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Burning the Old Year

Potted plants in front of bedroom window

My life has been set on fire at least three times in the last two years: a cancer diagnosis, a broken engagement, a pandemic.

That's quite a run.

Here's what I've learned about fires, both literal and metaphorical: They are terrifying and, when powerful enough, impossible to control. At the end, all that remains are the things that can't burn. New life grows by consuming the ashes of the old.

Throughout a year marked by so much devastation, loss, and uncertainty, I have had the great privilege of spending much of my time sitting still and watching things grow.

Herbs and flowers from seed. Bromeliad pups off a dying mother plant. The rays of sun as they stretched over the Manhattan skyline. The days. Then the nights. My hair, at a surprising rate. Except for my leg hair which never quite came back after chemo. #cancerbrag Rising bread. Hope that we will finally be forced to fix our healthcare system, income/wealth inequality, and institutionalized racism. The list of the dead. My heart, as I learned to make an effort with the people I love, to tell them I love them, to receive their love in return. The words on the page. Every day there are more of them, and someday they will tell a story.

Herbs. Pups. Rays. Days. Hair. Bread. Hope. Dead. Love. Words.

That's quite a year.

Here's what I've learned about growth: When a seed is under the soil it looks like nothing is happening. During this time of nothingness roots reach downward and stems search for the light. Then one day the plant emerges from the soil, and it is astonishing that it has grown so suddenly. The fast growth is exciting, but the slow growth is necessary.

Now I want to make some suggestions to myself while I traverse this country I call mine.

  • Bring that quiet appreciation of slow growth into a year of constant motion.

  • Nourish your sense of connection; it will be more important than ever.

  • Don't run away from your problems. Run toward yourself.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,

only the things I didn't do

crackle after the blazing dies.

"Burning the Old Year," Naomi Shihab Nye

a cilantro sprout growing in the shape of a heart


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