When I impulsively started writing you a letter in my journal earlier this month, I had no idea what I wanted to achieve or how it was going to look. I thought it might be cathartic at worst, reflective at best. At the very least, I could get to grips with what has been a hot mess of a strange twelve months. More often than not, I have to write something down before I know what it is that I really want to say. Sprinkle in the simultaneous blur and endless trajectory of your existence and I shouldn’t really be surprised. What did surprise me, however, was the dominant theme that emerged as I traced and retraced thoughts, pen tip lightly pressed upon the blank page so as not to startle any shy enough to make their approach only at the edges of my waking.
It wasn’t the pain of continued uncertainty, not the stress of personal and professional limbo or the anxiety of not knowing where I’ll be in the months to come. It wasn’t the bottomless existential doubt of purpose. It wasn’t the sadness of missing family whom I haven’t seen for a year or the physical ache of the isolation and lows I’ve battled. I mean, those were all there, but then, I’d never expected them not to be.
No, what emerged was moments of grace and peace, deeply concentrated happiness, laughter, stories, words—so many words—and people, mostly virtual, but a few in person (all some of the very best, more than I would have let myself hope for). A year of moments that, even without my tendency to narrativise my existence and everything around me, I want to remember, be grateful for. I have spent so much time in my head and writing journal entangling the bad, that I want to acknowledge the good, even if for just being alive, safe and healthy enough to experience them.
You made me realise that a good story still has power over me, even during every unprecedented situation you’ve created for us; that I’ve never just escaped in them, instead using other people’s words and imaginations to ground and strengthen me, to make sense of reality through fiction. You showed me how the The Lord of the Rings will always have, even know, what I need, even when I don’t. That Middle Earth will always be home in a way I’d never imagined. More than ever before, my passage of time in your company was measured in stories, in moments when I couldn’t stop the words and others when I struggled, feeling as ungainly as ever in expression, in my attempt to translate them onto the page, for posterity if nothing else.
I learned, yet again, that in writing as in life, we sometimes need to allow a thing to break apart so that it can be forged anew, that real growth is always worth the time and the struggle, but that we should remember to show ourselves the kindness and patience we do others. It’s imperative that we allow ourselves to just be.
Kelly (@thecontraryreader on Instagram), in her winter solstice post, wrote about how some, even many, of the realisations you have prompted may not be new to us; simply possessed by a renewed significance, an urgency. She wasn’t wrong.
This isn’t the first time I’ve accepted that there are very few things we know with utmost certainty. But rather than being resigned that most of it is just us sending out our little paperboats into the stream to join all the others, you have, via one of the hardest ways, somehow ensured a renewed sense of faith and hope, a trust that they will find their way as will we.
You have guided me to settle into the awareness that the person I am now, who was able to complete a story that was preordained to exist in the version she has now sent out into the world, wouldn’t exist without the intervening years, without, particularly, the doubts, pitfalls, struggles and uncertainties within and without of you—and if this story was meant to exist, then so was everything that has shaped me into the person who could even recognise the form it was always meant to take, who could finally finish it, eight years on, when you’d given her enough indication to give up on it.
I have, in the past, talked about the comfort of moments like this, of knowing that the universe cares enough to reveal its presence, joined by similar flashes dotting the years past, present and future. That we’re a part of the current, just like everyone else. It is a gratitude I must reiterate, especially in the relentless chaos you’ve unleashed. It is accompanied by the gratitude (but also the guilt) to even be in a position to experience them—moments to cherish as the world is falling apart, when there is so much needless loss and so many who’re suffering, so much hate and division and brokenness; moments that matter even more because, putting those that came before into context as well.
So much of your company has taught me about existing in the suspended moment, performing the course of action within my reach while accepting that our portion of power and control is rather meagre, far more limited than we may like to concede even to ourselves. Because time, among many other things, is a keeper of secrets and we can’t always connect the dots but in retrospect.
But I know that none of this means absolving ourselves of any future concern or responsibility; for me, it has always been an acknowledgement of the symbiotic relationship we share with the universe at large. As one of the wisest of them all said, it isn’t our part to master all the tides of the world. All we can do is live honestly and true to ourselves and our beliefs, we can fight and work towards a better future for ourselves and others while cherishing, celebrating, being grateful for what we have, we can dream and love, we can be kind and compassionate and brave.
Even as you’ve given me all the moments I want to be able to recognise and remember, you’ve made me miss so much – my family and friends, hugs and travel, spontaneous trips to bookstores and cafes, interacting with complete strangers and finding transient connections and lifelong friends, reading in the Boston Public Library courtyard, writing in Bates Hall, watching a football game with more than a few people (Arsenal has rather “kindly” taken care of that by being almost as broken as you—though, as of yesterday, they’ve shown that they have signs of life and at least some pieces of the road map to the future; whether that means anything, only time will tell, but I hope so, just as I always will).
So, even though I cannot wait to see you safely off until the far horizon is all that is ahead of me, I look towards that horizon armed with the knowledge that even at your worst, whether with the world or its people—and trust me, there was a lot of that—through tremendous personal uncertainty and anxiety that doesn’t look like letting up anytime soon, I’ve glimpsed, yet again, that my existence means something and I’m still one of the privileged ones. I can (and should) rest, but never stop trying for better, striving for good, for me and others. A responsibility of action and purpose that doesn’t feel as terrifying as it used to, though a responsibility it’ll always be.
You have made me feel simultaneously the most emotionally exhausted and helpless I have ever been and the most energised, with all the possibilities of the universe and all its hope in me, with everything in between; moulded into someone who is actually stronger and better for everything you’ve put me through, made me confront, allowed me to realise. You’ve also made me more at ease about everything *always* being a work in progress – and as much as I’d not expected to be doing this or feeling like this, how can I not pause to reflect and appreciate before you passed on, albeit not a moment too soon?
Yours sincerely (how do you even sign off on something like this?),
(Photo credit to the lovely Beth Bonini who I spent a wonderful day with in London in December 2019.)