A New Year

In this new year, I have spent the past two days on my couch with a cold. It’s just a cold. It’s not a big deal. But a trip to the supermarket this afternoon for more drugs exhausted me. So, I feel totally useless.

Before the new year, I saw this film chronicling the events of one day — giving me space to wonder and reflect upon what makes a good day. What makes life sweet. What makes life worth living. What makes a good life.

It reminded me of that beloved song from Rent.


Five hundred twenty-five thousand Six hundred minutes, 
Five hundred twenty-five thousand 
Moments so dear. 
Five hundred twenty-five thousand Six hundred minutes 
How do you measure, measure a year?

Is it cups of coffee? Is it sunsets? Or sunrises? Is it the moments shared? Or is it as the song suggests love? What is it that measures a year or a day? What is it that measures a good life?

It’s the question I’m pondering as I begin this year on my couch. Not because I’m sick. But because this is the year where I might not live. This is the year that I betray my mother’s memory by living longer than her. It’s the year that I’ve most feared for most of my life. This year, I will turn 33. This year, I will outlive my mother. As any motherless daughter will tell you (and if she doesn’t then you’re just going to have to believe me on this one), we irrationally believe that we can’t possibly live longer than our mothers did. My mother died when she was 33. And so, this is the year that I have always thought that I might die. It’s irrational. I didn’t say that it made any sense. And yet, this horrible fear has always been there. It has never gone away. No matter what, I have always feared this year. I’ve been told I’m crazy countless times. I’ve been told that this is ridiculous. I know all of this. It doesn’t make this feeling go away. It’s true for me. And so, it’s true. It’s not something to argue. It’s just something to understand.

Still, I know that there are tons of people — even those whom I love dearly — who don’t understand this. They think I should be talked out of this craziness. They think I should get over it. They insist that this won’t be the end. I know. I know. I know. I just can’t explain what it feels like to imagine life past this point. I can’t fully articulate the strange betrayal it is to outlive my mother. I can’t describe the fear of this unknown birthday. So, I’m not really thinking about those things. I’m thinking about what makes a life. What makes life sweet. What makes life good. I’m thinking about the kind of life that I want to live.

It was the question asked to me on New Years Day. In my friend’s sermon at Sojourners UCC, she asked the question I’d rather avoid. She asked it in the way that only a farmer’s daughter from Nebraska could. She asked: How will you grow? It wasn’t demanding. It wasn’t insistent. It was heartfelt and honest. We all want to change. We all want to imagine some other possibility than the fears we’ve always held. We all want to grow. I just don’t know how.

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3 thoughts on “A New Year

  1. Thanks so much, Elsa, for sharing this beautiful, and beautifully honest, reflection on what this upcoming birthday means to you. I actually think that the fear, the unimaginability, even–as you so poignantly say–the feeling of betrayal that accompany this birthday make lots of sense… or at least, feel very imaginable to me (as much as can be for someone who has not lost her mother).

    33 was a hard birthday for me as well, though for a different–and far less serious–reason. I thought of it as my Jesus birthday. I mean, by the time he was my age, Jesus had risen from the dead, offered salvation to the world… And what have I done? Ridiculous, I know; the stuff of god complexes, perhaps, but it was still there… Part of it, I think, was my own insecurities about or disappointments in the ways some parts of my life had taken shape thus far… But I wonder, too, if part of it was a fear of whether God would really be able to understand me now. If Jesus never had to deal with the things that life throws at you after 33, how will he understand what it's like when I do? (Forget the fact that age 33 in the year 30 is probably age 50 in 2012–again, it's not a rational fear!)

    One of my therapist's great, perfectionism-skewering rhetorical questions has helped a lot: “Do you think you could try holding yourself to any higher standard, Erin?” But I love your friend's question, in all its strength and gentleness. It reminds me of something a mentor of mine said to me a couple of years ago. I had a bit of a health scare, and I admitted to her that in the midst of it, I was having a hard time trusting in the goodness of God. “Have you ever had to trust in God's goodness in a situation like this before?” Clear answer: no. “Then do you think you could let God teach you how?” I love how this question freed me from the idea that I was somehow supposed to know how to do something I'd never done before. I love this image of God as a teacher, not imperiously handing down the answers, but walking with me through uncharted (to me) territory. I love how it reoriented me away from my (perceived) failure to God's great love and graciousness.

    So I'll pray that as you walk through this year, you'll find God to be a gracious, loving, nurturing companion, walking alongside you and helping you to find your way.

    See you soon in Miami!

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  2. Your fear isn't ridiculous. My mother went through the same thing (her mother was killed by a drunk driver when my mom was 16). And she dreads traveling, or my or my sister's traveling, on the date her mom was hit. Fear isn't rational. A person can't be talked out of fear. I believe it can only be gone through, like grief. I hold you in my prayers and pray especially for the courage to live this year to its fullest, as well as the strength to resist those who (lovingly but naively) want to magically make it all better for you.

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