2016 arrived brimming with possibility. Changes were afoot. Love was blooming. The career was stable. As a result, my creativity soared, and I had lofty aspirations for the new year.
Given so much promise, I see no way to describe the results as anything other than tragically disappointing.
There were highlights, of course. I visited friends in San Francisco. I attended a few concerts. My daughters are healthy and succeeding in all their endeavors. I traveled with them to New York City to see the musical Hamilton before the original cast departed. We ate breakfast at a diner and skirted Central Park. They loved it.
I attended Game 5 of the World Series at Wrigley Field, witnessing the first and only Cubs World Series victory in Chicago since 1945. The Cubs went on to win it all, and Chicago cheered, and Chicago wept, and a century of waiting gave birth to a moment of cross-generational bonding rarely cataloged in the annals of modern American history. Even my parents celebrated, and they are White Sox fans.
As I said, highlights.
On the sentimental side of things, I bid farewell to the house where I’d lived the past thirteen years. The move was much-needed and long-awaited, but it carried loads of emotional baggage, and I can’t call it a happy event. Mostly, it was a necessary step to eliminate a few of life’s complexities.
Likewise, this was the year I began to feel the aches of growing older. It felt as though my body’s warranty had expired the day I turned 40, and everything suddenly needed repairs. Chest pains, back pains, side pains. For the record, if you’re starting to feel old in your 40s, visit a cardiac unit at the hospital. They’ll treat you like a baby and constantly tell you how young you are. It’s wonderful.
Where then does all go wrong?
Love. It’s always love that kicks you in the ass.
I began the year hesitant but excited at the prospects of a budding new relationship with a woman I’d met years earlier. I am too slow to trust my feelings, though. Maybe this is unsurprising after a lifetime of disappointments, but it didn’t help matters.
I end the year hurt, sad, frustrated, and disappointed, but very much in love. And very much alone. I won’t go into more details than that. She made a decision she felt she had to make, and out of respect I try to respond with kindness. I only hope my kindness never translates as disinterest.
There’s a certain type of despair that can accompany kindness. When you lash out to express your frustration, or you beg and plead in a desperate attempt to change someone’s mind, the depths of your passion and concern and pain are evident, but they can be disrespectful. On the other hand, when you step back silently, hurting, fighting to contain and control the fiery emotions, hoping to demonstrate understanding, you worry you might seem cold and indifferent when nothing — NOTHING — is further from the truth. Few things are as emotionally tormenting as the fear of being misunderstood, but being intentionally hurtful or disrespectful to someone you love tops them all, and so you work to avoid it, because the release is purely selfish. Sometimes you hold it in. Sometimes you fail. Always it torments you. This can lead to despair, and to anger.
I find I write wonderfully when I’m angry. There’s a rhythm and poetry to the words when you don’t care who they might hurt, but there is also venom and vitriol and an endless supply of selfishness.
I’ve written hundreds of angry and emotional notes to myself the past few months. They can be thoughtful musings I don’t want to forget. They can be well constructed phrasings I hope to eventually use in more productive ways. They can even be lengthy manifestos I piece together during long hot showers. But, recently, they are almost universally angry or sad.
You can learn a bit about yourself when you go back and read such notes. My old professors would say we write most convincingly about the ideas and feelings with which we have the most firsthand experience. It’s sobering to realize you write anger and sadness better than you could ever write joy or love. But goodbyes and loss are never easy to write, regardless of how often you experience them.
And that’s how the year ends. With sobering reality and a heartbroken goodbye.
I have no resolutions for 2017. I make no promises. I begin the year not with exuberant optimism or romantic dreams, nor with downtrodden cynicism.
I simply say, “Hello.” And I proceed with an open mind, with subtle curiosity, with a desire to continue learning, and with a repressed sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, there are brighter days ahead.