I know I’m not alone in thinking that 2016 has been one douchebag of a year. According to my Facebook feed, the large majority of my friends have some choice words about 2016 and what they’d like it to do with itself. Several times this year, especially in these last couple of months, Chris and I have looked at each other dumbfounded, shook our heads in disbelief, and asked “WTF, 2016?!”
I’m the type of person who really likes their birthday. Though some people dread it, I love saying “Woohoo! I’ve got a another year under my belt!” I love feeling more wise, more experienced, and each year counting how many fewer fucks I have to give. I love seeing new wrinkles and thinking of how I’ve earned them. I think that it’s because of this philosophy that the idea of writing off an entire year as one big fat turd pains my heart a bit. I will agree with you all- 2016 has hurt way more than any other year I’ve lived before. But with all that pain and anger and frustration comes growth, change, reshaping, and lessons learned. I’m taking the time now to reflect on the wrinkles I’ve gained this year and the things 2016 has taught me.
LESSON 1: HOW TO LIVE WITHOUT MY MOTHER.
My mother died in the first few days of 2016 so the entire year has been full of “Firsts” without her. First time I didn’t buy her a mother’s day card. First birthday without a phone call from her. First family get-together where she wasn’t there, playing cards until late at night. It’s been full of revisiting memories over and over again and being stuck in that spot between missing her so much it hurts and being so happy that she’s no longer in pain, no longer having to fight. When my mother’s sister passed away nearly 15 years ago, my mother never really recovered from that grief. It swallowed her whole. When her mother passed away three years ago, the grief consumed her again. The last 15 years that I knew my mother, she was struggling to swim through the deep lagoon that grief can be. While I definitely go for a swim at times and occasionally a wave will come and pull me in deep, I’m learning from my mother how not to treat grief. I’m working hard to not let it consume me. In the times I miss my mother the most, I try to remember how much she loved me, how she would never end a conversation without telling me how much she loved me and how proud she was of me. How she would never say “good-bye,” but always “I’ll see you later.” I’ve been working to feel full of joy, rather than sadness, when memories of her come to mind. It’s a process, but I’m learning.
What’s also come from losing my mother is a stronger, closer relationship with my father. I’ve always loved talking to my father but now I make more of an effort to call and talk to him more regularly. Just listening to him talk cheers me up sometimes. And when experiences in step-parenting teenagers led me to feel terrible for the fact that my parents had to deal with me when I was a teenager, I was able to apologize to him about it. Multiple times. When he stood up to “he who shall not be named”-supporting family members, I told him I was proud he was my father. It’s shameful that it took my mother passing away for our relationship to grow, but I’m thankful for it nonetheless.
LESSON 2: WHY WE DON’T GO ON FACEBOOK WHILE WE’RE DRUNK.
I sometimes like to have a glass of wine to relax, to celebrate life, and/or to toast the good company I’m in. I’ve never been the type of drinker that says “Oh shit. This is bad. I need a drink.” And I’m generally pretty good about staying away from social media when I’m emotional. That is, until Election Night 2016. As the results came in, I went from being on the edge of my seat, to hyperventilating, to chugging wine (we went through two bottles that night, a new record for us), to simultaneously sobbing and drinking, to texting my boss that I didn’t know when I was coming back to work, to turning off the coverage, to opening a bottle of champagne (because we’d ran out of wine) I’d been saving to toast our first ever female president, and going on Facebook. As I sipped my glass of (what I soon realized was horrible) champagne, I posted a few rants that I thought were powerful and intelligent, and made pacts with friends to move to Canada and start a vegan commune. Before going to bed, I would sob and vomit until I had nothing left to give. The next day, every time I woke up, I’d remember the outcome of the election, how much I drank, and the things I wrote on Facebook, and I’d cry and go back to sleep. Eventually, I managed to pull myself together, even with a massive hangover, and go to work where I would read the things I wrote on Facebook and cry again and debate on whether or not I should delete them. I mean, they got so many “likes,” but ugh, it’s so drunken and embarrassing, much like Independence Day 2007. I’d later delete the majority of my posts out of shame, and make a pact to never go on Facebook while drunk ever again. I made a similar pact in 2007 but I think this time it’s going to stick.
LESSON 3: HOW TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE.
As many of you know, earlier this year, I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer and had to have surgery to remove my thyroid and a bunch of lymph nodes the cancer had spread to. There was no part of this experience that was comfortable. From the point I was diagnosed, the words “I have cancer” played on repeat in my mind until I had my surgery, each time, making me feel isolated and scared. Pretty much every moment of the surgery process was uncomfortable- from having an allergic reaction the cleansing wipes the hospital made me use to clean myself before the operation; to being unable to keep any liquid down after the surgery, forcing them to keep me overnight; to getting my period overnight in the hospital bed and needing a stranger clean me up; to needing Chris’s help with every little thing following the surgery; to keeping the bandage on my neck until the doctor could remove it, while it slowly peeled off and turned black with dirt and sweat; to be unable to drive for nearly a month because I couldn’t turn my head. Every moment of being uncomfortable, I was forced to take a deep breath and tell myself to be patient, that this wasn’t permanent, that because of this discomfort, I would be healthier, feel better. It was something I needed to endure.
The latter half of 2016 led to a more psychological discomfort. The outcome of the election has forced a lot of emotions and awareness to the forefront of my (and many people’s) mind. In one evening, I (and many people) had a pile of reality thrown in my lap. A reality that showed that a large number of people in this country don’t feel that we should all be able to love whomever we want, believe in whatever we want, or even live as equals. I know many people who voted for the republican candidate will dispute that fact but at the very least, it showed that these values don’t matter to them. And that makes my skin crawl. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable.
I’m not going to lie- I was one of those people who reacted with “Fuck this. I’m leaving.” Texts with my cousin from that night would reveal plans to move to Australia while Facebook conversations with dear friends would show that we’re considering Canada. And I’ll be honest, especially as the “transition of power” continues, I still sometimes feel like getting out of here before shit goes down (because trust me, it will go down). And because I want to live in a kinder place, a place that values equal rights, a place that stays out of trouble. And because mine and Chris’s long-term plans have always included the dream of living in another country. We’ve had our reservations about America for a long time. But considering these drastic plans made me face another part of my reality: my privilege. I feel like I’ve been aware of my privilege up until this point, but at this moment, it became painfully obvious to me just how privileged I am. I’m a straight, white woman with a good job, someone who probably won’t be too affected by the outcome of this election, and definitely not nearly as affected as millions of my brothers and sisters. And here I am saying “Okay, byeee!” when shit gets real. When shit gets uncomfortable. When I realize that many of my fellow Americans have felt this “discomfort” for a long-ass time. I’ve been aware of my privilege but now I’m sickened by it. I’m ashamed.
But here’s the great thing about this discomfort: It takes these moments of anger, shame, disgust, of being uncomfortable to force us to change. These feelings have led me to participate in protests; to email and call my representatives and other members of government, demanding change; to being much more aware of those who are less privileged. Now when I see things that need to be done, people who need help, I don’t just assume the activists and the helpers will take care of it. I get involved myself. Being uncomfortable has forced me to start making this country- even if I’m just working on a local level- into the kind, caring piece of the planet I want to live on. Being uncomfortable is temporary as long as you take action to make change.
LESSON 4: THE VERY DEFINITION OF STRENGTH AND PERSEVERANCE.
My earliest memory of Hillary Rodham Clinton is of news coverage of that time, while being the First Lady, she chose to wear a headband. I was a young teenage girl at the time and I remember thinking: This is news? I soon learned that she was a civil rights lawyer, and she was using her position as First Lady to make this world a better place. I learned this because the news often painted her actions, right down to the way she styled her hair, as negatives. The woman who could do nothing right, no matter what she did. But I admired her. I admired her for being her own person and not ever breaking under the tremendous pressure and the steady stream of criticism. And when I was fifteen, I heard her say “Women’s rights are human rights.” And instantly she became cemented in as one of my heroes. And I wondered why everyone hadn’t been saying this all along.
During this election, my respect for this woman grew immensely. While I will admit, during the primaries, I felt that Bernie Sanders’ stance on the issues were more similar to mine but I knew I would have no problem voting for either candidate. And when she became the Democratic nominee, I cried tears of joy. In a time of fake news and conspiracy theories and Russian hacking and FBI interference, Hillary kept on going, full steam ahead, with a smile on her face. She constantly demonstrated how smart, how classy, and how brave she was. She showed us that she was fucking fierce.
I just now finally watched her concession speech for the first time. I’d held out because I thought I wasn’t ready. I didn’t think I could handle it. But then it occurred to me: If Hillary was strong enough to give a concession speech the day after the election- and smile through tears while she did it– I sure as hell can be strong enough to watch it. And now my new motto is: If Hillary Clinton could do all that she did, hurdling all the obstacles she did, never once breaking, never once losing her smile, then I can certainly face whatever life throws at me.
LESSON 5: HOW TO COPE WITH OUR HEROES LOSING AND LOSING OUR HEROES.
When Hillary lost the election, I was heart broken. I cried every day for at least two weeks. I felt disappointment in my country, fear for our future, frustration with the electoral college, and sadness for Hillary herself. Even though she’d won the popular vote, my Hero had lost the presidency. And I still have these feelings but at least now I can get through my day.
And I know all of us have been aghast at how many of our celebrity heroes we’ve lost this year. It’s been astonishing. Because my mother had just died days earlier, I couldn’t compute the fact that David Bowie had died. Aside from the Beatles, he had been my most favorite musician. His music was the soundtrack to so many moments in my life. I couldn’t deal with the fact that Alan Rickman had passed away. Prince’s death caught me by surprise and I was thrown for a loop when Gene Wilder left us. Alan Thicke (along with Tony Danza) had been one of my favorite TV dads while growing up. I was shocked when George Michael passed, ironically on Christmas Day (Wham’s hit “Last Christmas” is one of my favorite Christmas songs). Even as I’m writing this, I’ve just learned of Debbie Reynold’s death and I’m flabbergasted. And the sad thing is that there are many more that I haven’t mentioned here because there are just so many I’ve lost count along the way.
The worst for me, though, was the death of Carrie Fisher two days ago. That one really, really stung. Princess Leia was my very first hero. I grew up playing with her action figure and pretending I was her alongside my cousin as Luke Skywalker. She was a badass and she just so happened to be a girl. Carrie Fisher played some of my most favorite characters: Marie in When Harry Met Sally, Betsy Faye Sharon in Soapdish, Rosemary Howard in 30 Rock. Later in my life, Carrie Fisher was my hero when she advocated for mental health issues. She made it ok to be depressed and to have anxiety. I wasn’t alone and it was okay to talk about it. She was my hero when she tweeted “Youth and beauty are not accomplishments.” She was my hero when she returned to Star Wars as a General. She was my hero all of the times she took the time to laugh at her mistakes. The loss of Carrie Fisher definitely creates a little hole in my heart.
It’s definitely normal for us to mourn each of these losses, whether it be the loss of a battle or the loss of life. And we should mourn them. But instead of blaming 2016 for being such an asshole, let’s focus on what we loved most about these heroes: their bravery; their fierceness; their compassion; their willingness to break moulds, take risks, fight stereotypes, and push boundaries; their ability to smile and/or laugh in the face of adversity; their desire to make this world better, using the best of their talents, to fight for us, to inspire us, to inform us, to entertain us, to make us laugh. Let’s take all of these attributes and drink them up like a magic potion, filling our body with moon beams and shooting stars that we can feel, pulsating all the way to our finger tips. And let this Magic Hero Trait Potion energize us, push us to look at ways we can use our own talents, our own uniquenesses, to make this world better. Let us be kind and fierce and brave. We can carry on the fight, carry on their legacies. In the words of the great David Bowie, We Can Be Heroes.