As the rest of the world (or, at the very least, Millenial American culture) has stood in defiant anger at the flicker and snuff of 2016- a year that seemed to many to rage like a destructive wildfire- it will come as no surprise that I’m just as elated to see it extinguished. The new year seems so promising, a veritable book of blank pages upon which anything could be written should you just have the courage to wield the pen. Of course this is a somewhat silly as our construct of time is little more momentous than Earth’s ceaselessly-spinning track, and the new year simply the completion and restart of her annual pilgrimage around our main source of heat.
In times past I’ve chosen a word for the year. Perhaps “chosen” is a little strong– the process of finding that word has always been one of deep personal introspection and- at the risk of sounding mystic- spiritual reflection and prayer. It was more of an uncovering or stumbling-upon than a choosing. And so that word would set the tone for the year, defining encounters, spurring choices, shaping attitudes; it was the compass I used to navigate the 365-day sea of time. Or perhaps the north star? The analogy quickly breaks down.
I had no word for 2016. I leapt in with both feet, my graduation on the horizon, and well-laid plans to go abroad and teach promptly afterwards. I didn’t feel the need to find a word: the waters were calm and I could navigate just fine.
Which is funny, because I didn’t. Looking back, I think the word for 2016 has been death, perhaps destruction. I don’t mean the many, at times inexplicable, deaths of celebrities (although I mourn their passing too). However, a group of strangers was nothing compared to the unexpected death of a beloved uncle in late January, followed soon after by the suicide of a close friend on my birthday. I’ve watched relationships die- some more painfully than others- and was deeply struck by the representation of Death played by a friend in a just-as-striking production of Everyman. I’ve watched friends and family alike struggle with living life after a death comes to call, and I’ve lived that struggle too. Heck, I even played Death at a comic con in the spring. Part of me wonders if this has been my comeuppance for so blithely approaching the year, but the greater side of me knows that it was necessary. I’m a great believer in the chiaroscuro of life, that shadows prove the sunshine, that we need contrast to understand the colour and light. It’s the decomposed nature of the soil that enables plants to grow and thrive (and anyone who knows me knows I adore flowers).
Which brings me to my word for 2017 (because I have clearly learned my lesson and will heretofore be paying proper respect to my superstitions). Gold.
Disappointed? Me too. Typically these things are strong, flourishing adjectives or verbs: create, brave, luscious, bright. But no, this year I get no such flourishes, just a colour. A colour, in fact, that I’ve never truly even liked.
Forgive me as I wax metaphorical, but it’s the process of gold that charms- and scares- me. The purest and best is melted and refined several times in a blazing fire, formed and shaped until it is deemed perfect. Its loveliness and value are inherent, but are multiplied through what can easily be called a painful process. I’m sure you can understand my discomfort.
Several months ago, as I sat frustrated and defeated on my bed, my sister sent me a piece of valuable advice: find out who you are and what you like, and go from there. Simple? Yes, but something I’d never really thought about doing ,much less made efforts to explore. I’ve spent years coasting on the preferences and habits I formed in late high school, relegating my adventures to literary expeditions and theatrical productions. The boldest thing I’ve done in the past year has probably been admitting to a large group that I “actually kind of like that song Cheerleader by Omi.”
As I approach 2017, I look forward to not only refining, but being refined. I anticipate the challenge of trying to understand and embrace my inherent value and beauty- things that I was raised to believe nonexistent- both as an individual, and as a general human in a wide spectrum of other humans. I hope to align my living and choices with the qualities and values that I find most important. After four years of college, it’s refreshing to stand on the brink of a new year that could be anything, rather than a segment of semesters with some free time in between (most of which is spent napping).
So here’s to a new year, a golden year, a year of departing the valley of shadows and finding life and light on the other side. Here’s to you, whoever you are, and your new year and new ventures. Go for the gold.