North State Voices: The year I showed up (again and again)

By Joanna O’Hanlon

Posted:   12/25/2013 09:45:39 PM PST

I was sitting in an apartment that is no longer mine, in a town that I no longer live in, on a couch that I no longer own. It was the end of 2012, and I was writing a letter to the new year.

“Dear 2013,” I began, full of hope for the new year and some phony, feel-good, end-of-the-year reflections. I asked hypothetical questions that sounded good at the time: “What will you bring me this year? Will you bring the best or the worst of times? Will you shatter my world in a moment? Or will you bring the beginning of new things?”

I didn’t know then that in two days’ time, I would collapse in a mess of anxiety, grief and dry-heaving behind that same couch. I didn’t know that my smile would disappear for months. I didn’t know that the hypothetical question about my world shattering would be exactly what this year would bring.

In the latter part of the letter, I made some commitments to 2013, promising what I would bring to the table in the new year. The first flippant promise I made, the one I thought least about before typing it onto the page was this: “I will bring all of me for 12 months, no less and no more. I will be present.”

What I meant was that I would smell the roses and wouldn’t be on my phone at the dinner table. Quickly, though, this promise began to be a theme on a very literal level.

The hardest thing I did this year was to continue to show up to places and spaces in which I didn’t want to be.

It has been a year of great loss. There were many, many days where I didn’t want to get out of bed because life seemed too heavy to handle. But I got up.

It has been a year of great pain — my own, and the pain I’ve caused and seen in others. There have been many rooms I did not want to walk into, phone calls I didn’t want to make, confrontations that I would rather avoid for eternity. I wanted to run away, but I walked into those rooms, I voiced the words that made my gut churn, I was physically present in the hardest of situations I’ve yet to know.

It has been a year of great change. I moved into a new community where I knew exactly one person. I finally got the courage to put in the effort to start over and get to know new people. I took enough deep breaths and talked myself into going to a group function at church, only to find out they were not there — they were having a barbecue at a park.

While a voice inside said, “Oh thank God, I can just go home,” my hands looked up directions to the park, and I went, looking for a large group of people I had never met. I found them eventually, and it was not comfortable. But I went back the next week, and the next, and the next.

It has been a year of growth: Spiritual, emotional, mental and physical. I was able to climb my first 14,000-foot mountain this year because I started to run several times a week. I have never “felt like running” in my life. But I put my shoes on, and put one step in front of the other until I was done with each run. And you know what? The more I run, the easier it gets.

These things only happened, though, because of one decision.

I told 2013 that I would give all of me for 12 months. I promised that I would show up. So I have. As a result, I have traveled farther in every atmosphere of my life than I have in any year prior.

It has been the hardest thing I have ever done. And I intend to do it again next year.

Dear 2014: I don’t know if I can offer much, but I’ll bring all of me for 12 months, no more, no less. I promise to show up.

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Joanna O’Hanlon is an adventurer and story-teller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.  Other places are

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*You can read the original “Dear 2013” letter here