Graveside Growth; 2018 Remembered
It’s nearing the end of December and the fountain is still on, spritzing the grounds and the fish hiding below the surface.
I’ve pulled up to the cemetery where many of my family members are buried, as I have almost daily throughout the year.
I wrote a book here between physical therapy appointments and commutes to and from work.
2018 was the first year of my adult life where I wasn’t in therapy.
It was the year where walls of dissonance came crashing down.
It was the year I left a job I love and miss.
It was the year I rediscovered many pieces of my past, some voluntarily and others involuntarily, most a blend between the two.
It was the year of vivid, vivid dreams.
It was the year of surgeries and recovery periods.
It was the year of medical expenses.
It was the year of many, many days and nights spent with young children and their voices of wisdom.
It was the year of family weddings, one that I officiated.
It was the year of toddlers learning to walk and talk and exert themselves.
A curse of being a writer is that words carry precise connotations, making thoughts hard to let go of, and making images hard to capture fully in the same way your third eye illustrates.
You see a picture that you want to describe and invite others into, and mostly you settle for a description that comes close enough.
What I remember best in 2018 is a lot of close enough captions for my thoughts and experiences.
Earlier this week I was having lunch with a young child who paused suddenly to comment that I don’t ever yell. She asked with some confusion, “Why don’t you yell to get people to listen to you?”
“Well, I try really hard to speak in a calm voice, and I think you can listen to me without me needing to yell. I think we do a pretty good job of talking things out together, don’t you?”
This comment wasn’t a reflection on me, it was a reflection on her view of herself, continuing to narrate the instances where she doesn’t know how to be listened to without yelling. Recalling breeches in her own calmness, and exploring the emotions behind those moments.
2018 in many ways has been a year that we collectively lost our ability to enter into calmness and emotional regulation as we’ve been pulled into tumultuous discourses and grief over the state of the world and decisions we’re making and affected by. It can fairly be characterized as anxious and volatile.
And yet its also the year where book sales are up, and as I read recently, where the sale of physical books has risen every year since 2013.
There has been a reaching for wisdom that we deeply need access to, and a yielding to voices that are offering their reflections in larger and larger numbers.
The chaos and the devastation have uncovered a yearning for respite, for alternatives, and for introspection.
The cemetery is where I go to put myself back together when I can’t independently enter my own quietness.
It’s how I choose to enter into my childhood and connect to lessons I haven’t internalized yet.
It’s where I see my child-self chasing geese to feed them, where I am pulled by heart strings that grief hasn’t broken, where I see my family and my self-growth in iterations and as a whole.
A physical space that reconstructs a view of relationships that include evolution, and a physical ritual that calls forth serenity and beauty in our seasons and laments.
Whenever writers reflect on their writing process, one of the themes that emerges repeatedly is the importance of a physical space. The role of your environment in shaping your writing space.
I’ve taken that instruction to a literal level, and I can hear the difference a place makes in my written and spoken tone. Consciously I’ve had to make myself ready to be absorbed in such a discipline, feeling both the ease and the effort that comes from writing as a discipline.
2018 is also the year that I let the media write about me for the first time.
The year I’ve flirted with being exposed and known in public.
The year where my boundaries are less definitive than my choice of words, where the feel of place has sent me swirling as often as it has grounded me.
The year where relationships have been deliberately finished and started.
The year where the loudest voice in my self-talk is my own.
Where I’ve quoted my own wisdom back to myself, and where I’ve acknowledged what it’s taken from me to walk toward and away from different challenges.
Cemeteries are places where great care is taken to exude peace, especially against the force of often unbearable feeling.
Workers have an explicit responsibility to tend to the space, to strike a note of hospitality for those who have been laid to rest and those who might visit their grave sites.
Regardless of the circumstances, the nature of how someone died, the relationship you had with them, the belief system you have for death, the value of care is the same. The deliberate reverence for how people will experience the space when they visit, and the integration of the cemetery into the surrounding neighborhood. The school buses and runners and dog walkers situated next to memories of feeding geese and crying over headstones, it’s all here and interlaced.
2018 has been the year where things are observed as interlaced, and where peace has become a higher bar to meet. Peace without dissonance is a higher bar to meet, because the state of the world and our attunement to how we feel aren’t built on a foundation of deception or avoidance or partiality.
Peace that doesn’t follow dissonance is an accumulation of experiences, not a rejection of them.
Peace that doesn’t follow dissonance means that the striving has been completed, the assurance offered, and the time to rest begun.
I don’t believe that 2019 will be the year of rest and peacefulness for us, but I do believe it can be a chance to release some of our anxieties by naming them.
It can be a time of giving up our dissolution, and our apathy, and our avoidance.
It can be a year of maturing, and of recording our observations and areas of change.
It can be a year of precision in our choice of words, and in our appetite for working for peace.
It can be a year of shaping our hearts and minds as containers for intense feeling and sharpened insights and commitments.
It can be a year of choosing to build the spaces that open us to deeper thinking that moves us out of our own way.
I can’t say for you what spaces move you toward growth, but I can suspect that places that fill you with peace and honesty are a part of them.
I can posit that disciplines for evaluating how you’re doing and how you’re showing up in your relationships is a part of them.
I can wonder if feeling anxiety is how we’re avoiding completing our experiences so we can decide what our future experiences will be.
I can observe that anxiety is no more a pure emotion than anger is.
I can hope that 2019 will be a year that we collectively uncover what else is here, and what else we want to be invested in.
I will continue to find wisdom wherever it finds me, and to spend time in places that open me to additional clarity and spaciousness in thought.
And I will keep bread in the car to feed the geese as I learned to do as a young child.
I can look up and see the fountain turned on in my mind’s eye or out my car window, and I join this feeling of serenity to my writing process yet again.
I am taking a reservoir of serenity into the New Year and trusting that it will again mature.