’ve cried in front of family and friends. I’ve cried walking down the street. I’ve cried in my car. I’ve cried in a busy shopping centre while people shopped frantically all around me, completely oblivious. Before, crying always felt a little bit indulgent and unnecessary. This year though, the tears washed up and over like a tide, often before I even knew they were happening. One day, I was walking with my sister on a quiet bush track. With each gravelly step, I tried so hard to be brave and positive, to push it all down and reassure her I was okay. And still the tears broke through. She simply held me under the swaying branches in silence. It was okay. I was okay. In fact, this experience has opened up a whole new chapter of vulnerability and connection with those I’m closest to. And that has been a surprising gift.
4. You are stronger than you think.
Even in the depths of sadness, there is strength to be found. I’ve been told a few times throughout my life that I’m strong, but truthfully I never really believed it. This year, beneath the characteristics that have often made me doubt myself – the shyness, anxiety, deference – I discovered a deep, rounded resilience. An ability to keep going. To hope. To somehow laugh even in the midst of despair. This resilience has carried me through some impossible moments this year. In retrospect, I can’t believe I survived them – but I did. And I’ll never doubt that strength again.
5. Dualities are a part of life.
Perhaps the hardest thing to get your head around is the both-ness of it all. Loved ones ask me, “How are you?” And honestly, I don’t know how to answer. Sad, but strong. Shocked, but accepting. Angry, but grateful. Will I ever feel just one thing again? Probably not. As Cheryl Strayed said on a recent ‘Dear Sugar’ podcast, “When you’ve been through loss, happiness is always complicated.” That’s how things feel – complicated.
6. And yet, life is worth living.
When things fall apart, when the breath is knocked from your lungs and you find yourself sobbing on the bathroom floor Eat Pray Love style, what remains? The simple, maddening joy of being alive. To live, learn, experience, try again. To hold on to each other and do it together. Yes, that.
I’m proud of myself for surviving this year. For holding it together and putting one foot in front of the other when I could have fallen in a heap. For being honest with myself and others. For somehow still seeing the good. And, perhaps for the first time ever, simply surrendering to the universe. What will be, will be. I’m proud of my husband too. That’s another thing I’ve learned – together, we can do anything. There’s a real peace in that.
So, here’s to a better and brighter 2018. I’ve never been more terrified or more hopeful.
Bring it on.