As the sun dropped low in the sky this evening, I leashed the dogs and took them for a walk. The breeze a balmy 75 today, despite it being the 31st of December. And there, tugging at my mind were a cascade of memories: me, around 10 years old, riding my bike fast and furiously down the steepest hill in my neighborhood, a cool breeze rushing past my ears drowning out every sound but the push of my rubber tires against pavement; 17 years old, cheeks flush with the heat from a bonfire in the middle of nowhere, the breeze rustling the trees as I clutched a warm beer and laughed with the kind of joy reserved for the young; 21 and stepping out of the bar into a welcome breeze after four sweltering hours of trying to hear drink orders over the chatter of drunk college kids hoping to get lucky and Mick Jagger bellowing out “Shattered.”
Déjà vu. That feeling that we’ve done something before. Said something before. Been somewhere before. What it really is, is an experience that causes a sequence of previously fired neurons in the brain to fire again. And so, when it’s all said and done, what we really are is a collection of our experiences. The good, the bad, and the cringe-worthy. They are each (the important ones, anyway) stored in our hippocampus and contribute to who we are and who we’re becoming.
And so, as we close the door on 2021, I suppose it’s only natural to think about how the year and the memories that resulted from it changed me, what I learned, and what I anticipate for life in 2022.
2021 taught me that grief is just flat out brutal. In June, I lost my person. You know that friend that you tell stuff to that you would never write down because if you did and the wrong person read it, you could be ostracized from polite society for the rest of your life? Ok, maybe that’s just me. I trusted him when I didn’t even trust myself. He was one of the few who got to see behind the curtain. In those moments when I was being catty and petty, he laughed at me. And when I was wallowing in self-doubt and self-pity, he made me laugh at myself. There aren’t many of us who, in this lifetime, stumble across a person who meets us wherever we are, and with whatever we need. He was the person I measured other men against, which really wasn’t fair to other men. And, get this ladies, he was a unicorn. Yep, he was handsome, funny as hell, hard-working, a great dad, had a conscience, was fearless, big-hearted, fun-loving, dependable, and loyal to a fault. Oh, and he had overcome great obstacles in life with grace, so he knew what was important. When he died, he left behind a beautiful daughter he adored, a woman he loved and who loved him with all her being, a big family consisting of two married, exceptional, parents and five other loud, loving, larger-than-life siblings, an endless supply of friends, and me. I can compartmentalize like a boss, but this broke me down. I don’t think I’ll ever breathe again, the same way I once did.
2021 taught me that people are hell bent on staying mired down in their current ways of thinking. If we’re honest, most of what we think is just habit. You know that if people are so lazy they’ll pay someone $10.00 to deliver a $15.00 meal rather than fetch it themselves, they are not researching jack shit. These are the same people who say things like, “Well, they said that as long as you gargle with Clorox, you’ll be fine.” Who the hell is they? These people have no interest in straddling that gap in society or looking at topics through someone else’s life filter. There is power and freedom in knowledge. Accepting that there’s junk you don’t know shouldn’t be a stretch. Rethinking means letting go of who we think we are and being open-minded and objective. Maybe taking a minute to consider that if your great- grandparents weren’t slaves, you might just have gotten a leg up in life on the people whose great-grandparents were. Trust me, each generation benefits from what the generation before it had. How do you think generation after generation of rich people stay rich? You think they’re all just crafty business people? They aren’t. Some of them are dumb as dirt but the diligence, determination and, maybe even, luck of an ancestor, coupled with compound interest keeps them living fat. Anyway, I digress….back to rethinking. Reach down and pull your brain out of that box you’ve been keeping it in. Dinosaurs will tell you all you need to know. They are proof positive that adaptability and flexibility are key to surviving in this world. Consistency and an inability to change will lead you straight to spending eternity as a fossil. You know how they tell you to start worrying when your coach doesn’t correct you anymore, because it means he thinks you’re hopeless? When people start spouting off the nonsense they read on some unverified web page, I just nod. To present them with other points of view to consider would be like yelling at a deaf man. I’m just going to keep my mouth shut and smile while the archeologists are brushing the dirt off of them.
2021 taught me that while there are a lot of people out there willing to sacrifice for their fellow man, there’s a bunch of other ones who don’t give a rat’s ass if your boat sets sail with the plug pulled out. They’ll buy up more toilet paper and gasoline than they could use in 50 lifetimes before they’ll risk that they might go without for an hour or two. They don’t like to admit it, though. They say stuff like, “Oh, I always keep 230 12-pks of Charmin in my garage. I’ve done that forever. This has nothing to do with COVID.” They’re lying. They sat in the grocery store parking lot and waited for them to unlock the doors so they could buy every pack of toilet paper that would fit in their trunk. Y’all know who you are. Those same people filled up 110 gas cans when we had that 96-hour gas shortage. If somebody drops a match near their storage shed, it’s not going to be pretty. The thing about those people is they’ll die with a whole lot of stuff but they won’t die with a whole lot of love. Maybe I’m crazy, but I’ll take the love, wipe with leaves and ride my bike, before I’ll live with only myself in mind. I suppose you see what people are really made of when a crisis rolls around.
Over the last twelve months, I shed many a private tear which did not help me lose even one pound, worried about my kids which I’ve been doing for 22 years and closely resembles digging a hole in quicksand, held extended conversations with myself about making a big change in my life, i.e., new job, new house, new city, and done not a damn thing about any of it, and quit eating tortilla chips about 15 times. I’ve started writing books, then stopped, and read more instead. I’ve railed against life and how unfair it is, then reminded myself that a fair is a place you go to ride rides and eat cotton candy.
Who knows, maybe 2022 will be the year I make a big change. Shake things up a bit. Maybe not. Maybe I’ll just continue to work my way through the stack of books on my night table, roll my eyes when people say ignorant bullshit, worry about my kids, baby talk my parade of animals, and learn to navigate life with this vise grip around my chest. In the end, we’re all just trying to get by, right? Doing the best we can with what we have, trying to keep our fears in check, pay our bills, and not make fools of ourselves that can be captured on film and posted online later.
So, if you see me failing miserably at self-improvement in 2022, cut a girl a break. Or better yet, buy me a cosmopolitan. And no video, please.