2015: five moments.
by Michael King
The rise of a new year is an invigorating time; the idea of a clean slate, of our very own tabula rasa, grants us the opportunity to dream in new directions. ‘What can I make of this year?’ many of us find ourselves asking, ‘Who can I be?’
A friend of mine Skyped at the dawn of December, and she let me know she’d be shutting out of social media for a bit. “December is my reflective time,” she said to me. Her time to pause, look back on the year freshly fading, and figure out what mattered.
I have a tendency to try and chronicle my life, to set aside the meaningful pieces and write them out so I won’t lose sight of who and what mattered, and how I lived and struggled and grew and changed. The act of boiling a year down can become cumbersome, not only to write but also to read, so this year I am working to edit. I have given myself five moments. The following is an incomplete and imperfect gathering of important moments in my 2015. Nevertheless, these were the moments that sifted above the rest.
1. The end of winter break: a hard goodbye & brave new steps
I’ve made no secret that 2014 was a grueling year of self-discovery for me, and – after what seemed like a marathon series of transitions, obstacles, and hard investigations into my own inner workings – I finished out the year at home as a bit of an exhausted, broken, limping mess.
Fortunately for me, my sister Danielle knows me better than I know myself, and – over those days – she sat me down, told me it was okay to be broken, and helped me find my light again. At least once with the help of blankets, movies, and absurd levels of calories. On Christmas night, she and I left to watch Into the Woods, a film we both agree we’d needed. At 25, I found my younger sister – whom I’d often worked so hard to be a rock and lighthouse for – was every bit the rock and lighthouse I needed.
On the day of my return to Ball State, Danielle and I spent the morning together in typical form: lounging, laughing, and looking for food. When my things were in my car, the house swept through numerous times, and it became clear it was time to go, she met me in the kitchen for a hug. Unexpectedly, we both broke into tears. She whispered to me that I was strong, and I felt my hands shake around her.
I’ll remember that hug, those tears, for the rest of my life. Not for the sadness of that goodbye, but for the beauty of having someone so perfectly suited to save me.
2. ‘Like real people do’: believing in happy surprises
When I returned to Ball State at the dawn of 2015, I found myself at a crossroads with myself: Bound forward with new hope? Or take a little longer to sort myself out? On a chilly Friday, sitting among the seats of an historic theatre in downtown Muncie, I committed to the former.
I think, when I look back at 2015, I will most remember it as a series of adventures. A happy surprise. If 2014 was the year that helped point me honestly to the knots within me, then I needed 2015 to be the year that pointed me to my absolute light. I’ve found it in absurd moments: running to catch the bus in the heat of the summer sun, sitting on a damp ledge beneath a waterfall, birthday surprises, road trips through rain and sun, the seats of an old theatre.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I stood on this stage and studied these chairs. Time is mysterious to us only because we forget it’s always moving, sticking to its schedule with remarkable consistency. Here’s to happy surprises; here’s to taking the leap to believe in them.
3. ‘Into existence’: the wild act of honesty
On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional. In case you missed that. I was, at the moment of the decision, running around Ball State’s campus. I had been sitting in my office beforehand, mind all over the place and hands unable to focus on my keyboard, and so I had decided to busy my mind with exercise. Just as I passed Beneficence, I received a text from a friend with rainbow hearts. MICHAEL! it read. I stopped, sinking into a sitting position and crying.
There were, of course, passionate responses from all perspectives, and soon Facebook began igniting in rainbow hues. As I considered changing my own photo, I found myself facing a familiar hesitation: What if everybody figures it out?
Then, a second, more terrifying thought: What if I tell them?
I published a blog entry, titled into existence, that enabled me to share myself as a gay man, openly and unapologetically, for the first time in my life. In what could be deemed stereotypical form, my heart hummed the lyrics of Wicked:
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep
It’s time to trust my instincts,
Close my eyes, and leap
The post was met with an incredible response, reminding me that – from every stage and realm of my life – my life has been disproportionately populated with incredible people. Friends wrote me with words of support, with coming out stories of their own, some asking for guidance coming into the light. The post was shared and spread a little bit wildly, gathering 8,000 views before the day had closed out.
An incredibly inspiring reminder to me that our stories are important and worth telling. I have not looked back since this day; the radical act of being myself required more courage than I’d once believed I possessed. But I made it, I found wild courage, and I broke into a run.
4. Flight to New York: finding ourselves in the adventures
In the summer of 2015, following a two-year (and too-long) hiatus from NYC, I hopped on a plane and made my way back to the City. There, I stayed with a friend who’s become family, and I spent a week digging into myself and the City as I bustled around to explore it for new perspectives.
My itinerary was busy and diverse, including pit stops with beautiful friends who call this place home, and I found myself walking through different sections of this expansive place each day. My down-time moments were bought in coffeehouses, charging my phone and reading novels.
The sun was on my side for most of the trip, though the rain didn’t inhibit any adventures. As I ventured throughout the City, I found myself considering the importance of travel. The act of travel is universally revealing; to know ourselves in different contexts is to know ourselves more deeply. I never feel more in touch with understanding my own spirit than when I am steeped in a new place, a stranger to all around me, and I find myself all over again. This is the significance of travel, I think, for all of us: It belongs to no one in particular, but it reveals to each of us who we are.
As I made the flight to New York, though, I hadn’t made all this discovery, reconnected with all these people. I had only one certainty within me as the plane began its descent into the City: My mission and hope was that, somewhere among all the buildings and anonymity, I might find myself in this place.
5. Ending the first year: gratitude
When I accepted my first full-time position at Ball State, I felt a long-held dream come true: I now had the opportunity to work for a department that had, without a doubt, changed my life. My time as an RA helped me find my leadership, my voice, and my mission.
Without trying to widen the scope too much (I’m supposed to be focused on moments), I will say that my first year was a rigorous marathon, and my co-pilot in that endeavor was Brandon, a graduate student with a remarkable skillset and an incredibly kind spirit.
Brandon accepted his job at the University of Illinois while he was sitting in my office. He had stepped into my office, wanting to process the call he was waiting on, and I had been beckoned out for a locked-out student. When I returned, he was standing, hands a little shaky, and I knew. “Yeah?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said.
The day Brandon left Ball State was a hard one for me; he had truly become a brother to me, and – excited though I was to see him go and build his family and his career – I was sad to see him go. I gave him a hug before he left, his daughter grabbing at my face as I did, and then he was gone.
And the rest: me working hard to resist throwing in the kitchen sink
There are so many brilliant people, adventures, moments of learning, and other salient details I’m leaving out of this post. This year has been a pretty wild chapter, and it’s been the restoration year that I needed. I found my feet, learned to believe in my strength, and shared my story.
Thank you, 2015. You were a wildly significant year, and you reminded me to keep moving, in stubborn-ass steps if I must.
Thanks for reading. #bless