New Year’s Eve: On Accepting Love and Sadness

This post is dedicated especially to anyone else spending NYE solo.

NYE Sunset Afterglow 2021

I went to catch the sunset today, but arrived just in time for the afterglow, bounding toward the bluffs just to show the silent eucalyptus forest I had made the effort to farewell the orb I take for granted on other days.

This New Year’s Eve, 2021, is a rather special one for me, because I am spending it alone, and on some level confronting my now-irrational fear of this I have cultivated for a long time.

It’s been a fine day, actually.

I’ve been for a run, and a long walk along streets with still-falling leaves and agaves bedazzled with dew, out to the diamond-speckled ocean. I’ve been for a yoga class in the park, sent loving messages to friends and kin, found resolution with someone dear to my tenderized heart.

I finished and submitted to an academic journal an article based on research I began in Fall of 2019, when I had little more than a general curiosity about the symptoms of women’s ritual ecstasy in Euripides’ tragedy, Bacchae.

Also today I received word that my abstract for aconference paper I am preparing on gender, ecstatic vision, and cognition in Greek tragedy has been accepted, so the next stage of this research project is already calling out to me.

And having taken very little time off from work these holidays, I am preparing to visit the fabled land of Esalen for an ecstatic dance workshop in the New Year.

So, it seems that ecstasy is becoming rather something of a specialty of mine!

I am also preparing to teach subjects that keep my heart open and my mind sharp, and working with students who inspire me with their dedication to and intrinsic passion and motivation for their studies. My family and friends are healthy, and I am very fortunate in my family and friends.

These reflections all feel like helpful bridges of gratitude and abundance carrying me over this ravine that NYE always seems to create, and into a new year of promise.

Do I wish to submit? Yes, please!

But why are these bridges required?

It is easy to say, “well, NYE is just another day, and it will be just another day tomorrow.” This is one (rather flimsy) bridge I have constructed, along with more elaborate others: planning parties with friends, making labor-intensive meals, or queuing up my favorite films to re-watch.

These all feel like strategies to forestall something, because when I have participated in them in the past I have found it difficult to be very present for any of them, while the cultural pressure is on to do something exciting, set intentions, kiss the right person, arrange for the first one over your threshold in the New Year is an auspicious presence, all in record time, before we reach midnight. It has always felt foreboding, like attending a wake before a memorial service, or before the death has even occurred. I think some years of the people who may have listened to the musicians play on the Titanic that fateful night, watching the water rise as we watch the clock.

I know, grim reflections, but these are the feelings that I seem to work so hard to avoid every year. The void. The recognition of the losses. Globally, the staggering losses to human and non-human life due to the pandemic, escalating natural disasters, police violence, school shootings, military coups, and other devastating events, and personally, the dreams that were not realized, the relationships that faltered. Marital dissolution.

I thought of this incongruently while making an indulgent meal for myself: fancy “mac and cheese” with cream, Gruyere, sautéed brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and chestnuts, and a kale salad that most of my friends probably hate by now because I make it so frequently, but I love (except when I aspirate the kale as apparently is a tendency for me…).

Nourishing my body with good, tasty food and plenty of “healthy”, non-competitive exercise (yoga, dance, hiking) has been paramount to my sanity during the pandemic, especially as I live alone. But sometimes I get rather rigid about it, bent on caring for myself in the way only I can. Several times I have asked myself why I feel the need to cook something so challenging on a given evening. Why not just make eggs? Because it shows a lack of self-worth, a lack of dedication to self-care.

There is something about the phrase “you are enough”, one of the millions of affirmations constantly circulating on the social media accounts I follow from various wellness practitioners and teachers that really gave me pause tonight.

It somehow broke through my cooking frenzy, the effort to plan an “alternative” solo NYE of yoga, film-viewing, intention-and-gratitude-list-generation, and all the rest.

So now I am here writing this.

The plain, and somehow all-encompassing satisfaction of “You are enough” allowed me to feel the weight of sadness this evening, to begin to accept its visitation and ask why it must be present, if I have so many things to be happy about.

This might sound cliché, but it is an insight I keep returning to, and a vivifying one at that.

To live is to burn, to long, to be in love. Sadness is the unfulfilled, or the lost, as I have learned from my favorite poets: Rumi, Hafiz, Sappho, Catullus, Mary Oliver, Emily Dickenson, and so many others.

Sadness means fundamentally that I am a lover.

When I think on it, this is really the number one vocation I would choose for my life.

Some loves I am good at fostering within myself. I readily fall in love with cities and flavors and spaces that shelter and direct human movement (train stations, churches, cafes, theaters). I fall in love with buoyant seas whose grains of salt have coated my scalp. I fall for languages, and their built-in views of human nature I did not know existed. And I love hands (both physical hands and the writing they yield). I fall for the oldest cemetery when I am new to a city – I visit there and thank the ancestors for hosting me. There is no city I have visited that has not charmed me with the quirks of its personality I have managed to find in a park, a museum, or a pastry. I love the wild as well, which is in all things and all people.

And the body, not just mine, the body – I love its generosity of movement, the limbs’ readiness to receive the signals from the brain: Dance! Walk! Kiss! Hold the door for that person! This I fall for, especially when I run my fingers over the vertebrae in my spine and remember that these will by far outlast the flesh and connective tissue that holds them and enlivens them.

It’s people – not friends or family or colleagues, or even strangers with whom I exchange a smile on the street – but the other, the object of amor I find to be the difficult kind of love, hence the reason it plagues ballads, paintings, tragic plays, teen journal entries. When it happens it is hard not to pay attention to the sadness. That kind of love is an ecstasy, an experience of standing outside of oneself in the presence of the beloved other, merging with them, allowing your pillars of self-protection to fall, and when they leave, whether for a day or forever, you are back in your body, shivering. It feels so cold, but you remember having this body before meeting the person, and you will adjust to it after their departure. It just might take some time, and that’s okay.

The act of loving, really loving anything is not the avoidance, but the acceptance of sadness. And for those philosopher types, according to Socrates (as transmitted in Plato’s Symposium, Phaedrus, and other dialogues), love is the desire for the form that is the imitation, the shadow of formless beauty and truth. But it is okay to be in love with forms, because they teach us about the art of truth-seeking, and the appreciation of beauty in all things.

And so tonight I will of course open the tiny bottle of Chandon I bought. I will indulge myself with a film, some chanting, some journaling.

But overall, I will ask my heart what it wants to love, what loves it wants to remember, to let go of, to invite in. That feels right, this New Year’s Eve.

May formless Love itself, ready to infuse all of my life, be the first foot I welcome through my door New Year’s Day. And may it visit you as well.

Here’s to the turning of the New Year, from my hearth to yours!

With Love