I haven’t written a reflective end of year post in ages, probably since the before times. With all the chaos and violence and uncertainty swirling across the globe, it seems incredibly selfish to focus on myself in any way. For years now I have been so overwhelmed by world events that I haven’t believed I can make a difference. Maybe that’s why I stopped writing.
Personally, I’ve had a tumultuous decade—the end of a long marriage and partnership, significant health concerns, the stress of caring for an elderly parent, career strife and financial concerns. This is certainly not where I imagined I would be at this stage of life. Yet as I sit here writing, I know to the core of my being that this is exactly where I need to be, and the growth I have experienced has been transformative.
So much unlearning.
I have let go of many superficial concerns—my fear of aging for one. I became invisible some time ago, and with that comes tremendous freedom. I no longer feel I need to spend ridiculous amounts of money on clothes or the anti-aging fixes our society tries to sell me (all of which cause significant damage to the environment, by the way). While some people can spend their way to looking 30 at 80, and that makes them feel good, none of us can escape the inevitable. They will just look better than I will when they die. I’m good with that.
I have released the need to be partnered. I have spent more time alone in recent years than I have in my entire adult life. Yes, it can get lonely, but… I have time to focus on my own curiosity, my own learning, my own wants and needs. I don’t have to listen to someone snore all night long. I don’t need to base my decisions on another person. If it happens, it happens. If not, I’m okay. I don’t know if I ever truly believed that before now.
I’m no longer climbing the career ladder. I have nothing left to prove to anyone. I have stepped back from teaching, from leading, from working an ungodly number of hours, from checking my email at midnight, from always saying yes, I’ll do it. I do the work I enjoy doing and that I need to do. I love sitting down with students one-on-one as they work on papers, projects, or fellowship and grad school applications. I love being present when they just want to talk. They teach me so much every single day.
So much learning still to do.
I’ve prioritized creativity and art. While I have enjoyed photography for years now, I am branching out and exploring other creative outlets. I’ve made some really bad art, but I have created it surrounded by artists who have become dear friends and cheerleaders. I’ve joined a local art collective. Making art is good for the brain, the heart, the soul, the world. We need more of that.
I took a chance and started a conversation with someone I didn’t know one day, and that encounter led me to a phenomenal group of women right here in my tiny town. I now belong to a book club that feeds my soul, and I gather with these same amazing women and their partners for pickleball parties on an almost weekly basis—a sport I never imagined I’d enjoy. Food. Friends. Fun. Laughter. Exercise. Community. I don’t think I realized how much I missed the balm of friendship since I left many good friends in Colorado over seven years ago. Finally finding that community here in Vermont has made all the difference.
I continue to be devastated by world events, but I no longer feel crushed by them, unable to move under their unbearable weight. I am doing what I can in my own back yard to try to lessen my carbon footprint. I’ve changed out my heating system. I bought a more climate caring car. I hope to re-meadow a large portion of my ‘lawn,’ such that it is. I want to plant more trees and shrubs that will provide cover for the dwindling bird population and assist the struggling pollinators. I’d like to learn more about backyard homesteading and permaculture. I need to do more.
I want to support girls and women locally. When I try to hold the pain being experienced by women and girls globally—rape as a weapon of war, femicide, the denial of the right to work or obtain an education or leave the house, the lack of bodily autonomy that is leading to women’s deaths right here in the United States—I quickly lose hope and find myself awash in profound grief. What gets me unstuck is working to make a difference in my own community with the girls and women who need assistance here. I also work to educate students so that they can make decisions with their eyes wide open and pay it forward. When I look at the greatest challenges we face in our world today, I often wonder how different all of our lives would be if we had more women leaders worldwide. We’re running out of time—perhaps this should be one of our greatest goals.
It’s mine anyway.
As we move into what will be an election year like no other here in the US, with so much at stake, my wish for 2024 is hope, peace, and love. If that proves elusive, as I imagine it will, I wish for everyone’s active participation in the process to ensure that we maintain the right to pursue equality for all in an imperfect democracy. It’s an incredibly heavy lift. Together we can do it, but we need everyone to care enough to choose to take action–individually and collectively.
Here we go. Happy New Year.
Images courtesy of my personal copy of Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration by Meera Lee Patel.