Christmas is in two weeks, and then just one more week after that before our year wraps itself up. Although I don’t expect to wake up on January 1st and feel much different than I did on December 31st, I can’t say I am sorry to mark 2011 off of my calendar. The past year has been full- full of change, and loss, and learning to find joy amidst difficult circumstances. Don’t get me wrong; I am blessed. In March, I was lucky enough to spend a whole week in London visiting my best friend. Just a couple months later I was able to go back to Slovakia, (this time with my family in tow), and see my grandfather’s face glow as he soaked in the language, cuisine, and community of his parents. I made new friends, and strengthened relationships with old ones.
But there were rocky patches. My spring was consumed with trying to save an important and long-lasting friendship that was quickly and unexpectedly falling apart due to circumstances outside of my control. I remember breathing a sigh of relief as I boarded the plane for six weeks across the ocean, because I had never wanted to separate myself from life back home as much as I did right then. For those who know me, my cell phone and I are pretty damn close. Those six weeks in Europe without a cell phone or reliable internet connection were exactly what I needed. Then merely days after I returned home, my pug Cricket and my brother’s pug Roxy died from heatstroke on my watch. I felt so guilty and heartbroken, but thankfully was surrounded my family who texted and called and visited and assured me that terrible mistakes happen and it wasn’t my fault. Cricket was the first pet (besides a goldfish) that I’ve lost and it was so, so, so hard… and it was really hard to learn to forgive myself.
Then not even two months later, my cousin’s cousin was stabbed to death. He would be turning eighteen this Christmas. He would be graduating high school this Spring. It was a silly fight over money. I will never forget the shock I felt upon hearing what happened- the shock, followed by disbelief, followed by anger and many tears. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to people I know, it just doesn’t happen. But it did. I saw him a lot more when we were kids, but our lives had drifted apart over the last few years. I’m grateful that I happened to run into him and see his smile one last time, just one week before we got the news. It goes without saying that it was tough for all of us, but the pain for my cousin’s family was excruciating, and I knew it was up to the rest of us to be the support they needed so badly. My extended family became closer over those first few agonizing days than ever before. Amidst the horror and shock and seemingly endless tears, there was so much love. As my father officiated the funeral that steamy August morning, it became clear to me how blessed I am to have a family that is as supporting and caring and devoted to one another as mine is. Life can be very dark. I thank God that he’s given us himself and one another to help us through that thick and heavy darkness.
I started writing this earlier today, and now it’s almost ten o’clock, and I just got home from dinner and a movie with some friends. The movie was one of those sobering psychological thrillers that left me in a daze from my brain working overtime… and then I got into my car and noticed my parents had called me. I quickly returned the call, only to hear my mom tell me that her dad has been moved to hospice, and has chosen to be taken off insulin. My parents have been celebrating their thirty-second anniversary in Manhattan, but now they’ll be leaving for Virginia tomorrow so that my mom can see my grandfather one last time. The doctor says that Grandpa Ed has two or three days to live and it will not be long before he slips into a coma from lack of medication. I haven’t seen Grandpa Ed for a few years, but this is still so hard. It’s hard to not be with my mom right now. It’s hard to just stay home and be strong for my little sister when I’d much rather just sit in my car and cry into my steering wheel.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself this year, it is that I’m much better at dealing with my own pain than anybody else’s. What I mean by that is, I can be physically hurt or someone can be cruel to me, and I will take it pretty well. It’s when I see anyone around me suffering that I start to break up. It’s when I see someone suffer loss, or know that someone I love is in pain, that I feel hopeless and small and weak and broken. Seeing someone else hurt, or knowing that I let someone down, hurts me so much more than when the same happens to me. I know that empathy is known as a positive quality, but sometimes I ask myself if it can be too much of a good thing. Sometimes the pain I feel for the victim overwhelms my ability to stay strong for them. Sometimes I feel so deeply I think I might explode.
Life is short. It can be gone in a blink of an eye- that is something else that 2011 taught me. I’ve learned that this life is but a vapor. We need to get better at dismissing all the small stuff. We need to move past all the little roadblocks that make up day-to-day life, and enjoy each day and the beauty that fills it. I’ve realized that if you don’t have something to live for, you die for nothing. This year has taught me the importance of relationships. Whether or not I live another hour or another eighty years, I hope to always remember one thing. God placed so many beautiful people on this planet, and my love for them is what makes this life worth living. May I never let my hopes, dreams and ambitions get in the way of “each other”. As we focus on the coming year, let’s vow to make 2012 significant- not because of a new car, or a new trip, or even a new job- but because we truly and selflessly loved one another.
December 12th 2011
Update: Yesterday evening my grandfather passed away, surrounded by his wife and children. RIP Edward Gertz, December 14th 2011