I don’t know what it was about 2014. Throughout it, as the steady stream of disturbing news stories flowed by, I remained more fortunate than many others, in both my situation and circumstances. And yet, it felt like I was battling an ever-vigilant adversary at every turn. I was inevitably a day late and a dollar short in every aspect of my life, and this was the year I came suddenly face to face with my own mortality and worse still, my physical and emotional limitations. I’ve never felt completely invincible, especially not where my mental faculties are concerned, but at least I thought I could withstand the usual stresses and maintain a certain level of physical fortitude to get me through long work hours and multiple concerns. This year, for some reason, it felt like all bets were off.
Anxieties and broken sleep got the better of me and for the first time in my life, I felt fragile and unable to do anything about it. I found it unfathomable that the general populace could go on about their business while everything seemed to be quickly unraveling. So much war and strife, terror organizations and fleeing refugees, racism and militarized police forces, uncontrollable diseases, self-serving politicians and widening wealth disparity, climate change beyond the point of no return, general malaise and a feeling of powerlessness. And even with how much I felt I wanted to “do something,” I woke up most mornings feeling like I was not quite caught up and on board with my own life, let alone able to take on something else.
The fire in my parents’ oven last autumn was a good metaphor for how I felt all year. It was while I was visiting them, possibly in November. I don’t recall what my dad was cooking. Suddenly we noticed a raging fire in the stove from where we sat at the kitchen table, a few feet away. The odd thing is, for a good 20 seconds, we both sat there and watched as the flames shot out through the open door, as if absorbed in an engaging PBS special. Dad had just been telling me how he felt overwhelmed caring for mom day and night, while a confusing parade of nurses and aids came and went, sometimes helping but mostly making his life even more exhausting. I was at a complete loss and did not know what to suggest, though I heard myself casually ask, through the haze, “do you have any baking soda?”
He slowly stood up and retrieved it and in a fog, tossed a few handfuls into the oven, which quelled the flames. The other issues would not be so straightforward and easily solvable.
Entering into 2015, I felt some of the bone-tired weariness and pessimism lift, just a little. It was enough to feel like I might have some minor degree of control over my destiny, or at least perhaps the power to make some necessary adjustments. For that, I remain hopeful. Maybe it is a year to selfishly concentrate on my own well-being first, and only then, see what I can do to send help out into the world, from a more mentally and physically stable place. I’m reminded of the oxygen mask instructions for emergency airline procedures — “If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your own mask first, and then assist the other person.”
For all of you and everyone else out there, I wish a peaceful, purposeful and more loving and compassionate 2015. And for those who are responsible for the well-being of others, and for those of you who wake up in the middle of the night, like I do, anxious and worried about the general state of things, remember this. Be good to yourself. Find time for what’s most important, for you. Secure your own mask first.