It is the last day of what has been a very long year. 2017 has ushered more changes into my life than most years have, and it feels like a paradox to me that I have written less this year than in any other year of my adult life. Or rather, I have put fewer words to paper. Most of the writing has been done on my flesh. Sometimes it is hard to be gentle with myself when words don’t come. As someone who has been writing their whole life, to have a year filled with such profound transitions and not to be writing about it feels unusual.
But just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention. Last year, I wrote out this quote and taped it to the ceiling above my bed, so it was the first thing I read every morning and the last thing I saw before closing my eyes at the end of another day:
you were a writer
pen to paper.
just because you were not writing
does not mean you were not writing
― Nayyirah Waheed
I’ve spent this year writing myself home. Sometimes I am speechless at the ordinariness of the beauty that is right before me, when I am truly here to witness it. I think again of Mary Oliver’s exhortation to “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it,” and I feel like I’ve been living in the first two of these, and am slowly finding my way back into the third.
My word for this year has been “belonging,” and I have spent the past 12 months unpacking what it means to belong deeply to myself, to come alive in my own skin, to be a part of an interconnected web of people–my community, my chosen family, the people I deeply love and who love me in return–and to belong to the world.
I have chosen a new word to explore in 2018, or rather, it chose me somewhere back in October: tend. This one I anticipate will take me in many different directions, as I examine the different words that this root can become. It is a verb all on its own, and that itself can go in different directions: tending to do something, for example, as well as caring for and giving attention to. From the Latin tendere, meaning “to stretch,” come words like attend, tension, and intent. It also makes me think of tenderness. I’m so curious to see where this word (in all its many forms) will lead me.
I just looked back at what I believe is my very first word-of-the-year post, and I was delighted that I both picked the same poem to reflect on, and that as in years past, my word for this year was already present in what was alive for me and what I was writing about then. I also just reread my post from one year ago, and saw how deeply I lived my way into all of the questions I held as I approached 2017. I appreciated anew the freedom I gave myself to just exist:
You have permission never to leave behind a written account of your existence. If your life full of fabulous stories ends up as nothing more than a multicolor mandala crafted from millions of grains of sand, sprinkled onto this beloved earth for just one lifetime’s worth of moments before being gathered up in a brilliantly wasteful display of impermanence, all is still well. You do not exist to produce evidence of your presence here. Just be present here.
I am in tears, just a few hours before the year ends, re-reading the words I wrote to myself on January 1st. In the end of that letter to myself, I wrote (and notice how my word for this coming year is embedded in the first line):
Dearest Rob from 2016: thank you for the intention you put into becoming the storyteller, the author of all that you are writing into being in the world. Thank you for becoming more and more yourself, for becoming me.
And, to the person I am becoming over the next year who will write to me on the cusp of 2018 with a new word to explore: I am excited to see how this year turns me into you, how I belong to you and you belong to me and we both belong in the grand scheme of this extravagant life that each moment is contributing towards.
I stand up from kneeling, my hand full of sand gifted to me by the ocean. I will take these tiny grains of time and use them to draw a temporary masterpiece on the canvas of my body. I will not grieve as the waves wash them away, because I know that I am a part of all of it, and it is a part of all of me. That is what belonging means to me now. I will see what it means to me in 365 days.
Last weekend, I went back to the coast, and I walked along the beach, and I let tears cascade in rivulets down my cheeks as I watched a small river pour its heart into the ocean, and watched the waves claim the flowing water as its own. I stood in rapt attention, meditating, seeing if I could discern at what point the drops of water that comprise the river became waves, became ocean, and when they were still river. I felt the water in me pulling me to the ocean as well–which is how I ended up nearly freezing my ass off camping on the beach in December!–and as my salty tears ran towards the sea, I realized that this is precisely what belonging means to me. The ocean, remembering itself in each drop. The river, running steadily on its way, knowing it was never not ocean, even when it was snow at the peak of the mountains in whose shadows I stood. The water in me, remembering itself in the waves, and knowing that the waves I danced with remembered me, too, and missed me when I was away.
I knelt again, Rumi’s words in mind, and kissed the icy ground, bits of sand and salt clinging to my lips. And as I stood, I saw a wave tugging at a heart-shaped stone, a gift from the ocean to my own heart, a reminder of the magic that asks for my attention and my intention, over and over and over again.
Sometimes I feel isolated, and forget that I am made of vast ocean, and ancient stardust, and fiery sunshine, and gentle breezes. The atoms that compose what I know as myself were born in the hearts of dying stars, and they have been other things, and they will again be other things as soon as they are done being me. Sometimes I forget that I belong here because I am made of all of this, and I am here to be all of this, simply to be it, with nothing needed to prove my worthiness. With all of the chaos going on in the world, it is easy to lose sight of this belonging, and when I do I have found that if I take myself to a place with stones, they will offer me their hearts and remind me of my magic. All I have to offer is my attention, my presence, which I suppose is the magic itself: just being here now.
As I stand here on the cusp of a new year, I want to write to the person I was at the beginning, to the person who was writing to me and imagining me here, and I want to imagine myself here again next year, writing back to me about all of the things this coming year will have held for me.
Dear Rob (from a year ago),
Thank you for diving into the adventures that belonging has taken you on. You can’t possibly have known it from where you are, but in saying yes to this word you are opening your heart to the possibility of letting yourself come alive in your body and in your relationships and in your community and in your world.
52 weeks ago, you wrote me a letter, stating that you were excited to see how this year turns you into me. 41 weeks ago, you crossed another threshold in transition, and made a conscious choice to craft your body into a place you can be alive in. Weekly since then, you have turned hormone injections into rituals, and have found yourself sitting on old-growth nurse logs, or in caves formed by tree roots, or at the tops of mountains, or in your call room, or in a pile of gorgeous fall leaves; each poke of the needle an offering to the healing of the wound, of the wounds, of the greater Wound. You’ve been witnessed by a roomful of your dearest queerest friends, by a line of marching ants, by a curious chipmunk, by a swarm of bees, by a flight of noisy cormorants. The world is present and compelled by your intention to be your most alive, tender, queer self.
You will fall in love this year. I could tell you more about that, but I want you to do the discovering yourself. But know this: in just a few weeks, you will meet a person who will change your world. Pay attention. They’re amazing. Let yourself love them as fiercely as your heart desires. They will become family to you. You will be lighthouse keepers for each other, mirrors for each other’s souls. You will learn each other’s names and call each other home. I am excited to see what else you will call home.
You will have a longtime friendship return, and deepen, and open your heart in ways that it needs to be opened. Don’t run away this time. Stay here, in it, and breathe, and heal, and do time-traveling magic together to send love and care and healing back to the people you were when you ran away because you didn’t know how to stay. This time you will stay, and your love and compassion and tenderness with each other will soften and expand you. Let that happen. Nurture that. They are also your people.
You will be in your body more in this year than possibly ever before. A couple of years ago, you wrote a poem that included the lines, “to live in this skin / and come alive here.” You will do that this year. You will also balance it out by doing the opposite, by taking the space you need to have downtime where you don’t feel present. Sometimes you won’t feel alive in your skin, won’t want to. Sometimes your body HURTS, and feeling that is hard, and you’ll need to do something else, and that’s exactly what you will do. You will take care of your gorgeous self enough to turn yourself into me here at the end of the year, and I am so grateful for that, for all of those intentional choices to eat, to sleep, to take a shower, to take a walk, to text a friend and tell them you’re in pain, to text a friend and tell them you’re in love, to text a friend and tell them you’re delighted by the magic in your life. You will splash in the ocean and hike by yourself and camp alone and get lost on dark beaches and wonder if you will find your way home. You will see sunsets so stunning that you immediately burst into hot tears because you are so glad to still be alive to see this one, right here.
You will catch babies, and more babies. You will deal with some emergencies that you’ve never handled before, and you will handle them, and babies will come out screaming, and parents will be alive to hug their babies. You will help people who don’t want to be pregnant stay not pregnant. You will hold devoted space for all of the stories that your patients bring through your door and into your heart.
It won’t all be beautiful. You will hold lost babies in your hands and feel your heart crack a little as you send blessings for them on their journey to wherever they are headed, and you will grieve that they couldn’t stay. You will hold their little bodies gently, with reverence, and you will let yourself be fully human and grieve their loss even as you handle the clinical side of what is occurring. And even that will be gorgeous in its awfulness. Death is a part of this work, too; it is one we fight to hold at bay, and sometimes there is nothing we can do about it. Pregnancy is as complex and perfect and flawed as the rest of our body’s processes, and sometimes it breaks in ways we cannot fix. And then you will hold death with the same kindness that you hold life.
You will also have moments of as great of fear as you have ever known in midwifery practice, and you will stay as calm and grounded as possible, as umbilical cords come out before babies, or as blood that should be inside a body cascades out in waterfalls onto the floor, or as shoulders are stuck, or fetal heart tracings are terrifying. You will care for the people who entrust their lives and the lives of their babies into your capable hands. And then you will go home and take care of yourself so you can do it again tomorrow.
You will write a little, here and there, in your journal or on your blog. You will write more on the dynamic canvas of your body. You are a work of art and a skilled artist, love. Keep at it. As Nayyirah Waheed said, “keep speaking the years from their hiding places. keep coughing up smoke from all the deaths you have died. keep the rage tender. because the soft season will come.”
Thank you for all of the work you put into becoming me. You lived your way into answers to questions you asked a decade ago, and you asked new questions you might not ever find answers to. Thank you for your dedication to discovering what it means to belong.
And to you, Rob, who waits a year from now on the precipice of 2019 for me to do the work of becoming yourself, I’m so curious about where “tend” in all its forms will take you, will take me as I become you. I’m curious about the ways your heart will break open this year, and how you will fall ever more deeply in love with your one wild and precious life (to borrow another line from Mary Oliver). I’m curious about the people who have yet to become pregnant whose babies you will have the privilege of welcoming into the world. I’m curious about what face will stare back at me from a blog post in this space a year from now, and what those eyes will have seen and those hands touched. I’m curious how you will tend the fertile soil of your heart and that of your garden, how you will offer your attention to the everyday miracles of your life, how with intention you will create change and healing in your world, how you will sit in the tension of existing in the liminal spaces, how you will “keep the rage tender,” how you will notice tendencies towards living anything less than your truest life and work to shift them.
It’s nearly midnight; time to bring these reflections to a close and take myself to a party where I can ring in the new year with people I love and care about. At midnight, I will blow a kiss across the expanse of the coming year to land on the cheek of the person I will be when I read it as 2019 approaches. And I will keep showing up for the life I am creating and writing my stories on the raw canvas of my skin.
Here’s to a year of tender, attentive tending. Bring it. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.