Like many of you, I’ve been reflecting on the past year and trying to identify the meaningful happenings that define it, but the checklist is eluding me. The pervasive lists out there and essays with titles like “Top Ten Best of 2014 “ or “Five Things to be Grateful for” tempted me to put together my own list, but the process of doing so somehow diminished it.
Can we really reduce our gratitude – our lessons and discoveries – into a tangible check list, or is our growth and revelations, the momentum and proof of our accomplishments, way more nebulous than that?
In the last twelve months, I reveled in my first year of marriage and newly-wedness. My husband suddenly contracted a rare life threatening illness only four months after our wedding, putting him in the hospital for eight frightening days, thrusting us decades forward into the intimate “in sickness and in health stage” of marriage. I found myself turning towards God, and excavating a strong faith like a precious diamond I had buried. I graduated into year four of a job of shifting shapes and responsibilities and embraced it. My eleven year old dog, my furry child who I’ve raised since she was ten weeks old, is thriving despite her white lumpy self. And my parents and sisters and I are closer than ever, maturity gracing us with an appreciation that we lacked (or at least I did) when we were younger (and brattier).
I began – and completed – the first draft of a memoir, a daunting undertaking, beneath the weight of which I almost buckled, but in retrospect is inextricably woven into the ever changing and expanding fabric of who I am and who I’ve become.
And finally, as the last twelve months have passed, time has passed too, and so of course, me – and my ovaries – have gotten older. As I sit here writing this, for a moment I hesitated dropping the F bomb (fertility) into this public forum (“Is there nothing sacred?!” the tiny but loud voice in my head admonishes), but if I didn’t mention my desire to have children (the topic of an essay I had published five years ago), then I wouldn’t be owning my biggest accomplishment of the last year: Truthfulness. Authenticity. Writing about the thing that we shy away from, the thing that scares us to look at in the face and take it apart, piece by piece. It’s not about narcissism or self-absorption. If you’re a memoirist, a blogger, or a writer of non-fiction, you recognize this as a compulsion to seek out the tiny embers in the fog, to illuminate the truth nuggets in the chaos. To connect the dots between the seen and unseen, between the past and present, and perhaps in doing so, you connect with others too. As Dani Shapiro writes in her inspirational memoir, Still Writing, while referencing Jayne Anne Philips’ essay on writing, whether you’re writing war reportage or memoir, “We have taken in way more than we know, more than we understand, and we write in order to find out: What’s true? What happened? How can it be? And what can be done?” She goes on to describe the struggle to capture authenticity, and how “a writer who is afraid of her own subject – whatever it may be – is a frozen creature, trapped in the inessential. Diminished.”
So if I had to encapsulate the last year, I’d call it “My Year in Memoir.” The year in which I learned to honor my past, to honor the darkness as much as the light, to examine it and hone it, to literally put it out there fearlessly (most of the time…okay, some of the time. Okay fine, it’s scary as hell). This was the year in which I recognized, and pushed through, the discomfort that comes with owning my imperfections rather than running from them, and the growing pains that come with it.
I didn’t take or resolve to take any visible external risks. I didn’t make a new year’s resolution to jump out of an airplane or party like it’s 1999. The risk perhaps, is an emotional one. The emotional risks we take are disguised from view, as are their rewards.
I resolve to do more of that in 2015. As Brené Brown says: “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Wishing you a year full of health, gratitude, and honesty.