I had a lot of plans for 2018.
Like, a lot. As in I spent an entire day in early January mapping out exactly what I wanted this year to look like; I identified my goals, planned how I would achieve them. There’s literally a page in my journal where I answered the prompt “This year will be special for me because…” with the answer, “I will MAKE IT SO!”
Well, turns out 27-year-old me was naive and optimistic, because now, one year older and wiser, I know that sometimes you can’t just “make [it] so.” Of course, I certainly tried – I advocated for myself at work and read “productive” books; I tried Orange Theory and played in a beach volleyball league; I carefully allocated my fun time vs. my productive time; I took 3 work trips and 13 personal trips, 4 of them overseas; I prioritized my grandparents, family, friends, wanting to be there for the “big moments.” In June, I even did a mid-year reflection, recognizing the goals I had achieved and renewing my resolve to work towards the rest.
And yet when I look back at 2018, it feels like none of those things mattered. Instead, it feels like the year got hijacked by this giant wrecking ball with “NAH” painted on its side in big fat letters, knocking me off my feet again, and again, and again and again and again, from different directions, in varying magnitudes, with relentless consistency.
I’m not mad about it, though. I have learned that the heart – my heart – is remarkably resilient. My parents, worried with everything that had transpired, started ending phones calls by telling me, “Stay strong.” I found that I didn’t need to hear those words, because I didn’t need affirmation that I was strong, am strong, and will be strong, and simultaneously weak and vulnerable and brokenhearted during the times I needed to be.
Because there’s no denying that there were way too many times this year when I needed to be those not-strong things. There is no staying strong in the grief that comes from the sudden and permanent loss of a close childhood friend. There is no staying strong in the helpless “why”s that permeate daily conversations with those who also love her. There is no staying strong in the pain that comes from video calling a friend in the hospital while she waits to induce her stillborn son. There is no staying strong in the terror of waiting for an ambulance, hoping to shield the baby in my arms from my own pounding heart. There is no staying strong in the devastating resolve of a decision that breaks your heart, a heart that’s been bruised so black and blue that you didn’t think it could take yet another hit.
There was no staying strong in those moments, but that’s the beauty of it: you’re not supposed to stay strong in those moments. And taking the time to live those moments, to feel them for what they are – that’s something I’m learning to love as much as I love feeling strong. I’ve begun to understand that contradictory feelings don’t have to be mutually exclusive, that it is not a zero-sum game of emotions, that you can have both, or all. It is this duality – plurality? – that I think of when I reflect on 2018: it was a year of many, many things and all of them are true, all of them are real.
I spent my mornings earlier this week run-walking by the lake, watching the sun rise and reflecting on the events that transpired this year. I took time to feel everything all over again, remembering images seared into my mind and letting them literally knock the breath out of me, still just as unbelievable and freshly painful as if they were yesterday. I’d then go home and shower, walk to work with music blasting in my ears, mulling over lyrics that hit too close to home. And then I’d walk into the office and be genuinely happy to see my friends at work, appreciating that if it was imperative for me to face the challenges of this fall, that these were damn good people to be surrounded by every day. I would feel happy, I would laugh; I would look forward to meeting friends in the evening. It is not dissonant to be both in grief and in joy, it is not fake, it is not wrong. It is life.
My old boss is always pushing me to think less, feel more; to enjoy the process instead of figuring out all the answers. I tried really hard to plan for 2018, and instead I’ve been forced to step back and live the process, at times even enjoy it. I learned this year not just to lean in, but to lean on, heavily; I learned to have grit but also grief; I learned to appreciate that I am still learning, and that is okay.
A friend shared the below with me a few months ago, and it has resonated so much; I keep thinking these words to myself. Despite everything, I still grow. I am proud of this, I am proud of myself, I am proud of this year, 2018.