27: the year of the unfurling.

by Michael King

A year ago, I sat down to make meaning of just what 26 meant for me. Having been ‘my golden year,’ 26 brought me a host of good memories and lessons learned. As it winded down into 27, however, 26 found me spilling onto the ground, my pieces around me. Heart broken, hands shaking, I found myself asking ––

What good is being brave
if love can still fail?

By the time I wrote the entry for 26, I’d opted to double down. ‘Okay,’ I said to myself, ‘This is a setback. It’s time to double down –– if you believe in bravery, in love, in your magic, it’s time to get moving.’ In forecasting 27, a year ago, I had this to say:

‘I want 27 to be about writing the life I’ve dreamed of living. I will not be afraid to take this magic, this courage, this love, and live a worthy story.’

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27. I turned 27 in an apartment I’d shared with somebody who left. It was, if I remember, a quiet night, but a group of my friends surprised me with a cake. I decided, in that moment, to spend the year working to shift my focus from the people who leave to my people who stay. Very few decisions in my life have had such a profound impact on my happiness.

On being brave. This past Spring, as I shared a presentation with a gathering of colleagues, I was working to create a group consensus about just what it meant to be ‘brave.’ Perhaps reflecting on my year, or maybe those small moments in which I summoned the courage to do something radical, I equated being brave to ‘showing up with shaking hands.’

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Brave, to me, has become a reminder not to cower behind the walls of my comfort zone. It has reminded me to approach others, even those who’ve hurt me, with kindness and sincerity. It has emboldened me to try new things, to share my story, to trust people to hold even the messy parts of me.

In 27’s early days, it meant getting out of bed and putting a smile on for a few people at work. Throughout the year, it meant submitting writing, making phone calls, showing up(!) for people who matter to me, admitting to not knowing what I don’t know, and building new dreams.

On being loving. 27 has shown me, in every season, that my life is abundantly blessed with love in every direction. I have said before that our friends are the ones who rescue us, and I can confirm this to be true. 27 has found me finding adventures, big and small, with a truly brilliant, excellent cast of characters.

Being loving is, of course, easiest when it comes to those who love us well. For these people, we know to show up, to help out, to unpack the messy stuff, and to belly laugh whenever possible. Thanks, especially, to my people who stay. You have 100% rescued me from the worry that mine is a heart too cumbersome to love.

I have learned, also, that I can be loving even when it is not easy. For good or for bad, it isn’t in my nature to hold onto anger, and love has been my brightest way through. This is, of course, my favorite discovery. I have never felt so powerful, nor my future more possible.

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On being magic. Like being brave and being loving, being magic has been a choice. For me, I have found my most excellent magic comes in the practice of turning my scars into stars. I have discovered I can also engage in the art of alchemy, of transforming pain into gold, of suturing my wounds into constellations.

When I looked up, at last, from sifting through the tangles of my pain, I realized there’s a lot to do in the world around us. The United States, following a long and contentious election cycle, elected a man who proudly personifies the ugliest aspects of humanity. Emboldened, hate groups began appearing in public again. Defacing public property with messages of hatred. Chiding immigrants and minorities to ‘get the hell out’ at convenience stores.

What good is being brave
if love can still fail?

Because sometimes it doesn’t, goddammit, and that’s because people keep trying. If life can be boiled down to the steps of (1) finding our magic, (2) sharing it, and (3) repeating, then we’ve all got work to do.

And so I and we set out to be the kind of people we’d want to tell our children we were: compassionate, brave, loving, vocal, resistant to oppression, and willing to show up with shaking hands.

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On the unfurling. If you follow any of my social media, you’ll note that I’ve taken a liking to the word ‘unfurl.’ In writing about heartbreak, I first used it as a word to describe clenched fists loosening into fingertips. One day, to be sure I was using it correctly, I found that the Google definition spoke of just such an unrolling, ‘especially to be open to the wind.’ I fell in love with that definition.

The unfurling of my fists, from the start of 27 to today, happened finger by finger, and I’m certain my hands found themselves balled back into fist form more than once. Letting go of my pain, of the shame and humiliation of having had my heart handed back to me, took stubbornness and commitment, not just on my part but on that of my people.

It happened, perhaps, when a friend told me to ‘be where my feet are.’ It happened when I started to piece it into words, sharing my pain and finding it resonated. It happened when I adventured in Chicago, in Orlando, in New York, in Minneapolis. It happened when I saw the lights in my students’ eyes. It happened during my half-marathon, when I crossed the finish line and settled onto the ground, breathing through the pain (my God, how I’ve mastered breathing through the pain). It happened when I heard my youngest niece laugh, when I saw my brother approach fatherhood, when I saw my sister make plans for her own forever. It happened on summer runs, on nights laughing at crowded bars, on mornings doing yoga with the television set.

It happened, the unfurling. It happened, 27. Looking in the mirror, I haven’t changed all that much in a year, but I have learned to unravel, to rebuild, and to rest in the brilliance of my own being.

On 28. 28 will be my final year as a Residence Hall Director at Ball State University. The time has come, I think, to dare in new directions. With the future on the horizon, I want to live with such courage, such honesty, such love, and such magic, that I know I wrote the end of this chapter well. As I consider my next leap, I will need you all more than ever.

With love.

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