There is No Such Thing As a Blank Slate

January 4, 2017

I’m not much for New Year’s declarations or resolutions. I grew up in a house with a dad who has always said that January 1st is just the day after December 31st. Every day is a new year. January 1st doesn’t have exclusive rights to the “New Year” title. And I agree.

That said, just a quick scroll through my facebook feed on December 31st told me that almost everyone was ready to close the door on 2016.

I can relate. 2016 was a tough year for me, too. I spent a good chunk of the year in tears. I felt more despair, more sadness, more fear, and more loneliness this year than I ever have before. It’s been a hard year for me personally, but it’s also been a hard year for the country, for the world, and for the planet.

In the past week, I’ve experienced even more heartache as my community experienced a horrible, utterly tragic loss. The tears and the anger just keep coming.

What I am amazed at is that despite all of the awful, we are still able to get up and get out of bed and keep going. Even on my worst days and after my darkest moments, I still found things to smile at and people to laugh with. Even when I doubted myself the most, I was able to pull myself up and put one foot in front of the other again and again and again.

This incredible capacity to recover is called resilience and it’s a word that keeps coming up for me lately.

Human beings have an incredible knack for resilience. So much so, that I believe it’s encoded into our DNA. I mean, maybe not actually in our DNA, but our ability to keep going even in the face of tragedy or devastating loss or great challenge or uncertainty is deeply embedded within us. We carry the mantle of hope through our resilience, even in the worst times because we believe that tomorrow can be, will be, better.

I think of resilience in this way:

If you’ve ever been to an ancient city, like Rome or Athens, often you’ll come across a dig site or a view of the city from hundreds or even a thousand or two thousand years ago. Within this one site, you’ll see markers from one version of the city, as well as markers indicating another time in the history of the city. Usually they are at different levels. Sometimes these 2 different “Romes” are right next to one another; other times, they’re practically on top of one another. This is because these cities continue to build upon the foundation of what existed before. Sometimes this is because the city was nearly destroyed; sometimes because someone came up with a better design; sometimes just because.

In any ancient city, you will always see the old juxtaposed with the new.

Humans are like this, too.

Just like an archeological dig site, we too are made up of many layers. Some are ancient and more universally encoded within us; some of our layers are more personal and unique. But we are multilayered. We have entire civilizations within us. We have a deep bedrock of experience built into our cells.

This is also why the idea of New Year’s Day as a blank slate, complete do-over doesn’t appeal to me. First, it’s not realistic because I don’t live in an “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” universe. Second, it’s not possible because my layers of bedrock can’t be completely erased and shouldn’t be obliterated. That foundation of past experience is actually what makes me stronger. It’s what allows me to see the light through the heavy, heavy darkness. It’s what allows me to put one foot in front of the other, even when I feel too tired, too sad, too overwhelmed to walk.

See, resilience is not about avoiding the darkness or ignoring the bad shit that has happened or starting with a blank slate because it’s too hard to deal. Resilience requires me to see the darkness and walk along side it. Eventually, the dark stuff falls behind. Eventually, I surpass it and leave the hard, awful, dark, yucky stuff in my dust because I keep walking. The dark stuff only has legs if I give it legs. Resilience gives me legs.

Well, that and evolution.

It would be easy to say that 2016 is the worst year ever.

The truth, though, is that it wasn’t. We didn’t hit bubonic plague levels of awful.

The truth is that every year is hard. Every year has dark spots and low moments that make us feel complete and utter despair. Every year we can look back and see things we wish had never happened.

And at the same time, in the same year, we can look back and see bright spots.

In 2016, I gave birth safely, sweetly, and peacefully at home to a healthy baby boy. That moment is easily the brightest, shiniest moment of the year. And although being a mom to twice as many kids is hard, the love my kids share is astounding. No one makes Archer giggle as joyfully as Milly does. And no one loves Archer quite like Milly does.

On the days when they both sleep late, which are far too infrequent, if Archer is still asleep when Milly wakes up, she climbs into his crib and cuddles with him until he wakes up. Several mornings I’ve found them snuggling and giggling when I come up to check and see if they’re awake. Practically makes my ovaries explode with love.

2016 was hard; I suspect 2017 will be, too.

I do not plan on starting over. I plan on using the foundation of 2016 and every year that came before, to help me move through this year as skillfully and gracefully as possible.

This is what it means to carry the mantle of resilience. It won’t be perfect. I will mess up. I will have days in which I can barely drag myself out of my bad mood. I will yell at my kids. I will lose faith in myself.

And then I will take one step forward. And then another. And then another.

Resilience is part of who I am and I want it to be in the bedrock of who my kids are, too.

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