Unannounced and Utterly Unexpected

One of my favorite things to do at the end of each year is to transfer over all the birthdays, anniversaries, and milestones from the current year into next year’s calendar. It’s like taking a walk through someone else’s life; it doesn’t feel like my own. Something in the manual, handwritten transfer, in the flipping of pages and months allows me to get distance from myself and to see my life the way a stranger might: appointments, workouts, interviews, deadlines, birthday parties, dates, oil changes, tire rotations, and vacations. For half an hour, the past twelve months fly through my mind.
Usually by this time of year I am ready for the year to turn over, to start anew. Not this year though. A large part of me is not ready for 2015 to end. I want to hold on a little longer, spend a few more days or weeks pretending like it isn’t coming to a close. As I transfer events from one calendar to the other, I revisit each milestone and memory with a combination of joy and fear.
Joy, that thing poet and writer Pat Schneider writes, “doesn’t make any sense,” and “often comes unannounced and utterly unexpected” has filled my year. This year, I never thought I would get into grad school, and then I did. I never thought I would walk away from a career and paycheck I’d been grooming myself for years for, and then I did. I never thought I would be happy about turning 30, and six months in, I’ve loved no birthday more than this one. This year, I wasn’t sure if the words I wrote would ever see life beyond this site, and then they did. I’m not ready for this year to end, and because of my attachment to it, I know how it important it is for me to let it go.
Fear, that emotion that follows me around like a stray dog, always hungry and needy, wanting more from me than I want to give; fear follows my joy. I met a woman this fall, a retired Methodist minister from Texas named Nancy, when I interviewed her for a profile piece I was writing. I met her during a time when the scales were absolutely tipped more toward fear than joy in my life. During our interview, she described her relationship to mystery. Mystery with a capital M though because it feels that big, that important, that not of this world. She was embracing Mystery while I found myself standing at the edge of it trying to peer as far as I could into the distance without actually having to take a step. What was life asking of me? Who was life asking me to be? Would I be courageous enough to follow the answer to where it led me? And was I so naïve as to think I had a choice in the matter? After our interview, in a sort of off the record moment, I asked, “Aren’t you afraid?” And she answered, “No, I’m excited.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, a writer and theologian from Atlanta, wrote, “The only real difference between Anxiety and Excitement was my willingness to let go of Fear.” And that is where I stand today, December 31, 2015. Somewhere in between joy and fear, anxiety and excitement, the past and the future. I don’t want to say goodbye to 2015 because I loved it so much, because so many unannounced and utterly unexpected things happened resulting in a joy I’ve never known before. What will happen in 2016? What if I’m disappointed? What if something bad happens to me or to my loved ones? What if nothing happens at all? What if my full potential was reached at age 30 in the year 2015 and it’s all down hill from here? This is how fear follows my joy. These trains of thought are the stray dogs that end up sleeping in my bed.
I’m not a resolution maker, mostly because I find premeditated failure depressing. But I do like the idea of setting a theme for the year, a compass to walk with. On the inside cover of my 2015 planner, I wrote, “The theme of 2015: Love + Writing.” Those themes guided my every move. Every step I took toward them resulted in joy. Every step I took away from them resulted in fear. When I wrote those words, I had no idea how those things would manifest, only that for the next 365 days I would see the world through those two lenses.
Writing, the one that intimidated me the most, while no means easy became the easier of the two to navigate. I’ve written more this year than any other year of my life. There is no greater joy for me today than writing. I don’t have much more to say about that.
When I wrote Love, I meant romantic love. I had an earnest desire to see that area of my life grow. I went on some dates, had some people like me that I didn’t like back, liked some people that didn’t like me back, and learned that emotional honesty is a huge time and feelings saver in both of those situations. But when I wrote Love at the end of 2014, I had no idea that it wouldn’t mean romantic love at all. It would mean finally, at 30 years old, loving myself. Not in the clichéd, “I feel so comfortable in my own skin now!” kind of way but in the “There’s too much to do and know and explore, and me worrying about what you think of me is getting in the way of all that.” Do I still have moments where I desperately want someone to like me or think people hate me if they don’t include exclamation points in their emails? Sure. Choosing Love as a theme for 2015 though would also mean finding a deep and true love for serving others. Service, even more so than writing because I write to serve, is the greatest act of love I can give myself and others. Love came true, and it was better than I imagined it would be.
My themes for 2016 are Mystery + Writing. They will be my Polaris, my North Star, the Rand McNally of my life. I will keep writing because it is the only thing I know to do. I will tell the stray dog of Fear to go home when it tries to come inside. I will channel my inner Texas Nancy and try to see Mystery with excitement. I will serve others because it feels right and good. And on the days when my “I wills” sound more like “I won’ts,” I won’t try to change that. I’ll just leave well enough alone and try to remember “joy most often comes unannounced and utterly unexpected.”