There was a moment, just about two weeks ago, when what remained of my belongings were spread across the living room floor.
Something about the forest and the trees. And not seeing the one through the other.
I don’t know how to write about this last year. Or how to talk about it. Or even if I’ll make it through what’s left of it.
I laughingly tell people that this has been the worst year of my life. And once I explain--provide details and facts and a timeline of events, we all sort of look at each other wide-eyed and chuckle in that nervous way that sits at the back of the throat. Because, well, yeah, it’s not been good.
The worst year of my life. Which is true, but only in the short term. Because, really, this will not be the year I look back on when I’m old and at the end of my life (should I be so lucky) and recount as a way of detailing loss and desire and pain. My humanity wasn’t revealed in the muck of this year, more my durability.
A year of very specific lessons. And some quite expensive ones.
But so many of the mistakes I now find myself glancing sideways at and wondering if they weren’t actually blessings.
Not-good-things in service of better-things.
I saw Lydia this past Sunday. She took my photo one of those first weekends in January. It was so cold and a few specific things had already gone wrong, but we laughed and sipped lattes and talked about all that had changed and all that was now good, and how all-that-is-now-good almost always rushes in after all-that-is-really-really-not.
This go round, these eleven months later, I met her at my favorite West Village haunt, collapsed onto the seat across of her and began to well up.
Oh Lydia, this year! I exclaimed. Begging forgiveness, immediately, for being tired in that way that sees my mind slipping off the back edge of a cliff and into the ocean below.
But it felt important to bookend the year. To finish it, in the same way it had begun. I wanted to see what was on the other side of the lens. Wanted to see if the last ten months were made visible on my face, for better or for worse.
I own so little now. Got rid of so very much. Bed bugs will do that. Cast everything in a new, very harsh light. Suddenly so much was extraneous.
And so I whittled. And so a week into twenty-nine, I quietly let go of nearly everything I own.
Which isn’t totally true, but is true enough.
Less. Less stuff. Less pretense. Less pretending
At every turn this year I’ve had to ask for help. To say things out loud. To reach in the direction of the open hands around me. And I’ve been so lucky to be met with so much generosity. Offered apartments, opened homes, ten lattes at my very favorite shop, encouragement when I felt I least deserved it.
But asking for help costs something. Is not easy to do.
I ran into a friend on the subway recently. A man I know only a little, but enough to say that he is good and kind and better than most. And standing next to him, struggling with my purse and my coffee and the incessant leak of my left eye, he turned to me, Do you need help?
No, no, I casually brushed him off.
But the thing was, I did, and so I took a breath and turned to face him, Actually, yes, can you hold this?
And as I stood there, adjusting my bags and wiping my eye, I watched as he placed the lid back atop my coffee.
It was such a small gesture. And yet. And yet and yet.
I didn’t have to ask for him to do it.
I didn’t have to ask for help in that moment. It was offered freely.
And it took my breath away.
I think of Johnny Cash, how when asked for his definition of paradise he said, This morning, with her, having coffee.
When asked for his definition of paradise. Not happiness, paradise.
A returned coffee lid, an extra set of hands. A lifetime of not always having to ask.
There is so much to look forward to.
There’s a Dear Sugar Essay that I constantly go back to. Essays, really. But in this moment there is one that I’m thinking of:
Perhaps the good that can come from this terrifying experience is a more complex understanding of what God means to you so the next time you need spiritual solace you’ll have something sturdier to lean on than the rickety I’ll-believe-he-exists-only-if-he-gives-me-what-I-want fence. What you learned is that your idea of God as a possibly non-existent spirit man who may or may not hear your prayers and may or may not swoop in to save your ass when the going gets rough is a losing prospect.
So It’s up to you to create a better one. A bigger one. Which is really, almost always, something smaller.
What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah? Would you see the miracle in that?
A bigger one. Which is really, almost always, something smaller.
This morning, with her, having coffee.
A lid replaced.
Something smaller. Something less.
Less in service of the more.
A really terrible-no-good-very-bad-year in service of a better ever-after: a simpler one.