‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ — the opening of A Tale of Two Cities often gets cited, but few people go on to discuss the rest of the paragraph. (Oh, the days when one-sentence paragraphs that seemed to go on forever were allowed! I was born into the wrong epoch, my friends.)
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…
Dickens wasn’t writing about 2014, but sometimes it feels to me like he was, and there’s a reason that this opening quote has become such a ubiquitous part of the English-speaking world. Even if you haven’t read the novel and you’re not particularly well-versed in literature, there’s a pretty high chance you’ve heard the quote — you may not know it precisely, and you may not know who wrote it, but you get the gist. Some dead white guy said a thing, and it resonates.
A year can be a thing both marvelous and terrible. I accomplished many amazing and wonderful things this year, and lots of fantastic things happened to me. But lots of terrible things happened to me too, and I did some things this year that I wasn’t particularly proud of, either. This year was perhaps my first as an adult that I really started to reconcile myself not with the fact that we make mistakes (something I was already well aware of), not that responding to them was more important than pretending we never make them (something I already knew), but that sometimes, neither of these things really matters because it’s done and dusted and you don’t go back — something I understood on an abstract level but a more immediate one this year.
At times this year I felt as though I was being framed as wise, sometimes even placed on a pedestal as an authority or someone to offer advice, usually against my will, but I also felt incredibly foolish at times, just as Dickens warned. You can be wise and still act the fool, you can be a fool and still be wise — and I’m honestly not sure which applies to me, sometimes. Am I stumbling along with rare moments of wisdom, or am I, like all people, simply human, with clay feet that readily crumble when people force me to be something I am not — force me to be what they want me to be, not what I actually am? When I disappoint people, is that because I am a fool, or because they refuse to acknowledge that I am my own person?
Sometimes I felt like people believed in me, perhaps a little too much, and sometimes I felt ignored and shunted to the corner, as though my words were not what people wanted to hear, or as though pushing me away would magically make reality shift, become something malleable that could be mutated at will to become what people wanted it to be. I shuddered with distaste at the thought of belief without boundaries, and raged against the attitude that silencing people was a good way to stop the signal — you can put one cockroach in the corner, my friends, but you cannot stop the flood.
This was a year during which at times I felt filled with light: Standing on the ferry to San Francisco with a friend, watching the Ferry Building loom large, feeling my heart burst; sitting on a couch with friends on a quiet night in Oakland, talking amongst ourselves; lying in the sun in the Berkeley Botanic Garden, reading; watching a friend launch her debut book; gathering in myriad hot tubs with friends; walking in the woods; and reading, always reading, reading, reading, reading. I felt darkness too, though. Friendships ruptured, ground shaken (literally and figuratively), dark realisations made. In a troped saying, you cannot have light without darkness, darkness without light — sometimes I felt alone with a single pinpoint of light to guide me and at other times I felt myself floating in a silver sea, dazzled by the light.
I hoped, I despaired, I watched things slip through my fingers and caught others by the skin of my teeth. I had things handed to me, I had secret worlds opened to me, I made difficult decisions and smart ones and terrible ones and honestly, I can’t even tell you where on the Venn diagram all of my decisions fell. Sometimes I hoped desperately, fervently. Other times, I despaired, painfully, acutely.
I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but sometimes life on Earth feels like perfection, a moment I wish I could crystallise and live in forever, and at other times, it feels unendurable, something that cannot be borne a moment longer but which I know will go on forever, and ever, to the end of eternity, an endless suffering. 2014, for me, was the year of the human condition, the humane condition, the inhuman condition, the year where things ended and began, like they always do.
Every year I say that I hope the next year will be better, and this year, I really, really hope it will.