We threw out all the boxes and wrapping from Christmas and that wave came over us both. That need to keep throwing things away. December 31st arrived, and it turned out to be the day that Joe and I would clean out the pantry.
We kept on finding packages of dried cranberries. “You know I’m such a fool for you”, I’d sing; lyrics from The Cranberries’ hit, “Linger.” We’d both laugh and sing more of the song when we found another package. Eventually we realized it would be better if we turned on some music. Joe thought it was a sign we should listen to 90’s hits. He found a playlist on Spotify.
If you know me well, and have known me long enough to remember me from the 90’s, or have at least heard me talk about it, then you may have heard me refer to it as the worst decade of my life. I’m normally only about 15 percent joking about it. For many years now, certain 90’s songs can make me feel physically sick to hear the first few notes of the intro. The waves come back. My parents’ divorce. Horrible breakups. Long stretches of loneliness and monotony that sank deep into my bones. But what the heck, let’s listen to some 90’s tunes. I didn’t hate all of them, maybe it would be fun.
We got the pantry done and I found myself still listening as I worked on all the refreshments for our little family party we’d have later to celebrate the new year. It was actually a great playlist. Not just the songs people like to brag about liking by bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. But also some of the previously ubiquitous top 40 hits that have mostly vanished now. My 16 year old daughter was startled, amazed, amused, and maybe a little disgusted, just the appropriate amount for a teenager, as she witnessed me singing at the top of my lungs to some of the tunes. Baby, Baby by Amy Grant. You Gotta Be by Des’ree. Wannabe by the Spice Girls. Songs I didn’t even super love that much when they were popular, but that were giving me vibes on December 31st, 2022.
I thought to myself, maybe it’s ridiculous of me to refer to a whole decade as being terrible. Some important and wonderful things happened to me over that time. I accomplished some amazing things. And even the things I survived helped me in some ways.
It got me thinking about New Year’s Eve. Every year I see people post things like, “So long, stupid former year, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” I’ve been guilty of it myself. 2020, anyone? But the truth is that no year is 100 percent bad. It’s kind of weird that we section off 365 days and lump them all into one category. Honestly a new year can start at any point in time.
I felt so wise and enlightened. I got all the refreshments done and got in the car to take my daughter to a New Year’s party at her friend’s house. It was very snowy. Everything seemed so strangely quiet and beautiful as I drove home down quaint little Main Street in my little town. I was still listening to the playlist, and Jeff Buckley’s version of Hallelujah came on. A song I really thought I was over, after all the terrible covers. But it was hitting different that night. I’ve always thought his version was the very best one. I started crying. I also started getting this feeling that something terrible was about to happen. Then I remembered that I was probably thinking of when they used that song in that one episode of The West Wing when C.J’s boyfriend got killed. And then I also remembered that I have a slight case of random fatalistic anxiety that makes it so when things start feeling really wonderful, I have this sick feeling that the universe is about to even it out somehow with something terrible. What a great dance my brain does. Can anyone relate? Maybe I’m just a mess.
Losing my sister this past year hasn’t helped this. I get a tiny wave of dread when I feel any unusual ache or pain. I pray every night that I can please have a long life and be here long enough to raise my children to adulthood and be with my husband for that long, and help them for years after that; but realizing that God will grant me as long or short of a life as he sees fit. And that stuff just happens as it will happen because we live in a weird world. And I worry.
What if I really do just need to measure the time increments in smaller chunks? The future won’t be changed much by things I worry about it. It will be changed even less by the things that have already happened. Maybe I can’t really control the future that much at all, except to make it as good as it can be by what I’m doing right now. If I think about the past, maybe the way I let it affect the future is how I frame it, what I learn from it, and how well I can let it go. My favorite definition of forgiveness is that it’s the willingness to accept that the past can’t change. That seems doable, doesn’t it? And looking forward, maybe when I feel overwhelmed by all the things I’m not and everything I’d have to do to be who I wish I were, instead I could make one good choice that points me in the right direction, at any point in time.
That just leaves me with now. Today is January 1st. New Year’s Day. I think my New Year’s resolution will be to celebrate Now. Happy New Day. Happy New Hour. New Minute. New Second. Every single one has the chance to be good. Really, if there’s anything I learned from my sister, that may be the secret of life, right there.