Friday, December 31, 2010

Dear 2010,

I was suspicious of you when you showed up, because everywhere I looked people were crowing about how they just knew you were going to be great. I have watched for long enough to be sure that there are forces and factors out there indifferent to our optimism. My plan was to have the best you that you'd let me have.

I visited a lot of beautiful places this year--San Francisco and the Hood Canal, the Oregon Coast, Orcas Island, New Orleans. I watched the country spool out ahead and behind from Arizona through Utah and Nevada and Oregon. I gained technology and heartbreak and another year of graduate school, and watched more nature documentaries than anyone probably should. I defied gravity and common sense, made a list and crossed some things off. I built a tiny stegosaurus, got a new tattoo, made an alliance with a noisy hummingbird. All the things that make up a life.

2010 was the year I lost my grandma, and so subsequently also the year I really learned about living with grief. In one part of Meghan O'Rourke's excellent series on bereavement following the loss of her mother, she talks about trying to make a pie from her mother's recipe. She had questions about gaps in the recipe, questions she had always before called her mother to ask and never noted the answers to, because calling her mother was part of the experience of making that pie, and now this was one more tiny tradition broken in the aftermath of death. This was the hardest thing for me, the constant snapping of tiny stems, always blindsided and made a little unsteady from a fresh wave of loss. She concludes with, "Loss doesn't feel redeemable. But for me one consoling aspect is the recognition that, in this at least, none of us is different from anyone else: We all lose loved ones; we all face our own death. And loss, strangely, can attune you to what is beautiful about existence even as it wounds you with what is awful. You live with a new sense of what the Victorian critic Walter Pater once called "the splendour of our experience and … its awful brevity," too."

I was reading an article a couple of days ago about mortality projections in the global population, and the study was centered on the notion of focusing on providing people with a life worth valuing instead of one longer lived, figuring that one will likely follow the other. It was relating to populations in non-industrialized countries, but I think the concept holds true for everyone. It's my plan, anyway. Doing more good and less harm, crafting a life to be valued. Looking and seeing and remembering, in the grand tradition of adventurers everywhere.


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