With the exception of that one guy who keeps trying to insert balance into the 2016 narrative, everyone who has shared an opinion about the year says it sucked. And sure, I can see why: America had its stupidest presidential election ever and a slew of pop culture icons died. A bunch of horrible stuff happened elsewhere in the world, too, but then again, a bunch of horrible stuff is usually happening elsewhere in the world, so I don’t know how much that factored in to all the “2016 sucks!” posts filling up my Facebook feed. The unhappiness of my fellow white, middle-class Americans mostly stems from the one-two punch of watching past and future disappear simultaneously.
I’m not generally one for wallowing in nostalgia. I enjoy being surprised by it, to hear a once-favorite song somewhere unexpected, but otherwise tend to seek out the new. I’m sadder when young musicians die than those with multi-decade bodies of work, because it’s inherently sadder to lose possibilities than close the book on accomplishments. I cried when Kurt Cobain died because it was heartbreaking for him and for us that he would never create more, never give us more. But the loss I felt around Bowie and Prince was related to music they’d made so long ago and therefore more about me and the inescapable fact that if the heroes of my youth are growing older and dying, then my own relevancy to this world is likewise coming closer to an end. If it wouldn’t seem rude to belabor the point, I’d argue that most of my peers’ grieving stemmed from a similar place, that the stars who’ve died this year remind us of our own dimming light and that’s what we truly mourn.
Also, I had two friends who lost sons this year, one a young man, one a baby, and two others forced to note the anniversary of sons lost the year before. So when people say 2016 sucks, those are the deaths that come to mind – and I can imagine nothing worse than outliving one’s children ever, in any year. I think of the record 22 homicides in Humboldt since January, the most recent within a mile of my home – that victim, like many of the others and so many of the killers, in the age range of my own children, adults, technically, but barely so. I am sorry for the loss people feel about Bowie, Prince, Alan Rickman, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, etc., all of whom I admired and some of whom served as lifelines in my own turbulent youth, and I appreciate how the collective grieving brings us closer together for a moment, but the smaller deaths are the ones that take up chambers in my heart.
And the presidential election! The campaign season was painful enough with the very worst of our society celebrated daily. I attempted to soothe myself by noting at least we’re having conversations about how wrong racism and misogyny are even as I joined the legions of women coming undone as sexual assault! became an unavoidable refrain eliciting our own experiences, our own silencing, our own inability to make people understand. By the time the election happened, my never wholly successful attempts to compartmentalize had turned to near complete failures and I’d committed to temperance and therapy. Post-election, I felt like the guy in Airplane! who keeps popping up to say he picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue – only that line made me laugh whereas the future forced upon me does not.
Nonetheless, despite the relief that a little denial and oblivion might bring, clarity of mind proves useful in slogging through this valley of despair. It also offers a vantage point from which to note that, as much as it sucked for friends and the world at large, 2016 served to kick off my first year working the kind of career I daydreamed about back when I was an angsty adolescent listening to Let’s Dance. Between then and now, so much has happened – an abbreviated high school experience, lust and love, three children, a zillion jobs in multiple cities, college, a move from one end of the state to another – and despite all predictions, I somehow landed where I meant to be all those years ago. So I can’t hate 2016 entirely. It has brought me to new places, reconnected me to old friends, provided stories and sunsets and surfing in 11 of California’s 15 coastal counties, all in the service of work I believe in.
Even as I write this, my phone blips with news that Debbie Reynolds, one-time actress and proud mother of Carrie Fisher, has died a day after her daughter’s passing. The cause, according to the family? Grief. Of course.
Friends, we are going to keep losing people. If we’re lucky, they’ll be the aging icons of our youth (sorry, my accomplished heroes!) and not our children themselves. Hold those you love close – and those who’ve lost, even closer.
And while no tangible quality divides December 31 from January 1, let this semblance of a new beginning invite the channeling of optimism, the elevation of political resistance and an opportunity, once again, to manifest our best selves.
With that, here’s to 2017 and all the inevitable battles, joys and tears to come.