2017: here, now, on the eve of everything.
by Michael King
But me? Well, it’s hard to know. I’d like to think I’ll be proud of the life I’ve chosen to live, that I’ll look back on the year…for evidence of courage, love, and sincerity, and I’ll see the fruits of my efforts.
But there are answers I cannot have right now. There are trails I’ll have to run, no promise of anything at the end, in the hopes that my hustle will not be in vain. I’ll dig and run and write and love and try anew.
I wrote these words at the dusk of 2016, a year that left me feeling uncharacteristically battered and bruised. I sat down, that evening, and allowed the pain I’d been bundling to unfurl: My heart was broken (still), my courage was tentative, and my direction was unclear. Around me, my country somehow cast its faith into a man who did nothing to disguise motives of division, oppression, and dishonesty. Through all of it, I discovered, I was holding onto hope. Obstinate, pervasive hope, beckoning my hands to search the night sky for stars.
I wasn’t sure where I was going, at the dawn of 2017, but I knew I’d need to run. I’d need to start showing up –– for myself and for the people I love, trying anew, letting loose my frayed and dangling threads and weaving new ones. And so it was that I set out into the new year.
On showing up. I work with college students, and one of my labors of love over the past few years has been something we’ve dubbed ‘The Brave Space Initiative,’ a curriculum dedicated to emboldening students and student leaders to be honest, empathetic, courageous, and sincere with one another. Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to speak on the nature of courage a number of times, and anybody who’s heard me will tell you that I’ve said the following: Being brave means ‘showing up with shaking hands.’
For me, ‘showing up with shaking hands’ has been a quiet reminder in difficult times throughout the year. As a friend and I drove to the airport to protest Donald Trump’s ill-advised call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, I wasn’t sure what environment we were driving toward. Whenever I saw my ex, would I steel myself over and be cruel, or could I still find a way to demonstrate love? Could I present my work at GLACUHO, even if it meant running the risk of it being deemed irrelevant or corny or not enough or or or. This summer, in New York, would I finish that half-marathon, even though it’s been years since I ran like that, and even though nobody was running with me, and what if I failed. In 2017, I fought tirelessly to show up, hands shaking or not, and put love and courage and empathy ahead.
On love and the repurposing. I wrote, recently, about the opening spark of 2017. In the earliest minutes of the year, I ventured to a bar and met a man from France. He had dark brown eyes, a sweet smile, and we were both too well-dressed for the venue. After speaking for a bit, he asked if anybody had kissed me at the New Year, and I told him no. He asked if he could kiss me, and I said yes. So began 2017.
I won’t remember 2017 as a banner year for romantic love, and I don’t think I was intended to. After not one, but two, instances of putting another person’s needs ahead of my own, I held my fragments out to myself and decided it was time to stop shrinking. I started pouring love back into myself, investing time, energy, and space into seeking new horizons, new opportunities, and new discoveries.
2017 was a year of finding my absolutes against several settings, with adventures in Orlando and Chicago and New York and Minneapolis and Nashville and New Orleans and, tomorrow, the North Shore of Boston. I spent these adventures, of course, with friends, but they each provided me with time to stand on my own, in my own being, and begin to unravel the great mystery of myself.
The love I once poured into one person I rededicated to the significant people around me, my students and friends and family, and I worked to show love in new ways. If 2016 was my year of holding back my ‘I love yous’ as if they were heavy, 2017 was my year of leaving no ‘I love you’ left unspoken. Instead of self-doubt, I doubled down on myself, and I poured love in new directions, in the stubborn hope that it would bear fruit.
My love, I’m inspired to say, began to bear fruit. In the times I showed up best, I watched humans trade their weapons for warmth, or gather the courage to be honest, or simply to expand and t a k e u p s p a c e.
A student told me, over coffee, that I embodied ‘loving through pain.’ Despite my best efforts, I could not hold back tears. In that moment, I felt seen and understood and inspired. Sometimes courage, it seems, is showing up and trying even when the results aren’t immediately clear. This was, in my heart, a moment of my love bearing fruit.
And, through that, I found all the courage and hope and strength and certainty I needed to mend.
On the ‘here, now, on the eve of everything.’ I wrote this phrase, for the first time, when I set out to name my most recent ‘state of things’ playlist. As I look ahead to 2018, it seems, I am preparing to close a number of chapters.
This spring, after four years of building and discovery in a second chapter at Ball State, I will search for opportunities in new settings. In a year’s time, ready or not, my day-to-day life is going to look strikingly different than it has for the past four. And I’d like to err on the side of readiness.
I’ll write more on the chapter freshly fading as its conclusion draws closer, but I can tell you it has been among my bravest, most growing times of life. If nothing else, it has brought me the confidence in courage, love, empathy, honesty, and showing up to dive into something new. For that, I’m grateful.
To those who have loved me well. This summer, I sat down to write, and what poured out of my fingertips was an admission of fatigue. I’m tired, I wrote to myself, of giving all my space to the people who leave, to the ones who’ve loved me poorly. And so it is, at this dusk of 2017, that I devote some space to the ones who’ve loved me well.
Without you, I don’t know that I would have found the courage to stand, to take stubborn-ass steps, to run. Without you, I don’t think I would look back at the year with such a swell of joy and warmth. Without you, would I have ever believed in my hands to to do good work? Where would I have invested it, my love? Where would I have found it, my courage? Who would have steadied my steps, shouldered my tears, held my limbs as I unstitched my scars?
I hope I’ve told you, all of you, that I love you. Most of you are probably reading this, shaking your heads and laughing at the number of times I’ve tried. I can promise you, here and now and on the eve of everything, it wasn’t and won’t ever be enough.
I love you. Unapologetically. Thank you for convincing me that love (and the courage and honesty and showing up it entails) is a worthwhile fucking endeavor.