This time a year ago I stood on the edge of 2017, reflecting on the year 2016.
I didn’t like all that I saw. It was a year of transition. A year of learning lessons. A year of finding who my friends where, and who, unquestionably, were not. It was a year of more downs than ups, and of not knowing with any clarity at all where the next year might take me, or what I might experience.
I turned my back on 2016, and stared into 2017. I didn’t know what it would bring. But I wrote on a giant dry-erase board on my wall what I hoped it would be: “Awesome 2017.”
I knew I’d spend the last week of 2016 and the first week of 2017 visiting my brother, sister-in-law and my two nieces in Maui. I thought that would be awesome, so I wrote it on the then-empty list before heading to the airport.
It was awesome. I met new friends. I went snorkeling, and learned to surf very poorly. I watched the sun set from the top of the volcano Haleakala. I went on an adventure and found myself trapped in Hanna overnight when massive rains had created rock slides that blocked the road back to my brother’s home. I stared at the stars on a bed of black volcanic sand. I saw whales play in the water.
When I returned home, and back to normal life, I started keeping track of the things that made me feel really good inside, and when that happened, I put it up on the board. I told myself at the time if I ended 2017 with 12 “Awesome” things on the list, that would, indeed, be an awesome year.
Here, on the cusp of 2018, I’m again looking back on the past year. And I’m looking back on my list. There are 30 items, not counting some sub-items that were also list-worthy.
There’s a lot on that list, and there’s a lot that was undoubtedly incredible that didn’t make the cut – not because it wasn’t awesome, but because there was so much awesome in 2017.
As I look at it now, at those things that filled my heart and spirit in 2017, I can see that not one of the items is a thing, a possession, or anything material at all. The entire list is made up of experiences. Writing a play, acting in a play, watching my son grow more self-assured as he biked across Kansas with me, making new friendships and strengthening old ones, growing personally and professionally in ways I couldn’t have imagined, camping trips, hiking trips, introductions to new ideas, and the opportunity to take a completely different path in life that was neither planned nor expected. And watching Lila grow and learn and come more into herself.
These moments, these friendships and these experiences have enriched me in ways I find hard to describe. And it’s not often that I can’t find my words.
That’s not to say that 2017 was only awesome, or that it was without its moments of darkness or sadness. There have been moments of doubt, moments, still, when the past seems to not want to loosen its grip and it feels like it, and its mistakes, misgivings, or setbacks might hold you for many years to come. That is a fleeting feeling, though.
I left a career I had spent 15 years building, and though I did that voluntarily and saw it as a chance to do some good work as a member of the Kansas House of Representatives, it wasn’t without struggle. I left people I cared about, and left a job for which I had cared a great deal. Letting go of that, and the identity I had made there, wasn’t easy. But it was necessary, and now several months removed, absolutely good.
I’ve also said and done the wrong thing sometimes this year, and I’ve at times left people not feeling as good as I’d like. There’s a fair chance I’ll do that again in 2018. And 2019. And 2020, and for as many years as I’m able to capture breath. Not because I want to, but because I’m imperfect, and I’m still learning. Apologies and learning are not new things to me.
It also held its share of loss. Namely, I lost a dear friend in Patsy, who, I think, would tell me that she loved my “Awesome 2017” list. She believed more than anyone I know in the power of thought – that the way we talk to ourselves becomes our reality. That when we pay attention to the good in our lives, the more of it we’ll see, the more we’ll focus on it, and the less we’ll focus on the bad parts. For as quarrelsome 2016 had been, it would’ve been worse without Patsy’s presence in my life.
When I think about 2017, I think of the way people made me feel. I remember sharing stories, and building bonds. I think of taking on new challenges, new adventures, and of sharing our humanity with each other. I think of the challenges I overcame and the things I accomplished. I think of the adventures I’ve had. I think of the people who came into my life, for whatever length of time, and made it all the richer.
To all of you who added experience, insight, friendship, faith, hope, joy, and feeling to my life, thank you. Truly. Life, in a vacuum, without people like you, isn’t much at all. But you have all added something to my life that I value dearly: experiences.
If, for you, 2017 was more like my 2016, I’m sorry. I know that’s not fun. And I know that this time of year is either a nice chance to clean the slate, or a time to dwell on all that’s gone wrong in the previous year. I understand how that feels. I hope 2018 brings you more of what you want and less of what you don’t, and I hope it opens up entirely new worlds that you’ll not just accept, but embrace with hope and excitement.
And I hope that it’s awesome. Just to make sure, I’m going to start a new list.