Seventeen months ago, I began my journey into sharing life with you by way of writing about what I’ve learned and what I’ve yet to discover and comprehend. Along the way, I’ve written about redemption, perseverance, illness, the importance of words, the ascription of meaning to tragedy, subject positions, empathy, death and loss, regret, privilege and injustice, sexism, awareness and attentiveness, presence, admiration and appreciation, and altruism. I’ve advised you to “live Life like Laura” and to “be a jaybird.” I’ve paid homage to the city in which I grew up and to some of the influential people in my life. Now, after re-reading each of my blogs, I have set out to review and synthesize some of the most critical points I believe I’ve made.
First, though, I’d like to disclose that my fear as a writer (other than rejection) has always been that I will simply run out of things to say. Producing this blog has forced me to confront that fear and, to some extent, overcome it. While it is true that some months provided more obvious material than others, life has never left me without a means to connect with others via story.
The theme of connection, in fact, appeared early in my words to you, in May 2019, when I wrote that, “Life has taught me a lot about loss; but life has also taught me this: Someone always comes along to help you find your way.” And, I would argue, that someone comes along even when there is perhaps no way to be found, as I contemplated in July 2019: “Maybe things just sometimes happen to us, and life is not always a text to be explicated. That notion is frustrating, and terrifying, but also liberating and soothing. Because we still end up okay. We give everything we have to what we have a say in, what we might be able to control or change, and we let the rest go. Maybe sometimes the way we persevere, take a step toward personal growth and emotional healing, come to terms with our misfortunes, and get back in the car is to strip the circumstance—whatever it is—of its meaning. Maybe sometimes the ‘secret to life’ is in choosing to not concoct or solve a mystery, to not give credit to circumstances as tests or as omens, and instead to give meaning by denying meaning.” And so, as I would later assert in January 2020, you don’t have to have it all figured out to begin the journey, and…crashing is an opportunity to show the world what you’re made of and to make a choice about what comes next. ” Our limitations in ascribing meaning and struggling to decide what comes next led me to assert in May 2020 that, “Sometimes, you just have to exist with people in their grief.”
Within the idea of ‘showing up’ for ourselves and others, the message I’ve returned to is simply one of paying attention, one of focusing on small realities when large possibilities become overwhelming. In April 2020, I wrote about “finding sources of hope in the most unlikely places. As the Rev. Joshua Lazard recently wrote about toilet paper, you may not find the brand you like, the brand you’re used to, but any brand right now is the brand you need…And so I’m doing my best to adjust my perspective, to notice and appreciate more finitely than usual and to redefine what it means to experience something miraculous.”
We must, indeed, notice our realities, those of others, and how those realities intertwine. Probably every blog I’ve written has touched on some notion of subject positions and empathy. When I wrote about my weight loss in August 2019, I revisited some of my past wrongs, admitting that, “while I’ve taken on the task of becoming smaller, I’d like to think that I’ve grown, and that that growth will warrant forgiveness from those I judged. After all, as I tell my students, ‘the only way to be objective is to acknowledge our subjectivities.’ In other words, acknowledging, critically examining, and understanding the ways in which the facets of our identities shape our worldviews allows us to approach the world with increased kindness and aims of equity and justice.” I built on that notion in November 2019, calling “for us, then, to be mindful of who and what we praise. For the recipient of our compliments, it can be problematic to receive praise or admiration for a life that one, in some ways, didn’t necessarily choose. Making statements such as ‘I couldn’t do what you do (or did)’ implies that someone else is better suited for hardship and that, therefore, that person should be the one to endure it. While we should celebrate those who overcome challenges, our praise implicitly romanticizes struggle, romanticizes the structural violence and systemic oppression that places people in the position of having to overcome certain challenges to begin with. Regardless of our definition of what it means to be privileged, we must be mindful of oversimplifying others’ life stories with our assumptions.” Even in my own life, several months later, in July 2020, I found myself “actively working to replace “but” with “and”—to say “I am blessed and there are ways that I am struggling” rather than “I am blessed but there are ways that I am struggling.” This allows all the circumstances in my life to co-exist rather than compete. I can recognize my privilege and my struggles; to conceptualize my identity as either/or is a gross oversimplification of humanity.”
Moreover, as a pandemic rages on in America and we approach a divisive election, my March 2020 sentiments seem to have only gained significance; I wrote, “I encourage us to do what we can with the limited control we have over our daily lives in this moment: acknowledge our fears for what they are in relation to the evidence we have to support and undermine those fears (as any therapist would suggest), to take recommended precautions, to (when possible) make contingency plans, and to contemplate both the realization of our fears and more hopeful outcomes. Remember that while we are all experiencing a global pandemic, we are experiencing it differently. Remember that our behaviors affect others, whether or not we come into direct contact with them. Most of us were unprepared for our lives to change so drastically so quickly (even if temporarily), but I encourage us all to remember to be kind and empathetic and generous with our hearts and with our resources.”
In conclusion, then, I’ll point out that writing gives people some of the best and some of the worst of writers; ideally, readers find it worthwhile to receive both. In April 2019, I asserted to you that that first blog was “a small act of redemption, the piece of home to which I pay homage—just to remind and encourage us to do what we can, even if imperfectly and briefly—until we can do something else, perhaps something more, perhaps something better.” It seems fitting that as I write my final words to you, I am preparing to return home in just a few days to, hopefully, redeem some of what the pandemic has touched. Though the past six months have left many of us feeling as though we can only do less, I believe that the past year and a half I’ve spent with you is, in part, the reason I can do less and still be a little bit better than I was when you found me.
Farewell for now, dear reader—if you ever existed.