We now enter the time of year when it seems everywhere, everywhere, people are heartily wishing 2019 a swift “Fuck off.” And who can blame them? I certainly don’t. They’re entitled to shake the dust of struggle and heartache from their feet.
I used to feel the same, but something has shifted in my emotional landscape. I don’t think you need to be grateful for pain that knocks you sideways or makes every day a gauntlet. And the older I get, the less I believe in the adage “Everything happens for a reason.” All I know is, everything happens. That’s it. Good, bad, mundane, heartbreaking, beautiful, infuriating, mystifying. One cycle around the sun is just an arbitrary measurement. It’s not so much the passage of time that matters to me as the experience of it.
I’ve always associated New Year’s Eve with celebration.
When I was a child growing up in Hawaii, the welcoming of the New Year was serious business. None of this mainlander-style appetizers and cocktails business. In my culture, if you’re throwing a proper party, you need provisions that will sustain you and your guests for a week. This actually came in handy the year that flash floods, brought on by torrential seasonal rains, made the lone highway leading to our part of the island impassable for days. Folks ended up having to stay until the waters receded. We still sent them home with leftovers.
Flooding or no, my mother always laid in vast quantities of food for the New Year’s Eve celebration. Some she outsourced to local establishments: manapua, baked and steamed, from Char Hung Sut; guava chiffon cake from Liliha Bakery; fried noodles (you eat noodles for luck and longevity), Chinese chicken salad, and crispy gau gee from Lung Fung. Other dishes she’d make: 7 Layer Salad, Midnight Surprise cupcakes, and Soupa Assado, a casserole which was likely a bastardized version of a dish brought to Hawaii by Portuguese immigrants. It was made with ground beef, chicken, linguica, macaroni, shredded cheese, and green olives, over which we ladled tomato soup from a huge tureen that we only ever brought out for this specific purpose. If we were lucky, an auntie brought Hawaiian food: kalua pig, lau lau, poke, poi.
The last night of the old year was about family, friendship, and fullness. I never thought about resolutions or failures. We were just marking the beginning of a new cycle.
Oh, and did I mention the fireworks? The sky would be alight with rockets launched from driveways and backyards. They bloomed into gorgeous, fiery showers that hung against the celestial backdrop before drifting to earth. There were the ones that spun like tops, leaping and dancing on the asphalt, and the strings of 10,000 firecrackers dangling from light poles, waiting to be burned at 11:59. Afterward, the air would be so hazy with gunpowder you could barely see across the street, and the sidewalk was covered with the exploded wrappers. Lucky red paper carpeted the ground like flower petals.
I loved this joyous destruction that ushered out the old and welcomed the new, with a hope for prosperity and good fortune.
The last few years have been full of pain and knee-buckling grief. Cancer. The death of my mother. A bout with depression so thick and dark it seemed I might never find my way out. It would make sense if I wanted to slam the door and not look back. And yet…
I find myself unwilling to condemn, reject, or otherwise turn away from the hardships and fuckery of the dying year. Why? Because I didn’t just survive those experiences; I lived them. In the midst of the shit, I found moments to laugh, sometimes literally with tears still wet on my face. I noticed beauty. I was thankful for a hot cup of coffee or a kind text from a friend. I managed to do meaningful work. If I think about it, I realize I spent more time actually living than I did simply dog-paddling. That ordinary goodness deserves to be acknowledged.
Every year, I learn more about myself – the good and the cringey, what my limits are, what I’m capable of, how better to love myself and others. I learned that the right meds (finally!) make a difference, and since I’m privileged enough to have them, I should take them so I can be a healthier human. I learned that I still have a long way to go with regard to patience and acceptance, and that I’m at my most reactive when I’m feeling ashamed or defensive. I’m better about asking for help. I’m better, though still woefully imperfect, at letting go. I really need to stop comparing myself to others, though I do catch myself more often now.
I don’t know what this next cycle will bring, but I’m here, and you’re here, and we’ll enter it together. That’s what matters.