There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.
C. S. Lewis
It’s the last day of 2017 and I couldn’t be more thankful to say goodbye to a year that has revealed both the best of times and the very worst. Still, even the most difficult challenges I’ve endured this year have allowed me to change and grow in ways I probably wouldn’t have if the past twelve months had brought only the status quo. Even so, as 2018 dawns tomorrow, I’m affirming that what lies ahead will be infinitely better than anything I leave behind.
For Christmas I compiled a book of photographs for Steve. In classic Virgo style, every time we took a trip or celebrated an event, I sat down at the computer, opened Shutterfly, and uploaded a ton of pictures. It wasn’t all smooth sailing between us, for there were several times throughout 2017 when I was tempted to delete the book out of anger or frustration. Thankfully, I never did. During those incredibly painful times, I didn’t know how we would ever work through them, but I had faith that if our relationship was meant to be, we would find a way out of the darkness and into something brighter.
Thankfully, we always did.
On Christmas Eve Steve and I had plans to visit the Sharmas, but an unexpected snowstorm blew through Toledo right before sunset, so we spent a cozy evening at home, sitting by the tree, sipping coffee, and playing Christmas Trivial Pursuit. One of the topics was “Songs and Carols” and when it was my turn to ask Steve a question, I smiled, “Oh! You’ll know this one for sure.”
A few days previous we had been tooling around town with the radio on and I’ll Be Home for Christmas was playing. “That was my dad’s favorite song,” Steve told me.
So on Christmas Eve, I read from the card: “What 1943 Bing Crosby song had soldiers longing for home?”
Steve’s eyes filled with tears.
“You don’t have to say it out loud."
Steve swiped at his cheeks. “I don’t know why I’m such a crybaby.”
“You love your dad,” I said. “And you miss him.”
My own father died in May of this year and during the holiday season I found myself driving through Toledo Memorial, looking for his headstone. When I found it in a quiet place near the mausoleum, it was hard to know what to feel. At the time of his death, Dad and I hadn’t seen or spoken to each other in nearly nine years. My mother asked that I not sit with the family during the funeral, so Steve and I didn’t attend the burial. Now there I was, seven months later, gazing at his grave, thinking about all the things I had learned from him, all the things I needed to unlearn.
By example, Dad taught me to be responsible with money. He modeled an amazing work ethic and dedication to doing a job well. He loved music and movies and my mother. Perhaps because of my father my checkbook is balanced, I have a little money in my savings account, and I always strive to do my very best when teaching a yoga class or writing an essay or novel. But as the new year dawns, I find myself yearning for something else…something more.
As I drove away from the cemetery, something my father used to say rang in my head: Keep your options open. I’m not sure when he initially said it, but I think it may have been when I was interviewing for my first teaching position. Keep your options open, Kate, he told me. A better offer may come along.
At the time, I wanted to escape Toledo, so I ignored my father’s advice and took the first job I was offered and taught fourth grade in Troy, Ohio. Dejected and bored with small town life, I moved back to my hometown nine months later, then taught for ten more years, all the while pining for a series of men who wouldn’t commit to me. Since I quit teaching in 1999, I’ve spent the next eighteen years teaching yoga classes in a host of venues…all of which have ended due to low enrollment, lack of funds, or a consolidation of extra-curricular classes. In 2011, I signed a contract with a literary agent who spent six months unsuccessfully pitching my work, then seemingly lost interest in trying to find a publishing house for my novels. She’s since left the business and is now selling real estate.
In truth, the only common denominator in all of these unfulfilled endeavors is me.
At the time, none of them worked out as I thought they should have and I wondered why I kept falling into situations in which no one would really make a commitment. Now I realize that my subconscious wanted to keep my options open, to keep a back door available for something better that might eventually come along. All along it was me who couldn’t fully commit, so I attracted people and situations that reflected my inability to totally give of myself, for there was always a part I unintentionally withheld because I was afraid to fail.
I don’t blame my father, for in the past, perhaps keeping my options open or partially investing myself kept me safe from falling into circumstances that would have been harmful. But this year I’ve learned that to try and fall short is not a bad thing. To try and fall short again does not mean I won’t ever find success…whatever that means. I simply need to remember that failure is not an option, because even in the midst of trial and error, I’m still learning something new.
Tonight there’s no turning back the clock, so it’s best to burn the ships that got me where I am today in order to finally relinquish the past and fully commit to a new life. It may not be easy. Things may not go as planned. The outcome may be different than I imagine it. In the end, it doesn't matter, for letting go of what has been is always the best first step forward into what will be.