I had been resistant to the idea that 2014 could be anything but another solidly good year. Of course, who wants to have a bad year? My resistance, though, wasn’t only out of natural human pleasure-seeking, the normal desire to feel good, not bad. My denial had the flavor of evangelical zealotry to it because I simply no longer believed in bad years.
Like many zealots, I was only recently converted. I had had many bad years, had nothing but them for long stretches. Then in 2012 and 2013, things changed for me, and I finally had the bright and shiny pleasure of good years. Years that were not devoid of challenges and sadnesses, but were, overall, full of solid, grounded, true happinesses. Friendships. Accomplishments diligently worked towards. Deep connection with nature. Progress on personal goals. Creative expression. I felt breathless with gratitude for this good fortune, especially because I knew that years aren’t necessarily always like that.
The night before my first (and so far only) half marathon, I sat in a hotel room in Leavenworth with that same friend Heather who had come to run it with me. (Aside: what great fortune! A friend who will come all the way to Paris to see you! Who will do a half marathon with you at your pudgy snail’s pace even though she can run it in literally half the time! Who’s your friend even after you petulantly, childishly, stopped speaking to her in your 20’s, who forgave you completely even though she had no reason to?)
I told her how the older I get, the more deeply I identified with the poem “Could Have” by Wislawa Szymborska. I pulled it up on my phone to read it to her and become a little weepy as we sat in our beds the night before the race.
My breathless gratitude for the holes in nets I’d slipped through, for the pleasures and little joys I’d collected around myself, ones I’d not expected to have…this was what I’d begun to cling to with my zealotry.
I’d made it, shocked and speechless, through those bad years, and I felt certain that if I just maintained that gratitude, and focused on those small pleasures, I would be fine. I had inoculated myself against bad years.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’d started thinking of this poem as a fixed point I’d passed, instead of what it is, which is the constant, daily truth of life: there is always a new net to slip through until you don’t.
I had convinced myself that I’d insulated myself from the kind of net of badness that had caught me before, that I’d developed tiny rituals of accessible happinesses, and that had created some kind of protective bubble around myself.
Our rituals can make us feel better; unfortunately, I forgot that I don’t believe they actually control how anything turns out.