My last piece of 2016 has forced recognition of a stylistic change to the way that I write. This will be my 12th letter or poem published this year, in contrast to four essays. The frequency of the formats that I write in is typically flipped; in 2015 I published four poems or letters and 10 essays. I did not notice this change until recently; this year and all its coarse brutality has required me to more fiercely recognize, acknowledge, and love those around me, and quite frankly, it is easier to love in letters and poetry than in five standard paragraphs. Here, to culminate a year for the books, is a long overdue letter to my best friend, from 1,000 miles away.
When I first boarded a plane for the Northeast in August of 2010, my bag was seven pounds too heavy. They dragged a metal trash can towards me from the curb across the cold, grainy, 5AM concrete. I wasn’t getting past curbside check-in without leaving something behind. Their message was simple: what I was bringing was too heavy for where I was going. The things I chose to carry with me simply weighed too much.
The waning December light has elicited much talk of how ugly the past 365 days have been. More than any other year in our memories, there is a feeling of collective disillusionment of what we thought 2016 would offer. We cannot speak of 2016 without speaking of the people whose words and actions dominated our understanding of it; this year, if nothing else, has brought us face to face with the heavy things that many thought our country had long ago rid itself of. There was a shakeup in self-perception: there are things in our bags that we did not think we carried, and the heaviest things are often the hardest to rid ourselves of.
Sorting through the debris has afforded us the opportunity to answer a single question: what do we owe each other? The question of moral obligation will always arise in the face of choice, and this year has pulled us to the extremities of choice: of who we will recognize as friend, as enemy, as person. Not a single one of these choices come without weight, nor do they come without recognizing which factors we will take into account when making sense of the world around us. By default, questioning our moral obligation has required us to examine, analyze, and analyze again: which things will we choose to carry? Which will we decide are simply too heavy?
When we are lucky, friendship offers concrete answers to these questions in the way that abstract thought does not. One need not look to faith in order to derive principles for what it means to live a good, honest, and moral life, but only to the actions of those we surround ourselves with. We need not look beyond the good that we know in order to understand what it means to be good.
2016 has, in large part, taken on its behemoth stature by capitalizing on fear. It is always harder to be good in the face of fear, and people oft have a tendency to shrink backwards in the face of inevitability. You, however, do much of the opposite; inevitability, to you, requires challenge. We need not accept what we have always known. We can still be good in the face of the unexpected.
When the year 2010 rang in, life had yet to know our friendship. We now find ourselves inching towards the precipice of 2017, on the heels of a year that redefined what we thought we knew to be true about our world, our country, and by default, ourselves. In the coming days, we will all be tempted to hold onto each other and our conceptions of the world more fiercely and more defensively than we did before. It is easy to become bitter and angry at the anticipated state of the world, the country, and the morality of the people that we thought we knew. I firmly believe that it is beneficial to be angry, but our friendship has taught me that anger is not all there is room for. It is possible to be both angry and gentle; to respond to fear with love; to pull tighter when we are encouraged to withdraw. Anger and gentleness need not be mutually exclusive.
The months ahead will give us the opportunity to reflect upon our ideas of what “better” versions of ourselves look like. We will be forced to weigh, unpack, and repack the criteria by which we love, we judge, we befriend, and we empathize. They will try to tell us that the things we have packed are too heavy for where it is that we’re going. That efficiency trumps examination, stereotypes conquer soul-searching, and that it is better to bring a trash can over and simply throw these things out, rather than hand them to the person next to us.
They will try to tell us these things, but the last six and a half years are proof that the heavy things we carry only begin to lose their weight when shared with others.
The truth is that the things that you and I choose to take will always be too heavy for where it is that we’re going. But no one said we can’t help each other carry them.
With all my love,