The clock ticks to 7:59, and I’m sipping my too-hot, not-strong-enough tea, trying to wake myself for another 15-hour work day in the middle of my fourth 60-hour work week in a row. Julien Baker plays softly on my stereo, that brutal whisper-shout refrain breaking through the sound of a mother loudly berating her child outside of my car. I sing along in some sleepy admission that there is divinity in this goofy universe, “I think there’s a God and he hears either way, I rejoice and I complain,” and I yawn for the fourth time since parking.
Life happens quickly, unexpected and bold in its pitches and shift changes.
And so, for a moment, let me rejoice and complain and ultimately bask in thanking God and the universe and my friends and my family, for everything.
Almost exactly a year ago, an unassuming visit to the vet ended with a bleak prognosis for our wonderful family pup Emma. Each of us – my parents, my brother, and I – dealt with the likelihood of watching that beloved animal slowly die from the cancer inside, but we remained hopeful even during the surgery a few days later that all would go well and she would be back to good health for another few years. As these things do happen, she died on the operating table, and all that remains of Emma is an old collar, some ashes, and her ever-pervasive canine fragrance still permeating whenever the vacuum is turned on. The four years prior saw high school end, relationships come and go, university living and learning slowly transform me from an uninformed “socially liberal, economically conservative” suburbanite to a bleeding heart humanist and progressive mystic, car crashes and lung issues mess with my waking and sleeping, and my world expand up into the Big Apple and south into heart of Colombia. Still, those few minutes weeping on the phone with my mother over that furry treasure of a mutt set off one of the weirdest, hardest, and most transformative years of my life.
Not long after Emma passed, I was forced to cut ties with a long-term friend over some more-than-questionable sexual conduct committed against a nonconsenting woman; another romance ended somewhat unexpectedly; my living situation collapsed amidst dishonest accusations and misinformation called against me; and my post-collegiate plans began their first of a series of shifts into uncertainty and daily reorganization.
Good things, too, happened during all of the heartbreak, stress, and confusion of course. A new canine partner-in-crime was introduced to our family, in all of her idiotic splendor; Molly may think herself a gardener, digging up half the yard and ripping newly planted gardens to shreds, but she’s brought new light and laughter to our family. Six months ago, I tossed my cap and walked my last lap around the University of Georgia as an undergraduate student, three degrees and a relatively minor amount of student loan debt under my belt; the Classic City stands at my back, always welcoming me home, but propelling me forward into whatever may come. New connections and old friendships bloomed, and I was able to travel to the west coast to see the Pacific Ocean, that manifest destiny, for the first time.
Still, more confusion peeked through, with that cross-country job and move falling through just weeks before my plane was due to depart, my professional and locational prospects stalling as yet another romantic venture blew up and my family entered into a daily uncertainty as a business relocation stretches on into doubt and frustration. Five weeks of patiently waiting – jobless, living back with my parents, watching too much Netflix – for a plane ride and state change soon became five more weeks of hopelessly wondering – jobless, living back with my parents, watching too much Netflix – about what should come next.
So now, a year after Emma’s heart stopped beating, I look back on what has got to be the wildest twelve months of my twenty-two-and-a-half years. Just four months ago, to think that I would be living in Atlanta with three strangers, serving coffee to students attending my alma mater’s rival, and helping tutor inner-city first- and second-graders, I wouldn’t have even been able to compute the difficulty, excitement, and impossible irony that was in store.
Between Los Angeles and Atlanta, at least fifty employers now hold my resume and probably a hastily written cover-letter imploring them to hire me at their office/restaurant/dog-grooming service, and at least two dozen random citizens of each city have my email address and phone number after conversations about potential roommate arrangements. Long, empty days over the summer stretched into so many books, movies, and television shows that entertained, challenged, and invigorated me, new-found music got me moving and playing again, and simple nights over pints and trivia in Athens reminded me that some people will always have my back no matter what. I’ve connected with so many new people from so many different races, religions, hometowns, and political ideologies, and I’ve (re)discovered parts of the city I grew up next to, finding a new home. In the last seven days alone, amid the recurring 60-hour work week and the exhaustion post-move and post-sickness, I have spent hours in bars and pizza joints talking to new and old friends about God, music, anxieties, and my friends’ love lives, as well as an impromptu four-and-a-half late-night hours enjoying the hospitality that is Waffle House and the inspiration of a friend’s artistry and conversation. And as I look forward to the next week, I expect to carry these same conversations, inspirations, and energies to the dinner table with my family, to the coffee bar I work behind, to the people for whom I deliver pizzas, and to the teachers with whom I work.
And I am so thankful for all this, for the insanity. The holiday season, in all of its greeting card glory, is silly and consumerist and ultimately vapid in its illegitimacy, but something about today, this week, and this time – with the weather cooling off and my walls finally painted, with my work load being temporarily lighter and with family visits on the horizon – makes me want to take a second and genuinely thank all of those in my life. In The Message translation of the Hebrew Psalms, for whatever weight you grant either that questionable rendering or the authority of those scriptures, the author describes simply and profoundly the way into the divine, the presence of God, heaven, the Kingdom, whatever – he implores us to “[e]nter with the password: Thank you!” and asks that we, “[m]ake [our]selves at home, talking praise. // Thank him. Worship him. // For God is sheer beauty, // all-generous in love, // loyal always and ever.” I’ve never felt more tired than I have this year; I’ve never felt more defeated, more heartbroken or alone than I have at times throughout these last three-hundred-and-sixty-five days. Nor have I ever felt so damn happy, in love, excited, hopeful, or in awe than I have during the course of 2015. I’m so tired of being bitter, of being annoyed and hurt and entitled; I’m so done with holding onto the pain and frustrations and losses. I want to bask in that beauty of which the Psalmist writes, in that love, and in that loyalty and security. So at least for a night, I can mutter that truly magical password and be thankful and nothing more.
To Emma, for being such a dopey, well-tempered, and sweet-hearted dog for so many years of my teens. To Molly, for sprinting and jumping your golden way into our family and reminding us that we can heal after such loss. To Taylor, for teaching me so much, from music theory to how to handle stress, and for never being afraid to call me out for my bullshit. To Allie, for being such a good friend and drinking buddy for those college years. To Stephanie and Carson and the Copper Creek trivia gang, for hanging out and taking my mind off of the insanity of the summer. To Laura, for challenging me and being patient with me throughout the first half of a stupid year, for road trips and memories and good wishes. To John, for inspiring me with your music and for our trademark coffee and pizza nights. To Kevin, Ian, and Zak for making me laugh and letting me loosen up after such long weeks. To Chelsy, for being my friend for so many years and always being around to catch up and unload. To Yami and Doug, for being idiots and getting married and being the wonderful, amazing people that you guys are. To Karen and Hugo, for keeping an eye on my parents during all the craziness and for always being the amazing people that you are. To Chris, for beer and theology and accidentally matching outfits. To Shannon, for accepting me in spite of the ladybug massacre and for inspiring photography and novel-length text conversations about the Walking Dead and Donald Trump. To Cathy, for your beautiful art and for off-the-cuff graduation photos and for reminding basically every one to work harder because no one works (and plays) as hard as you do. To Justin, for Lootcrate goodies and comic recommendations and random reconnections after so many years. To Donnie, for always being a man for the Kingdom and for leading a generation of impassioned students. To Judah, for the Movement and a Monday night home while I was a transplant stuck in the suburbs. To Bri and Patrick, for bike rides and pull-out couches and welcoming me into the city. To Jay, Spencer, and Lloyd for finding a kickass house and inviting me to join you there. To Elizabeth, for opening up Atlanta to me and for tea and jokes and helping me paint my room. To Tracy and Sinead, for filling my house with furniture and giving me a place to sleep and repaying my accidental thieving of a towel with a gift of brand new towels. To Lori, for always being around, even so far away, for talks and catching up, and for finally hanging out after too many years. To Charlsey, for being willing to be a weird cross-country friend and for checking in on me. To Victoria and Ciera, for great nights in college that we need to recreate sooner than later, to Gil for idiotic freshman nights drinking and last years’ holiday shenangians that also we need to revisit, to Minh and Danielle and Jessie and the Spoken Word UGA club we put together and all the time we shared over that, to the O’House crew and the Earthbound family for making work fun and important and impactful even despite all of the mundane. To the University of Georgia and to Athens, for four amazing years of education and fun. To Hands On Atlanta, for giving me such a great opportunity to work with these kids and move forward with my career a little at a time. To the Starbucks crew for welcoming me so quickly and making so many fifteen hour days run as smoothly and enjoyably as possible. To my brother, for putting up with me and for us somehow still tolerating each other after too many fights over video games and chores. To my entire extended family, for the holiday love and the graduation party support and the wedding festivities and everything else. And to my amazing parents, for all of your love towards me and between each other, for all of your support and good will and genuine wisdom, for all of your hard work and perseverance and optimism – to you especially I owe everything that I have and ever will. In all of these people, each and every one of you, even those I forgot to include because I suck and it’s late, I rejoice and I celebrate and I love. Thank you.
So much is messed up in the world. The last few months, weeks, and days have reminded us all of that, perhaps weighing a bit on our own troubles, but also showing us that while things can and should always get better, things could be so much worse. Perhaps I could and even should thank God that my complaints are ultimately so trivial, that my rejoicing comes easy and quick and frequent. With such joy and rejoicing on my tongue I cannot forget my brothers and sisters here and abroad that cannot do such rejoicing. I pray for Paris, I pray for the Syrian refugees so many nations have turned away, I pray for the innocent dying at our hands as we vainly try to fix the problems in the Middle East we have created, I pray for the people-of-color who face such institutional and personal violence at the hands of a privileged and rigged system, I pray for the LGBTQ* community who have won victories this year but still have so far to come before they can feel safe and accepted, I pray for the sick and the poor and the hurting, I pray for my friends, I pray for my family, and I pray that in spite of all the bullshit that has happened over the course of this year in my life and in spite of all the bullshit that will happen in the next twelve months, that I always and ever-presently recognize just how great life is. I am so thankful, even for the challenges and the heartbreaks, for those thorns in my side, and for the grace that is life and and beauty and security and laughter and love that will always be sufficient for me.
I still have no idea what should come next – a month of 60-hour work weeks, unpacking boxes, and trying to budget with an income no would would be jealous of leaves me little time to figure this out, but I look to the next twelve months with hope and new energy.
Fuck Christopher Columbus and the legacy of imperialism, fuck greeting cards and fake gratitude, fuck Black Friday and some stupid holiday that so many use as an excuse to bicker and overeat and boast of their yearly triumphs. But dear God, oh holy universe, that divine mother earth, even the beating heart in my chest, thank you. And to each and every person, friends and family and even those I hardly know or know no longer, thank you most of all.