In the past year, I have lost count of how many times I’ve moved: I’ve moved into and out of the apartment that I own, returning only to retrieve more books, which I then rescued at 4 am from a stinging rainstorm after I’d left them in the back of a pick-up truck. Few things could make me spring from my bed with more alarm. As the huge box disintegrated in my arms in the protean darkness, books from ten years of history and moves thudding to the pavement, the symbolism could not escape me—the way I’ve uprooted myself endlessly in a restlessness partially driven by words, but also by a nostalgia for things I’ve possessed and places I’ve been. In the end, you have to marvel at the resilience of a book: after they dried out, the pages only curled slightly in homage to this nocturnal chapter (pun intended) of their time in my hands.
Since the summer of 2015, I have crashed on sofas and in guest rooms; I’ve housesat at least three times; I’ve subletted 5 times; stayed in 5 different rooms in the same AirBnB. I’ve dragged suitcases and bags for blocks, onto light rails, into cabs, up and down the stairs. I drove to Montana. I stood on a shifting pile of stuff in my storage unit, facing down my life in boxes, accretion begun at age 18; it was 10 degrees; my breath fogged the air.
My name has not been on a lease since then, nor have I changed my address. It has been my vagabond time, a time of maddening and joyous and painful journey. But that ends now, at least in the superficial particulars.
As I know it has been for so many—most in ways far, far worse than me—this was not an easy year. Throughout, I made vulnerability my rallying cry, getting back into the arena (as Brene Brown calls it) and exercising the gumption to ask for clarity, to walk quickly away from situations that weren’t right without spending as much time or emotional energy pondering why. A bright flame of bravery, of buoyant selfhood seemed to run through all of this risk, but after a certain point, that bravery flickered in exhaustion, dimmed beneath the bell jar of anxiety over my future. I felt ready to stop living conditionally; the “What’s next?” of life glimmered opaquely, out of view.
At last, my heart broke. After the strain of a year of risking and surmounting rejections, two happened simultaneously—one of the heart and one in my interminable job search—and they simply knocked me down. I think I believed that the Universe was starting to give me answers to that tantalizing “What’s next?” question and that it would be okay to relax my vigilance and striving for a little while. When that turned out to not be the case, it really felt—briefly—like I couldn’t bear it. November 9 happened soon after.
That is the dull prologue. What happened next is actually the point of everything.
Even before this, I felt almost abashed and yet so heartened by the kindness of my family and friends. So many of you—and I hope I’ve thanked you adequately—literally took me in, fed me, included me like a family member in your households, and accompanied me on all kinds of journeys into art and nature and mysticism that brought all the laughter of the year to my doorstep. After this specific heartbreak, I thought about the work I’d been doing in vulnerability and self-exposure and did something the old me never could have imagined. I posted on Facebook about being heartbroken, sharing this pain with hundreds of friends and acquaintances. I’d reached the limit of doing what I knew how to do to help myself and tried something new.
So many friends wrote and responded, sharing compassion and perspective. Most people I hadn’t even seen in years, and yet they shared their own vulnerability with me in beautiful ways. They were open and honest and brave in response to my own bald cry for help. Friends and family showed up for me immeasurably. There are too many to list, but I found myself inundated with phone calls and visits and treats and heartfelt messages and letters. My sister snatched me straight out of Seattle and brought me to the rarefied, bright air of Colorado so that I could see her and be with two of my childhood friends.
It makes me cry even thinking about it now: the kindness of this community that formed around me, ad hoc and instantaneously. I was at a point where I really couldn’t offer anything in return: in my adult life, I have rarely felt lower, stripped of security, leaking tears and brittle with heartache. It made me deeply uncomfortable and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I felt like I spent a year being a burden to other people in my uncertainties and in my greater-than-usual need for support. At the same time, existing in that discomfort and accepting the love and care from other people changed me. I came to realize that the discomfort and the leaning into it—and commensurate leaning into the care of others—was the point of everything that happened; the lesson I resisted at first but came to treasure.
Returning to Jackson in November feeling fragile but the first tremors of better, I drove to the mountains at sunset and wept in gratitude. Accepting help and love made me feel, in every shade and cranny of myself, more alive.
On the first day of the year, I attended compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral, a traditional evening sung prayer service that I’ve attended a couple of times before. I love these services: you are asked to take on a habit of quiet and sit closely with strangers in the quiet church. The prayers and hymns are sung without the adornment of music, reverberating in the vaulted and yet relatively austere space of the cathedral. For much of it, I kept my eyes closed, a tear marking my cheek as I asked whatever spirit there is in the world to help me do what is right and stand up for others. What I have realized this year is that kindness is not a debt that we pay, and neither is love. They reinforce each other in an endless loop. My vulnerability drew others closer to me in their own vulnerability, like dropping a mask and touching each other truly as humans. I’ve learned that love is not a resource that runs out nor can be spread too thin. Time, energy, money—yes, those things force us to ration. Love and courage and truth grow exponentially in both the giving, and in my case this year, the unprecedented receiving.
The art that's moved me most this year has been art about crossing the space between people, or even permanently inhabiting the windy corridors that exist there, fraught with uncertainty, wracked by doubt and desire. From Rebecca Solnit’s Faraway Nearby to the Frye’s just-closed exhibit Dear Seattle, I have been moved all year by artists exploring the journeys we make, ultimately, between ourselves and others. Much of their work has also been about making the work itself—a reminder that in being creative, we continually remake ourselves and re-forge our relationships to strangers, loved ones, and communities. Empathy itself is a making space. Friendship. The symbol made by one body embracing another.
When I opened my eyes during compline and looked around at all these strangers, I felt so moved to watch them in their naked silence. They lifted their heads; closed their eyes. We were all transported—and better—by being there together. I have felt joy many times in my life; I have been so lucky. Yet when the presence of others matters most is not in our moments of joy, but rather in our need for succor. Among all these strangers, I knew we consoled one another and were consoled, all without speaking a word.
Thank you to everyone that consoled me this year.
To end on a note of pure joy and radical hope, I must return to another crossing, this one in November on a Wyoming road:
One night I stood in the dark and felt afraid for how beautiful and how urgent the elk were, moving unseen in the sagebrush flat just beyond me. They bugled—eerie calls that sound like nothing else in the world. Beneath the ocean, I believe you could compare them to whales.
Just days before, the same herd crossed my path at night as I drove home.
The elk know what it is like to live in hostile territory; their range encroached, fuels choking their lungs; their bodies in the sights of guns. Their species follows old ways and logics laid down in invisible instinct. We have taken much from them. They live in this occupied space every day, where things are out of balance. They dodge cars, streetlights, headlights, navigating the sage. What a sight, then, to see a herd picking its way across the road at midnight. The bull caught in my high beams, admonishing me with his look. I switched my lights off and stopped, snow lancing across the sky. He looked at me, full rack to either side. He looked and then crossed, the does crossing behind, all while I waited. At that moment, my stereo burst forth in a crescendo of drums and ululations. The song of greetings and birth. This, then, seemed the image of resistance. The bull with his antlers holding the moon. The bull affixed in the midst of joyful song, defiant beauty that goes on and on. Their herd will find a place to bed down, however small. They will continue to wander the seams of the human world, obeying the beauty of instinct and dusk and dawn. It is not only the bull holding joy between his ears, it is the joy I felt in seeing him and his boldness. These proud stands signify. They remind us of what is most ancient, the blood that beats in our ears and that we ignore, the world that molded us from its clay. Should we fear that our time has become hostile to us, there is still the radical seizing of hope on the borderlands, the dissent and the beauty that lives in the fissures. The animals pass through, despite danger, because they cannot disobey the law of imperative.
And now we pass through, too.