by isaac black

2013 was the year I let go of meaning. I didn’t intend to, and I didn’t necessarily want to either, but so much of my personal mythology involved struggle that I couldn’t afford anymore to believe in my own great underdog narrative. Every Great Man needs an enemy, and I had often filled that role for myself. At age 31, being battered and disappointed throughout my twenties, I no longer had the strength to fight myself. 

Or maybe I no longer believed in the prize at the other end, and maybe that was all that had kept me going. Maybe that’s how I could choose to live among the constant struggle. 

Either way, it’s gone now. Most of the conflict, and almost all of the meaning. Instead of exhausting myself in gridlock, I left the game entirely. I stared toward the sidelines, and the stands were empty. 

I miss it, but it’s just sentimentality. I knew one day I would have to get older; I didn’t understand that this would mean giving up parts of myself. It’s a sign of my privilege that I assumed survival wouldn’t tax any of the luxuries I was born into. I chose to live this year, and it meant that I had to let go of the meaning that threatened to destroy me.

When my heart inexorably broke this year it surprised me, somehow. But what I did not have for comfort was the belief that it would make me a better person. I didn’t believe that God had saved me from an ultimately more harmful decision. I didn’t even believe that a malevolent universe had tweaked me for its bored pleasure. It was just another instance of a pattern born from my history and the history of my ancestors. 

The particular, clinical cruelty of this year tempted me to believe that my reality was programmed—a simulation to be studied. But I didn’t even have the energy that such mild paranoia requires.

In lieu of expecting meaning to surface out of my sadness, I faced down the darkness. It deadened me in a way I hadn’t expected. But it also gave me the ability to savor, in a delicate way that required the right soundtrack, the ache of having no one. The wonder of involuntarily feeling excited and hopeful by someone else’s existence alongside the sting of knowing that her life is largely unaffected by yours. I felt life deeply this year, in the moment, for what it is. Whatever it is.

I swam in the Pacific Ocean at dawn on New Year’s Day, mostly because I love ocean water, but there was also an attractive hope that bathing myself in an unfathomable element would help orient me to the vast, unfeeling momentum of existence. I hold on to some beliefs still, if only for their narrative value. Staring into infinite darkness, bright things do appear brighter.