The wildest New Year Eve I ever had was my senior year of college 2005. My friend Hillary, and I spent some time in Boston before taking the Fung Woo bus from Boston’s China Town to New York’s. It was a tight squeeze on that dragon-painted greyhound, but definitely acceptable for $10.00. Fung Woo dropped you in the middle of Chinatown hustle and then you just had to move. That’s the remarkable thing about the City, the movement, or the energy as I’ve heard enamored transplants describe. We were fast walkers and more than that, full of enthusiasm, bagels and nervous energy. So, our feet hit the pavement and we did just that, we moved with the rest of the City into the promise of the New Year.
Hillary had a friend studying at Columbia University through the January term and she hosted us in her dorm room. My spatial awareness and map-reading skills are just really, er, poor. I should work on them. But I haven’t. So, I’m always grateful when my traveling companion, like Hillary, has compass intuition. Columbia friend met us on the city street, swiped us into a very smart-looking dorm, and told us to make ourselves at home in her dorm-home. In general, college dorms feel kind of eck and claustrophobic, but when I lived in one, it was cozy, friendly, and homey. I still miss mine. Columbia friend had a big banner across the wall that said “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” I remember staring at it as I caked on extra layers of mascara and makeup and thought for just a second, about war and violence and displaced people. These were things that I didn’t think about at the University of Richmond. I thought about whether or not I believed that: that war was harmful. And if I did, just how harmful was it? Enough to care? And then I brushed it off, I’m sure, with a thought that generalized the amount of thoughts in the world that are to be had, and the amount of thoughts in the world that were not to be had. And this, this war-thought was a not-had, at least for me. At least for right now.
So, we set out into the sparkling night. We wound up at some private party with people in tweed suits and corn-cob pipes and large plans to, I think, develop a new Wall Street. You had to be on “a list,” and while Columbia friend with Columbia connections was a shoe-in, Hillary and I were not. We left, our faces still studies in enthusiasm. We were twenty. It was New Year’s.
Our night went where everyone’s did on New Year’s, except those tweed, Ivy-League people. We landed in Time’s Square. For some reason, we found it appropriate to take a picture with the police, I think, because we wanted through the crowds? We got lost? I don’t recall. These days, it would have been a selfie with NYPD, but that 2005 evening…
Then, the night, ended in some anti-climactic way I don’t recall. But it was 2006. The year that I graduated. The year that all kinds of things happened: spiritually, emotionally, relational-ly, vocationally, and geographically. It was an overhaul of a year. Some of it just happened, but some of it was because I opened myself up to it. Some of it was because I was paying attention.
Do you know what has stuck with me more than the sparkling night and the gussying up and the pipe-smoke and the Times Square Countdown? It was the flower on that banner in the Columbia dorm-room. It was those tiny, sparking questions I had about suffering and hope and violence. The ones I refused to really answer as I pursed my lips and glossed them with pink.
The flower I remember from that dorm banner was sad-looking. It was not stretching towards the sun or peeled open like a daisy. It was sad. It was also earthy: thick roots and shaded with browns and eggplant purple. It was very unique. Abstract even. If something can be sad, but also earthy and unique, it seems to me, there might be a bit more hope for restoration. Straight-sad is just melancholic, but sad with something else is a bit less entrenched, open even to making something of the sadness. This concept became extremely important to me.
So I drew this same flower in 2012 when I began working with sexual abuse victims at the Children’s Advocacy Center. My job, at that time, was to help call certain sadness what it was: uniquely theirs; unlike any other; God-awful. But then, we paired sadness with some other things: knowledge; deep breaths; caregivers; language; pictures; meaning and eventually, maybe, somehow: hope. This was the suffering flower on the brink of something more. This flower went on my wall.The symbol, has in fact, shaped me and ultimately brings me back to the Gospel—the deepest, truest most redemptive coupling of suffering and hope.
We never know how one year is going to recycle into the next. However, we must pay attention.I didn’t know that the flower and the questions and the tug would sit with me like they did. So, ever since 2005, maybe 2006, that’s what New Year’s has become more about: the work of paying attention, which cannot help but bring about celebration. And in that celebration, in that gratitude, there’s a call to action for us, isn’t there? A call to action that changes us- makes us a bit more aware, a bit more focused, a bit more intentional about our words and our thoughts and our time. This is the stuff that heals, friends. When it’s lived, it heals. I always feel scared of sounding goody-goody or oddball when I say this kind of thing with conviction. But, there you have it. I believe it and I believe it brings joy, balance and wholeness to my life and my life with Luke.
So this year, Luke and I did this in our own separate ways. I set my list of purposes using Ann Voskamp’s lovely prompts, and Luke, my kind Luke, made a list of gratitude that he taped to our bedroom door. These reflective words set our tone, our anthem- as we wriggle out from underneath the weight of our heavy 2015 moments and link them, instead, with all of the potential and promise of 2016. The past is all around us, but so is the future, and there’s far more possibility there- energy, even—like the streets of Manhattan.The past reminds me of who I was and the future reminds me of who I want to be, and in the same way blades of grass grow and flowers bloom, we, too must grow, stretch our necks to the sun, and be changed.
Onward, to 2016!