I’ve never really understood the appeal of New Year’s celebrations. For one thing, I’m allergic to enforced merriment, this notion that everyone must assemble at a certain time and place and BE JOYOUS, that you must have PLANS for the special evening, you must be DOING SOMETHING. I also don’t really get what we’re supposed to be celebrating. Surviving another year? Doesn’t that just mean another year of our lives is gone? The passing of time seems to be more of an occasion for solemn reflection than for tottering around in uncomfortable shoes, getting blitzed on cheap champagne—though I suspect it’s the very dread of time’s passage that compels us to noisily distract ourselves on the occasions that mark it. We’re dancing wildly around the bonfire, trying to drive back the darkness edging in around us.
I tend to find New Year’s Eve rather melancholy even after the “best” of years. And for me and the people closest to me, 2014 was very much not the best of years. It was one of the worst, actually—a very unkind year indeed. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, of course, at least not for me personally; I got to visit some amazing places, I spent precious time with family and friends, I did some work I’m proud of, I did some things I was scared of, and overall I dealt as well as I could with the fraught business of being a grown-up (not a role I’m particularly well suited to, but one that I’ve learned I can fake when necessary).
But when I think back on 2014, it’s the bad things that spring to mind before the good. For Christmas last year, my beloved Oma gave me a pocket calendar with a picture of a pretty goldfinch on the front: 2014—A Year to Remember. The title of the calendar felt like mockery just three months later when Oma suddenly passed away. A year to remember indeed, but for all the wrong reasons—and the year had only just begun. Without turning this into a litany of tragedies, I’ll say that much of 2014 felt like one punch after another. This year more than any other reminded me that when you’re already chest-deep in sorrow, someone else is just wading into the waters behind you.
We have a compulsion to try to make sense of things, put them into a narrative, put them into perspective. The most optimistic of us want to believe that even tragic things happen “for a reason,” that there is some purpose or wisdom to be found even in the worst experiences. I am not among the most optimistic of us. I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. I do not believe that every experience is a positive learning experience. I do not believe that there is always something good to be found if you just look hard enough. I think that most things just happen, and sometimes they’re wonderful, and sometimes they’re horrible, and either way they’re coming at you whether you want them to or not, and you have to deal with them whether you want to or not. There is no why, and there is no lesson to be learned. It’s just how life goes.
That said, 2014 did teach me something—or rather, it helped me truly understand something I had previously only known in an abstract way: Over the past months, I’ve often thought about how 2014 has, in many ways, been the worst year for me and people around me. And this thought had made me acutely aware of the fact that every year is—for somebody, somewhere—the very worst year, just as every day is somebody’s worst day. I don’t mean for that to sound utterly bleak, like life is irredeemably grim and the world is simply horrible (it is—and yet it isn’t), and I also don’t want to frame it as a big life lesson, like this belated realization has put everything into perspective for me and now I’m a better person. It’s more just a small pebble of knowledge that I want to carry with me, something that I hope will remind me to be compassionate, even when that doesn’t always come easily to me, and to try to appreciate each day that is not the worst day.
Here’s to another year.