This post was originally published on Medium on Nov. 28, 2020.
Maybe it’s your first year in which nothing could feel good. Maybe you’ve had a run of bad years. Maybe your circumstances are such that nothing has ever truly, fully felt good, only less bad.
Time is an abrasive that shapes us all. The coarseness of this year has left deep marks.
I try to think of foods that have tasted amazing and nothing lives up to the memory.
I try to trick myself into different moods with music and it has no effect.
I try to pass time with movies and tv shows and nothing connects the way it used to.
I try to read, but even though I’ve spent decades devouring entire books, I now struggle to turn pages.
This year is a time traveler’s year. It’s the year we would have been warned about by someone from the future if they could only come back to do so. The most improbable part of which wouldn’t be whether we would believe their evidence of being from the future, it would be that we’d actually heed their warning. We don’t seem to listen to people who’ve lived through such things before. We haven’t been listening to the people here and now who’ve been warning us all along.
The sleep. What little of it there is, is not restful. It takes hours to appear and it abandons me long before I have to wake.
The work. Skills that once felt sufficient now feel lacking and alarmingly slow. On a daily basis I feel like I should apologize to everyone I work with because I’m struggling so hard to do the work.
The words. To loved ones, paltry. To antagonists, ineffective. It is maddening to find I keep coming up short, as if there are the right words to help soften the grind.
I have a few causes of chronic pain that have been my reality for most of my life. Yesterday I was reminded there’s a reason that feeling pain most of the time for too long is a problem. It becomes easier and easier to not realize when a new pain appears, one that is actually avoidable. I was sanding a piece of resin by hand; not all that fast, the sandpaper not all that rough. I’m so used to my hands hurting, to being physically uncomfortable in general, that I didn’t realize I had sanded off a little part of my own finger and finger nail. The wound isn’t too terrible. But I should have noticed. I should have noticed it in the first scrape. Or the second. The third. I should have noticed the pain before I saw my own blood on the sandpaper.
Even though my hands hurt, even though nothing feels good, I’ve been working on art projects, when I am able, trying to find that spark in the process. I remember what it felt like and I want it back. It already hurt to hold the piece, to apply the needed pressure, to do the thing I wanted to do. When it started hurting a little more, I wasn’t surprised by it and didn’t give it a second thought, immediately assuming that it was just part of my experience.
I worry about what this year, the past few years, has done to our ability to recognize unnecessary, avoidable pain. How many things have happened — are happening — that no longer shock us? Our natural sense of objection has been filed down by the magnitude of what has come before. How many harms have happened as those with more power and outsized influence press us into the grit long enough to let time rasp away our instinct to make things any better. It scrapes away the part of us that recognizes when something is not right and files down our innate sense of future until all that’s left is getting through right now.
And right now hurts. Yesterday hurt. The week before. Last month. Last year. It’s not so surprising that tomorrow will too, and if it hurts even more than right now, is that really so unexpected?
If life’s not fair…if no one ever said it was going to be easy…if right now is so damn hard…if things are truly terrible…What is the risk in change? Why not be part of making life more fair? Why not try to make it easier? Why not make things less hard? Why? Because we might accidentally do so for someone who doesn’t deserve it? Based on whose definition of deserve? Deserve is one of the most damnably dangerous words we have allowed to infect and coarsen our view of the world.
We have to be brave enough, strong enough, to stop accepting pain because it’s what we know. It only serves to keep us in place. It serves those who benefit from our occupation with surviving it.
This year, and the years before it, have been a struggle to feel anything good. Yet nothing magical happens on December 31st. There is no guarantee that next year will not continue to abrade the delicate, uneven connections we share.
Our lives are choices and circumstances and though rough those circumstances may be, we still have our choices. We must acknowledge the pain, overwhelming as it is. We must choose to not accept more suffering, individually or collectively. We have to before we lose any more of ourselves.
Note on republished posts: In an effort to consolidate and preserve my online work, I'm re-publishing my own writing on this site. Posts will stay live and archived on their original sites for the sake of preserving links (for as long as those sites are still live). Content produced for other publications will remain unique to those publications, but I will include links on my work page.