My first memory, when I think about my year in review, is of a night in early October, when I was driving my car, a 2002 silver Ford hatchback Focus (a beauty) down the freeway, well-past midnight and with the windows rolled down, freezing me up until my very bones felt icy. I had the music turned all the way up, some nameless pop song drowning out any conscious thought that may have occurred to me, and I sat there and drove home. Maybe there's a certain glamour to that--that my initial memory of the past year was one when I was in particular turmoil, enough so that at the time, it felt logical to fly down the freeway in the middle of the night with the windows rolled down, blasting pop music.
Please, for a moment, picture it. I wonder if someone else is sitting down to assess their year in review, and the first thing that popped into their head was the night they, probably for a very rational reason, were driving late and saw a girl speeding stoically down the freeway, windows of her silver bullet rolled down and Top 40 pouring out. Or maybe that memory will fade into the background for that person as I'm hoping it will for me, and reside somewhere dusty, nestled in among all the other mundane things that happen to us for most of the hours of most of the days of most of our years.
It was, sort of, a big year--which is to say, there are things that if I were taking a more consciously reflective route, I would have thought of first, before the night I sped down the freeway with the windows rolled down came back to me. For example, I graduated college. I heard the Dalai Lama speak at my graduation, and then I shook his hand. Forget the certain tinge of glamour my bewildering and somewhat tragic moment of cold on the freeway had, I shook the Dalai Lama's hand! Would it be too much to ask to have let that wash over me first?
Considering this, indignation gives way to bemusement. This is the problem I run into with the New Year, capital N, capital Y. There's so much pressure for highlights, the big things--the Events that make everyone feel like their year was worthwhile. The night itself is a culmination of that feeling of anxiety that somehow I'm not living enough, or doing it right--and I realized, while I was celebrating New Year's Eve by staring down at a mass of humanity and one very large Christmas tree from a rooftop bar that really, if it weren't for fear of somehow disappointing my arbitrary expectations of both the evening and the year, the best way I could think of to start 2014 was well-rested. And well-rested was not what I was achieving as I tossed back bitter champagne and watched other people kiss their significant others. What I was achieving was a headache.
I'm verging on the edge of sounding dour, perhaps even crotchety before my time, so let me say--I regret nothing. I'm glad I went out, albeit somewhat reluctantly, and I'm not so upset that my cold night in the car was my first memory when reflecting on my year.
For all of the insecurity that New Year’s can bring, reflecting on how we spend our time is not a bad thing. Rather, New Year’s is a welcome opportunity for most to evaluate our experiences and growth of the last twelve months. The danger is I think in not acknowledging the balance that experience deserves. That moment in the car, for all intents and purposes, was hardly a blip on the radar of my life, a brief moment of confusion and stress in the long story of existence. It was actually a longer period of time than the moment I shook the Dalai Lama’s hand—which might make one wonder if perhaps that blur of night and headlights should rank higher on the highlight reel of my life than the Dalai. But there’s the futility of that way of thinking, the endless ranking that New Year’s appears to demand.
There was so much beauty in my year that can’t be captured by the two or three things that I might consider big life events. I graduated college, I moved back to Portland, I got a meaningful job, I lost my grandma, I ended a relationship. Those are big things, to be sure. But if you only look at that, you'd see a mostly a narrative of loss and uncertainty. That was a part of the big picture, but for every stressed out moment in the car, there was a morning that the sun came up and bathed even my basement room in buttery light and I didn't have anything to do that day but enjoy it, if I felt like it. I have countless runs, thousands of moments of feeling strong and healthy, days curled in front of fires, mornings that I woke up well-rested, perfect meals that I made myself, wonderful people I got to share them with, many days spent in nature, breathing in wonder, light and air. Those little shards of memory are what really end up defining a year, that fill in the enormous spaces between what we might consider life-changing events. Those impressions, fleeting moments of eternity, are how I know my life is good.