I’m an optimist. As such, I expect each year to be better than the last. Lately, though, time and life have been finding new and creative ways to kick me in the teeth.
It started in 2016 when the election friction tore a rift in our nation and in my family. People I considered to be logical, intelligent people became FOX News zombies spewing vitriol. So I began 2017 by attending the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. I carried a sign that said, “Because Love” and stood in solidarity with others who confessed the dark mood of the nation was what brought them out.
That Spring I turned 40. I didn’t think there was much to it but as my friend Heather said, “40 is a motherfucker.”
All the things I thought I was building began crumbling around me. The business lost its biggest clients. My income went to zero. Despite applying for a thousand jobs, no one would hire me. Multiple professional setbacks including an interview for a job I just knew was mine only to see they reposted the position.
Not that they found a better candidate. They’d rather not hire anyone at all than hire me.
At New Year’s I declared that 2017 could just fuck right off. Then the Tigers lost in the playoffs and I felt like everyone I knew felt the same way as me.
2018 had to be better.
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This past year I worked harder than I ever have. Some 60- and 70-hour weeks. The results were incredible. Not everything I hoped and wished for, that would be too much to ask, but some real traction in a lot of areas.
We opened the Women’s Business Center of South Carolina complete with $100k from Google and a Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting. I secured an adjunct faculty contract at the Darla Moore School and we finally had minimum viable income in the household. I was invited to speak at the Pat Conroy Literary Center and asked to serve on the board of directors for the South Carolina Writers Association. I led workshops and panels and networking events and launched two radio shows on the local talk radio station.
Then, on the biggest day of the WBC of SC’s early life, I sat in a church pew some 90 miles from the Women’s Business Summit. All the work and focus and energy put into that 1-day event and I wasn’t there to see any of it.
I had to make a choice about the kind of person I want to be.
The Monday before the event, my Uncle Howard succumbed to an infection he contracted after surgery and died. He left behind two children, three grandchildren, the love of his life to whom he’d been married for 40 years, and my mom, his twin sister.
During the service, the minister of the church he’d attended faithfully for decades called him a blessed man. Humble and kind, caring and compassionate, willing to give of himself to any who were in need. He was not a famous man, he never held public office or published works of literature. He quietly served on small committees, organizing events and raising money for good causes.
What I had done in 2018 was put myself in service. By doing so, by helping others succeed, by building solutions to fill gaps, I thought to elevate my own position. Service was a marketing plan.
But on November 16th, when we buried my Uncle Howard with his Clemson Tigers ball cap, surrounded by two hundred people who loved and admired him, I realized his service was more gratifying than mine. He’d served because he was called to do so.
As we all are.
He’d said, “Yes, God,” when asked to give of himself in love and compassion, in kindness and trust. He’d said, “Yes.”
I’ve been saying, “Yes, and” as I added my own part to the story being written. I’ve been following Amy Pohler and Tina Fey’s advice for improv comedy: accept the circumstances you’re given (“yes”) and make them better (“and”). Only the “and” I’d pursued had been me asking. It was more like, “Yes, and?”
I was where I was meant to be on November 16th, a fact that was made even more clear to me on December 28thwhen we sat in similar circumstances for my Papa. The same minister said of him that he’d been a man who lived the way Jesus wanted us to: humble and kind, in service to those around him.
As 2018 ends with the double-upper-cut of Uncle Howard’s death and Papa’s, I feel another declaration oncoming: “2018 can fuck all the way off.”
My friends, for whom this year has also been a trial with loss and uncertainty and hysterics and defeats, echo the sentiment to a one.
And yet, I am not embittered by the circumstances of the year. I’m filled instead with a profound gratitude for these two men and what they taught me. I’m encouraged to go forward into 2019 and continue to serve others in whatever capacity I am able. To meet obligations with enthusiasm and optimism. To help, promote, encourage, and sponsor as I am able the people around me who are poised to achieve.
In doing so, I will not necessarily amplify my own talents, but instead be putting them to their intended use.