2017 started with my stated goal of “facing fears.” I lined up a series of challenges I’d been daydreaming about for decades. Work and life always took me in other directions I suppose. Maybe because I felt I had faced Death in 2015. Leaving me thinking that I should do things now, and quickly. Grab every goddamn day by the balls, pull hard, and make it count so to speak. How do you come to terms with that? My uncle and best friend Nick know what this looks like. Between heart attacks, cancer and strokes… the things that can end us, well, it was all I could do to keep my balance this year as a result of my mad dash to open myself up and experience all that I could.
And yet, I stepped into 2017 with an evolving set of goals last January. Brace myself for failure and the dark places my heart goes, to try and not place my hopes beyond today but to embrace it more fully every time I felt the light shine inside of me. I fell down on a number of occasions, especially toward the end when the complications of Nick’s health crisis impacted me in ways I did not anticipate. But with help, my husband, friends and hope I made it here to today. Sitting in a coffee shop while the snow falls at the tail end of a big damn year of change, exploration, fun and new experiences.
The actual list sort of looked like this:
- Open my heart to others and form friendships I would not have allowed otherwise
- Admit failure
- Go to Seattle, Portland, Chicago, Miami, New York City
- Encourage others
- Be a better husband
- Pay success forward
- Reach out to the tech community and do what I can to mentor women and men with dreams
- Be a better friend
- Attend CLAW
- Try to make peace with heart disease and strike a balance between life & fear
- Tattoo a story of the door I walked through onto my back, with gratitude, no matter how much it hurt
- Forgive myself
- Forgive others
- Visualize better tomorrows, corny, but allows for growth and self compassion
- Open myself to the gay community and go on some very personal journies
- Travel to new places with my husband
- Go camping, a lot, in both remote and traditional spots to sleep outside under the stars and in the rain at times
- Practice naked yoga with other men in a non-sexual and non-creepy safe context
- Shower outdoors and sleep under the stars
- Go hiking in remote places
- Run races – lot’s of failures here but it’s the practice that counts
- Run in the rain
- Muster all the fight in the world for my passions for what I think is right professionally toward changing culture in good ways
- Grow a big ass beard
- Take “rage against the dying of the light” to heart
- Set a career path toward becoming a cloud architect
Looking back, damn if I didn’t do all these things I suppose. That and the curve ball of standing by Nick through his stroke and becoming close with the disparate collection of friends he had through the process. Or the poisonous exposure to his family… who to a man recovering from a stroke was medicine. But to those around him … well, wow. There were moments where I ultimately failed in that I just could not bear the exposure so I just shut them out after many months of interaction. Eddie and I bought them all a family Thanksgiving dinner so they could be together as brother, sister, brother in law, nephew and his partner together at the recovery center. As durable power of attorney I had to talk to the sister and break it to her that there would be no more loans from her brother, ever, because he could no longer afford it even as he was recovering his ability to move and reason. Or drafting a letter of collection of sorts to his nephew who had the benefit of his uncle’s generosity in paying for his student loan that he co-signed for many years ago… which he could no longer afford. Or telling Nick that he would no longer be able to drive and that we should try to offload his car lease. Or try to get the very personal assets that his nephew took from Nick’s meager apartment while he was newly admitted to ICU days after his stroke. These events challenged my belief in people like no other in my life during the year where my eye was focused on myself and the things I wanted to accomplish before I die. These were the source of some very dark moments that ultimately brought me back to working with a therapist in order to get a grip on myself again.
And yet all the other things I chose to do have left me with the feeling that I am somehow stronger, more grateful, less judgmental and, in some ways, freer. Even the bad stuff and personal failures brought gifts that I could not have imagined 12 months ago. It’s almost like seeing your true self really closely, and taking a moment to acknowledge that regardless of our blinding personal mythologies, ego, we are all just human after all and getting by the best way we know how to at the time.
The sum total of all these things? Life has a sense of humor even during the worst hours. Maybe she wants us to remember that? I honestly don’t know. But I built a wall of paper memories from 2017. My triptik as it were. One that maps out my personal journey. Growth, travel, failure, learning, fear and the freedom from fear. I think if I were to die tonight that I would go with a trail of good memories that, while brief, would shine and flicker in the dark. I took that collage down today as part of my plans to close out 2017, making way for another year. My hope is that I will take that box with me camping somewhere and burn that in a fire ring one summer night under the stars as the sparks fly from the memories of 2017. Both good and bad but ultimately that I had enough fight in me to face my worst enemy and greatest ally. Myself.
It’s all the things I never I spoke, or acted on, in my entire lifetime, within a 12-month span… and so goddamn much more.
What is in a lifetime? A year? A month? A week? A day? A moment? From my 2017 perspective… it’s what we choose to let in. My lifestyle may be outside a lot of people’s norms but then again so are other peoples to mine. And that’s a great thing. Above all else I believe the world is a beautifully diverse place. Which is one of the lifelong lessons I’ve been working on, acceptance of other people no matter who or what they are. In an era where fear, misinformation and gated social media bubbles we just need to embrace diversity. We may not beat the forces that drive darkness across our landscapes but we can most certainly, as I tried to do this year, slide, dance and shuffle in between the rays of light. Experiencing joy, love and laughter.
In the end? I think I learned that the “return to me” through all the constant negative self-talk my brain queues up is enough of a battle. A war I may not win but something I feel like, after 2015 and all the years before that, I need to face without fear, in the face of fear, for the sake of fear. Life is too short not to allow ourselves to change and grow. I’m already excited about what 2018 may hold. Be it good times, difficult emotional work, training, career development, running or meditation, wilderness hiking or unforeseen health challenges or even death… I plan to step back out onto the new year as it comes like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. Expecting the unexpected and challenging myself to keep moving.