Full stop.

I wonder if lots of us are feeling this way at the moment? That we have reached the limit. The end. That it’s hard to even look beyond the point we’ve reached. I know I’ve felt, and written about, before the sense of facing greater uncertainty than expected earlier in life, but that sense of unknownness really has reached a peak for me recently.

I am well into my second period of lockdown here, and much as it seems there are glimmers of hope for a vaccine and a return to ‘normal’, I’m not quite sure I even know what that will be like. I have no doubt that I will go and eat in restaurants and travel and such again, but that’s not really what I mean. I mean something a little deeper. Who am I going to be? What changes have happened and what need to be made? What will my life like on the other side of this?

It seems that what I thought was a comma has become a full stop.

It’s not just a pause before returning to the same busy life, as much as I have been lucky enough to enjoy some of the upsides of pausing, but a chance to start a whole new sentence.

This is brought into a little sharper focus for me for a couple of reasons, but I am sure this feeling of uncertainty is relatable for many.

Firstly, this year has been an intentional ‘victory lap’ of sorts for my current job and city. For an assortment of reasons I feel that this will be my final year living in my current home. The chapter has seemed to be ending for a while and I’m enjoying the opportunity to have one more go around here. Of course, it has been a rather unusual year, with some of the normal rhythms of life and work dramatically different. But still, the prospect of moving jobs and country add to the sense of coming to a full stop this year.

Much as when you come to the end of a perfectly formed sentence, it can be hard to know what comes next. I have been teaching for a decade at this point. I’m at that point when I have almost had a whole career already. I feel that I should be an expert, and I’m sure I am in many ways, but I also know that there are many years to come in which I must make choices about work and career.

I’m not quite sure what that will look like. I think that’s OK. Part of the pleasure of coming to the end of a sentence is reading it back and reflecting on it. I hope to be able to do that and am fortunate enough to be able to take a moment before rushing onwards. If this year has taught me anything, it’s that taking time out can be a good thing (even if I’d rather not have a global pandemic to force it upon me).

Secondly, and more existentially, I have undertaken the rather less clear process of coming out and coming to terms with my sexuality in a much more hands on way in the last year. In terms of this finished sentence, it has been more a process of reflecting on a much amended, crossed-out and annotated piece of writing. I’m still not sure what the next words will be.

I know that I am frustrated at the lack of capacity for action on both of these fronts while at home and locked down. But perhaps that’s OK. Maybe it’s good to have to hold my horses and look inwards rather than just rushing headlong into ‘doing things’.

In that process of re-reading what has been written before, there are things that cannot be erased. Things that have caused pain and confusion, and continue to do so. Maybe this full stop can be a time to try to understand those things a little better. To stop and reflect so that the next chapter can be better. Or at least more self-aware.

This full stop is time to pause and to plan. To hope and to reflect. And hopefully, not to worry too much about the next sentence.

It’s People

What makes you happy? How do you relax? What’s it all about? What are you doing this weekend?

All questions of varying depth and seriousness, which I’ve come to think have one common theme in the answer. It’s people.

It’s not really about opinions, beliefs or preferences, it’s just common sense. When it comes down to it, we are made to love and to live with other people. Not just to succeed as ambitious individuals, to just look out for ourselves, or even to prioritise ‘self-care’. We’re made to be part of a community of people, some the same and some very different, taking steps along the wandering road of life together.

What that looks like is different for everyone and at different times of life. For me right now, it looks like a community of individuals, couples, families and others, doing life together. It’s frustrating in many ways, especially trying to navigate different cultural expectations and backgrounds, but rewarding in more.

I still feel lonely much of the time. Does that mean I haven’t found ‘the one’ yet, or the right community even? I’m not sure it does. I think it means that I’m learning that there is no such thing. That everyone carries with them a burden of loneliness. We’re the only ones inside our own heads and there’s no way to change that. Yes, having a significant other is good. That burden can feel lighter. But the burden can be even lighter if we have a community of people who know and love us, both friends, lovers, and family.

That’s where our cultural reverence of romantic love falls short; one other isn’t enough. We need people. Lots of people. Diverse and wonderful and difficult people.

Yes we need the friends who are easy, who don’t challenge us very much, with whom we can quote ‘Friends’ endlessly and sing along to Celine Dion, but we also need the friends who are older and wiser, who can question and confront us. Who can push us when we need it, or hold us back.

To be quite honest, I feel some pity for myself in the past. I feel my past loneliness more now that the heavy load has been shared amongst trusted companions. I wonder what my future self will feel when he looks back on me now. I hope he will feel similarly. That there is more and deeper sharing to come. I have to admit that one of my greatest fears is that this is the best it’ll get.

I worry because it’s people. The best and hardest part of life. How to love and live and relate with those so similar and yet so different from us? I am hopeful and thankful and joyful because of the people I’m blessed to know, excited about those I’m yet to meet, already mourning those I’ll lose. I’m willing to take the risks.

I take comfort in the fact that now my heart has known so many wonderful souls, there’s no way back to the loneliness I might have felt. Not truly. For as I’m known and loved and walked beside, my burdens and stories are shared, remembered, treasured.

People can move on, let us down, disappear, but we are blessed with the chance to be friends, if even for a short time. Let’s make the most of that.