What’s the word, 2017?

2016, as Kylie Jenner so graciously informed us, was the year of “realizing.” So what will 2017 be about? As I celebrated the new year with some dear old friends last night, we couldn’t help but contemplate the magnitude of this paradigm-altering question.

Okay, yes, I’m mostly kidding. We actually spent most of the night eating taquitos and trying not to fall asleep before 11 pm. If there’s one thing I realized this year, it’s that old age sneaks up on you fast.

NYE 2011-2012, in our younger, more spry years

I’ve never been much for resolutions, but when I decided to write a post welcoming 2017, I realized that I actually did like the idea of employing a word or sentiment to encapsulate our attitude toward the new year. If I’m being honest, though, I haven’t decided on a pared-down word or phrase yet. (Ryann helpfully suggested “naps,” and I am not opposed to this.)

However, I do have an idea what kind of attitude and sentiment I want to carry into this new year, and that’s what motivated me to write about it. In part, this blog represents part of what I’m hoping to embody in the coming months. I have talked for years about blogging or writing consistently, and it never happens. I did alright while I was abroad, but even writing those posts felt like pulling teeth. It’s easy for me to rattle off the reasons why a blog has never come to fruition — for one, I constantly fall into the trap of placing too much value in page views. I’m also constantly frustrated by what I do produce. I spend far too long dissecting and reassembling sentences to find the elusive perfect phrasing. I’ve decided that this year, even when I inevitably feel these things, I won’t let them deter me. The only way to get better is to practice. The only way to overcome is to do.

2016 sucked on a macro level. It just did, and I can’t and won’t sugarcoat it. The world is suffering, and I struggle with finding my place in the solution. I struggle, on an emotional, spiritual, and existential level with hopelessness and doubt. Aside from my internal, biochemical reality of depression, the truly frightening proliferation of inequality, injustice, war, violence, sickness, anger, hatred, racism, every -ism — it terrifies me.

How can I possibly look that terror in the eye?

I’m not even 22 yet. (Ten days!) I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I will fiercely advocate for what I have realized, regardless of my age.

This summer, just before I left Uruguay, my mother and I visited one of my favorite places in the entire world: the MALBA, or Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. On the top floor was the current traveling exhibit, a participatory and performance based piece by Yoko Ono. It was delightfully odd, and deeply touching. Out of everything I did and saw during my five months abroad, that exhibit is something I think about almost every week. The message, as best as I can describe it, is the idea that healing our world requires us to begin by cultivating kind, generous, and empathetic interpersonal relationships. When we are patient with ourselves and patient with one another, our attitude toward all of humanity changes. At one point in the exhibit, museum goers enter an alcove with a table covered in broken dishes, twine, and tape. They are instructed to use the twine and tape to put the pieces back together and, as they do so, reflect on our capability to repair damaged relationships in our own lives.

The part that affected me the most was the number of children eagerly assembling cups and plates out of the simple supplies available. They were enthusiastic about solving the problem before them. They were not focused on the brokenness of the ceramic, nor distracted by the knowledge that other materials might be more effective. They saw a need. They filled it. I am not naive; I know that solving world piece is not as neat or simple as taping a mug back together and declaring it fixed. But look what we can learn from these little engineers and diplomats! A problem is an opportunity for creativity, enthusiasm, and bravery. How dare we set an example of cynicism and despair for our children? If adults didn’t participate in the activity, their children wouldn’t either, and nothing would get fixed. The broken pieces would sit on the table, and nothing new could come to fruition.

These are words that I can’t imagine myself writing even a year ago. I have never before considered myself an optimist. I’m still not sure if that’s the word I would use for myself, but my god, how unproductive are the spirals of bitterness I used to indulge myself in? Our emotions are so precious and so valid, always, and I would never dare discard the motivating force of anger and indignation. On a systemic level, though, an active commitment to an even incrementally more positive attitude has transformed me as a person since I started college. Having an emotional reaction to the world around us is certainly better than having no reaction at all; it shows that we still care enough to do and feel something. When we stop feeling, we stop progressing. God forbid we give up. Not when there is so much we need to fix, so that our children and our children’s children inhabit a better world than the one we were given.

Maybe Kylie wasn’t that wrong. I have realized so much about myself and the kind of person I want to be. I haven’t decided my word yet, but cultivation and creation and growth all speak to me as I reflect on the twelve months that have passed and the twelve that are yet to come.

What’s your word?

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