What did I learn? I learned of truth. That abstract, intangible, illusive notion that has us falling over ourselves to get to. I suppose I have always known that truth was one of the cornerstones of my very being: a non-negotiable foundation for any meaningful connection I would ever even entertain. But this year learned that I didn’t even know what I meant by ‘truth’. After a great deal of introspection, the stark fact occurred to me: truth is just a perception; a trick of the mind; events seen through the unique tinted lenses of my life. And your truth is similarly coloured by the shades of you. I saw for the first time that two people can be present in the exact same moment, but their truth – their recollection of events, what he said, how he moved, what he wore – could differ vastly, as if they were in two parallel universes. But of course, we are just that! We see a truth that fits our own view of the world, a world constructed of every moment we’ve known, every person we’ve ever been, or loved, or tried to make ourselves into. We are products of our experience and we seek confirmation in these moments painted by our own brains of what we want, or often expect, the truth to be. Or simply to fit the narrative we are trying to create. I learned that my striving (almost pathologically) for ‘truth’ was, in fact, not really truth at all. What I wanted was a truth that matched my own version. I have learned to accept that a difference in perceptions of ‘truth’ does not necessarily equate to deception. In that, I can hope to trust more freely and less cynically than perhaps I have before.
I learned more than I’d like to have learned about loss. My grandmother, who would have been celebrating her 80th birthday tomorrow (New Year’s Day), died in the spring. Within six months I experienced the unimaginable devastation that is the unexpected death of a child. I learned that grief is a unique experience with no set of rules of how to overcome it. All you can do is feel your way through. You have to let the pain in, right into your very bones, before you can begin to heal. I don’t believe in deities and books that promise an afterlife. I find no comfort in nonsensical ideas of angels watching over us. I did find solace in the idea that even in death we cannot cease to be part of this universe – our energy, our matter can never be destroyed, only transferred. However, even with this rationalisation, I was utterly floored by how completely out of my control life is. I was faced with the glaring fact that no matter what I do, no matter how careful I’ve been, no matter how many cuts I’ve cleaned or colds I’ve nursed – with all the science and medicine in the world – I cannot protect my child. Not ultimately. I cannot deny or prevent the very nature of life which is, in the end, death. I learned that the best I could do was to simply hope that life will follow what we’ve come to accept as the natural order – that the people I know and love will grow old and time-worn; become weary through having loved hard and become wrinkled from smiling often, before they are ready to leave this life behind.
Through my darkest moments, I learned about friendship. I came to value those closest to me on a level I hadn’t thought possible. The reason is simple. I felt their love and acceptance – soul deep. Not despite who I am, but because of who I am. This year I learned who I was and how to live a life that matched that person– to be comfortable living in my own skin, or more so, in my own mind. Pure, unapologetic, me. I stopped taking responsibility for how other people felt about themselves. I learned to stop making myself smaller, less opinionated, less tough. I stopped toning myself down out of fear that people wouldn’t like me – I’d spend my precious time trying to prove that I mattered, to show who I really was, to those whose opinions didn’t matter to me. Ironically, the one that mattered the most was the one I kept myself most concealed from. I learned that wearing another skin to suit the situation I was in, not only dishonoured my own soul but, kept me captive in a cage of shallow living and superficial relationships. And in learning this, I also learned how to set myself free.
I learned of time. How precious it is. How easy it is to waste. I learned I should spend more of it on family and perhaps less on my vanity. I have learned that time is my most valuable commodity, yet I give it away to those that don’t deserve it without a second thought. Would we be so reckless with money? So willing to give it away to undeserving creatures? Yet our seconds and minutes, that can never be replaced are given, and stolen, without nearly the same level of consideration as the pounds and pennies in our wallets. I have banished from my life any person who wastes my time – anyone that uses any of my treasured moments to make me feel bad about myself. I have been unforgiving, intolerant, quick to react. These are not qualities I value, but when it comes to my time, I am unflinching. I’ve learned to share only with those that make my life richer for being in it – those that help me learn or grow or feel good about who I am: those that are generous enough to share their time with me.
I learned to relinquish hopes of love. Not in a navel-gazing, cynical way. But in a ‘I-figured-out-what-it-is-I-want-and-there’s-not-much-chance-of-finding-that’ kind of way. I’ve read enough Hemingway and Flaubert and Woolfe to know it’s an all or nothing kind of deal. I’ve had a glimpse of the all-consuming amour fou – the stuff that conquers your soul and keeps it for an eternity and I know how rare that is. I’ve also had the misfortune to experience the modern day approach to relationships and romantic love. I’ve been part of the Tinder generation where people are dismissed and disposed of in an instant. I’ve known connections so shallow, temporary and impersonal because love is now a consumable to use as we please, then to discard, upgrade or exchange at our leisure. I have learned that the chance of finding, in this age, something so rare, of such profound depth that it will surely kill me to be without, is highly unlikely. I also learned that my ability to recognise when love is real or not is totally defunct and I probably wouldn’t know it, even if Nora Ephron herself had written my love story. So with quiet acquiescence, I have learned to live a full life where my solitude may be my greatest love. I have yet to learn how to express this to people without soliciting their pity. Or indeed their judgment.
I learned to let go of notions of the future – to stop striving for some invisible point on the horizon where the elusive ‘happiness’ resides. I’m learning to be content with now – to look for the happiness that is around me in every moment. I learned that this is a challenge for an anti-social realist so I’m a work in progress although, I have learned that a simple shift in perspective is sometimes all it takes: considering what I do have, not dwelling on what I don’t – which, admittedly is significantly harder in the silent loneliness of three o’clock in the morning.
Similarly, I am learning to let go of the past. I’m learning that there is no glory in wallowing in the sadness of a lost love. There’s no romance in false hope or waiting around for just one more second of feeling the way only he made me feel. There’s no beauty in lamentations of what went wrong and mourning for moments that were never lived. These are not demonstrative of true love. I’m learning to leave the past exactly where it is and simply face the direction I’m heading. Some days, though, I can’t help but return. If only for a moment. If only for a second to placate the heart that still loves him.
All-in-all, I learned that in this moment, I’m OK. And that’s a pretty decent position to be in on this crazy, exciting, frustrating, painful, overwhelming, beautiful, impossible, magical thing called life. I heard a quote last year that touched me so profoundly. It said ‘We are all just walking each other home’. This year I will treasure that journey, learning everything I can; growing and loving and sharing with those that are generous enough to share their journey with me.