Some of you know I've been involved in a long-term, life-or-death emergency situation for close to a year now. I won't divulge further, as there isn't much to be gained from braying the details of my quandaries to the high heavens, but so too is there not much use in pretending everything's peachy, either. Things have been somewhat less than peachy.
To call 2016 "sobering" would be an understatement. I don't wish to be so thankless as to name it the worst year ever, though I suppose that could be true from one perspective, but rather the year offering the toughest and most valuable lessons. If certain posts have tended toward the dour, in confronting the ends of things, or being resilient in the face of overwhelming indifference– well, now you know why. I write best through the lens of my own experience (which is how I managed to turn a writeup of a rock concert into a reflection on the finality of death...!).
A recent intensification in my circumstance resulted in my being called away from the route for a period of weeks. As vital as my presence was elsewhere, I noticed I was insisting on a pattern of coming in at least once a week to do the route. Why?
Bus therapy, obviously!
What better way to get out of one's head than to drive around in circles for eight hours saying hi to people? What more superior solution to my self-absorption than direct contact with the full, unvarnished, unexpurgated human spectrum?
The rest of the world's denizens are not supporting characters in the story of my amazing life. They all have concerns equal in gravitas to my own, passions and hopes and regrets. They each have people they hold dear, and visions of who they wish to be. Look at them. In the twinkling eyes of this man, this grandmother, this child… I see echoes of all that is good.
As the man once said:
"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is going through some kind of battle."*
I'm cruising northbound on Rainier, approaching Martin Luther King Way, passing under the grand arching foliage, rows of trees which will likely outlive us all. There's the high school on the right, runners on an open field; a train glides past on my left. People standing outside the laundromat, others walking back from the car wash, the cheese steak shop. Life is in motion. The sum of all this was a gentle whisper, the world speaking through reflections: I may be going through mine now, but they have their tragedies too. We all will.
But those tragedies don't have to be what define us.
We can use what we've gained over the years to power us through these difficult times, rather than letting our miseries dominate our perspective and future choices. For myself, I'm working on being more grateful. I've always been thankful for the fundamentals, like health and a home, but lately I've been noticing more. I missed two buses in a row the other day, each by a hair, and was pretty frustrated about it. Only belatedly did I realize I know people who desperately wish they could be so lucky– to be agile enough to run for a bus and miss it, to be involved enough to be going somewhere that important. I'm grateful for stale food. I'm grateful for the problems of broken heaters, running low on gas, of receiving bills I can pay. That I'm doing so well I can afford to have those concerns in the first place. I'm grateful I can walk.
I wonder if a more accurate descriptor would be to call this year the best year of my life. The one thus far where I understood most clearly what it means to exist, to be and to love, where the moments of happiness were more than ever moments of strength, things we built together ourselves, you and I, out of insight and silence and laughter and reflection and love. That's a gift, and I thank you for it.
*The origin of that quote is complicated. Read here for more.