Around this time a year ago, I was at brunch with a friend of mine enjoying bottomless mimosas and anticipating just how amazing 2012 was gong to be.
Maybe it was the mimosas-and specifically their “bottomlessness”- but let me tell you, we believed it.
Suffice to say, we agreed last week that we need to pick a new spot for our 2013 New Year’s brunch because 2012 fell quite short of amazing.
I hesitate to admit that because I have a job, am healthy and have a place to live and food to eat. And I know that those things alone make me incredibly blessed. I think there is this part of me that fears complaining under these circumstances because I don’t want God to pull a “You want me to give you something to cry about?” a la my parents in the 1970s when we were causing a scene in public. (For those parents looking for an effective remedy to shut down their children’s meltdowns, note that this one sentence is HIGHLY effective.)
Nonetheless, I have talked to enough people who seem to identify with how I am feeling so I am going to talk about it and take my chances on the wrath part….
I think what scares me most about this past year is how totally unprepared I was for it. If someone had held a gun to my head and asked me to predict what was going to happen, I literally would not have predicted a single one of the major events of my year.
And this is my life. So it is sort of implied- I think- that I should not be continually surprised by what is happening in it.
But the truth is, I have been.
And because I have spent so much of the year in more or less a state of surprise, I have not had much time to think beyond the “Wow. Really? What the f*ck?!” phase of it all.
But, as we reach the end of the year and I have had a little time to breath and process it all, I realize that much of my disappointment over 2012 lies not in what happened per se but in comparing “what I wanted” versus “what I got.”
And as I work on letting go of what I wanted and think more about what I got, I find myself feeling grateful for all the good that the bad unwittingly brought with it.
The moment I knew that Cathy Riley would be my best friend for life happened at a Chick-Fil-A in the mall in Gainesville, Florida in about 1996. I had been dumped by my first “true love.” My heart was broken– so we went to Chick-Fil-A of course.
As all good Southerners know, the best cure for grief is food. (For the record, I just don’t understand these girls who cannot eat when they are sad. I have no room in my life for these people. They are annoying (probably because they are hungry) and should limit their friends to those equally annoying girls who “forget to eat.”)
Cathy and I were standing in line as I did my best to keep my tears at bay until we could get our food and return to the safety of our car where I could start my blubbering all over again.
A random stranger cut in line in front of us.
Not a big deal on a regular day.
But it wasn’t a regular day. And Cathy was having none of it.
All of the sudden sweet, beautiful Cathy became a different person- a person I had never seen. Her voice was loud and authoritative. Her expression serious. “Do you have any idea what she is going through? And you are just going to cut in line in front of us as though it doesn’t matter? I don’t think so.”
As that poor man skulked away (after apologizing profusely), I knew that Cathy was a keeper.
And the great thing is that whenever I think about that break-up, I don’t think about that (stupid (now bald)) guy that I dated or about what he said or did. Instead, I think about Cathy and about that poor stranger at Chick-Fil-A– and I laugh.
When I suffered another broken heart years later (are you seeing a pattern here?), my dear friend Jami showed up at my door with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and a spoon (are you seeing a pattern here too?) within 30 minutes of my frantic “we broke up” phone call. She didn’t say anything- she didn’t have to say anything. She just handed me the ice cream and hugged me- really tightly.
I can still feel that hug when I think back on it.
When my stepfather died and my entire family was numb with grief and totally unprepared to even think about putting together a meal, we came home from his funeral to find a huge box of food at the doorstep that was a complete meal for my entire family compliments of my best friends from Charlotte.
I am not sure there has ever been a moment in my life where I felt more grateful for my sweet, thoughtful friends.
And the trying events of 2012 brought the same sort of unwavering support with them.
It is pretty incredible that these people’s acts of love and friendship were able not only to bring comfort to me in painful times but also to alter my entire perception of these events so that the memories are less of the losses and more of the amazing support that followed.
My favorite scene of all time from Grey’s Anatomy is when Cristina Yang is explaining her friendship with Meredith Grey to Preston Burke- “She’s my person. If I murdered someone, she’s the person I’d call to help me drag the corpse across the living room floor. She’s my person.”
And Cathy and Jami- and Nancy and Debbie and Julie and Jessica and my mom and my sisters and…. well, they are my people.
They may think I am acting like the biggest idiot in the world. And rest assured, they will tell me that when the time is right. I would expect no less from them. But no matter what, they have my back- and I have theirs. Period. End of story.
And while I certainly don’t welcome bad times, it is those times that remind me of my amazing support system.
It is those people whose friendships remind me that whether I stay single or get married, I will never be alone.
And that knowledge doesn’t just make me feel safe- it makes me feel brave.
It makes me feel like I can write a book, have a fulfilling relationship, be respected, be loved, be… incredible.
It makes it easier to walk away from things that hurt me.
It makes it easier to get up and try again when all I want to do is quit.
It makes everything easier- and so, so much sweeter.
And as far as my “what I wanted” versus “what I got” list, there was not a single thing on the “what I wanted” list that is more valuable to me than the love and support of my “people.”
The other thing I am realizing is that the only thing sadder than scars is the absence of scars.
As a child, I remember going to play with a friend whose room was filled with beautiful Barbies. In fact, she had many of the same Barbies that I had. But mine looked like they had been through a war…. My Barbies had worn more outfits, been to more weddings and gone on more trips, swims, and outings than I ever will. Her Barbies, on the other hand, resided on a shelf and had never even been taken out of their boxes.
As ridiculous as it sounds, I always felt sorry for her Barbies. Sure they had their long blonde hair still in tact-ditto their earrings and shoes. But for what? My Barbies may have been banged up, but at least they were enjoying their dream house, pink corvette and swimming pool.
I realize now that it wasn’t her Barbies that I felt sorry for- it was her.
Though I have lost contact with her over the years, I cannot help but wonder if she lives her life as her Barbies did- safely tucked away on a shelf in an effort to avoid any possible damage.
And we all know people like that. They see life as an endurance contest more or less. They have a hundred excuses for why they can’t have the life- the job, the relationship, the future- that they truly want- but none of them are all that convincing- not even to them. They consume a steady diet of “enoughs” and accept mediocrity in exchange for safety.
One of my favorite quotes of all times is from Hunter Thompson. He said that “life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!'”
And he is SO right.
My scars of 2012 (and 2011, 2010, 2009, etc.) hurt. A lot.
But they are also reminders that I tried.
I put myself out there.
I did not choose safety.
I did not give up.
I did not settle.
I gave it all I had.
And that’s a hell of a lot better than sitting on a shelf somewhere collecting dust.
I had drinks with a girlfriend of mine a few weeks ago. I had not seen her in quite some time, but I knew that her “mountain” over the past few years has been a tall one…. Three small children. An unfaithful spouse. A younger girlfriend(s)- now wife. Financial challenges. You get the idea.
And when it all came tumbling down, she was justifiably angry. Really, really angry.
So when we met for drinks, I expected to hear about her ex and what a jerk he was and about all he had done and not done to make her life miserable. It would have been totally justified. Instead, however, she brought me up to date on her life, her career and her children. Her focus was not on what she had lost but on all that she gained as a result of what she lost.
When the night was coming to an end, she summed it up by saying “It couldn’t have happened any other way, you know?”
That is a pretty strong statement when you think about it.
And I think the best any of us can hope for is to look back on our lives and be able to make that exact proclamation.
And when we are in the “in between times” like I am now, we just have to have faith that we are heading in the right direction.
Faith that what we think we want will prove far inferior to what we get.
Faith that what we lose is a painful but necessary step on the way to our amazing.
Faith that we can survive the scars with a little (or a lot) of help from our friends.
Faith that one day we will sit with our people and reminisce about our scars and laugh at all the time we wasted mourning the loss of what we wanted because what we got turned out to be so much better.
Faith that there is an “amazing” out there with our names on it.
It just couldn’t happen any other way, you know?