It’s Thanksgiving, and I should acknowledge some things. These days this holiday is mostly an excuse to eat some of my favorite food, a reason to experiment with new cocktail recipes, and an annual source of motivation to break out our vinyl copy of Arlo Guthrie’s epic Alice’s Restaurant. I’ll admit that I don’t always spend a lot of time on Thanksgiving contemplating the things for which I am grateful, but in my defense: I’m pretty grateful most of the time. I don’t have everything I want in this life, but I certainly have everything I need, along with a clear sense of what I’m doing here on this planet, and I don’t take those things for granted.
But I also have to acknowledge: the past year has sort of sucked. Both literally and figuratively, it has torn me up, and I know that a lot of you are feeling the same way. So this year I thought that a brief exercise in giving thanks would serve me well. Here’s a list of 16 things that have really sucked about my 2016, and why I’m grateful for them.
1. I tore my gastrocnemius. I started 2016 badly injured and unable to run, and three months with nearly no physical activity made for a rough start. But it did also create a lot more time and space in my life for pleasure reading, and during a year that would require a lot of moments of escape, this turned out to be a helpful new habit.
2. My favorite uncle died. We lost my beloved Uncle Lynn unexpectedly this time last year, and in no way whatsoever is the world a better place without him in it. We started out 2016 consumed by grief, but a year later I can look back with gratitude for the opportunities to celebrate and remember him with my family and his huge community of friends.
3. David Bowie died. Several artists who have been important to me personally died this year, and this was the first. As was his life and his music, David Bowie’s death was an inspiration to me. He faced terminal illness with courage, love, thoughtfulness, and poetry, and went out in a flash of brightness and color. May we all live and die so well.
4. My condo flooded. For the third time in two years, a pipe in the walls of our condo burst, causing extensive water damage and an expensive, time-consuming headache. You’re probably wondering (as does almost everyone I know) why we don’t sell it and move. But we love where we live, and don’t wish to give up our spot in this great little corner of San Diego. This third “test” reminded us yet again that great neighbors and a vibrant community are more valuable than gold. Or new copper pipes!
5. Prince died. Another icon, an artifact of my childhood, gone. Watching the country mourn in vibrant shades of purple taught me a lot of about the power of our grief rituals. And noting that my generation’s heroes are getting older and dying was a poignant reminder that I’m moving up in the tree of life.
6. Gord Downie was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The front man of one of my favorite bands, Canada’s The Tragically Hip, made the announcement in May, and when the band announced a last-minute, brief, and final tour, my sister and I scrambled to make our way across the continent to watch them play their final show in their home town of Kingston, Ontario this summer. I’m forever grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience with my sister, inspired by another of the world’s greatest poets.
7. Charlotte McKee died. Charlotte wasn’t famous. And I didn’t even know her. But when she died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease this year, her husband Jon channeled his grief into a cross-country bicycle ride that raised funds and awareness for the non-profit where I work, Alzheimer’s San Diego. I’ve long hoped to cross this beautiful country on foot someday, and this summer Jon McKee inspired me to get serious about that goal.
8. The National League lost the All Star Game. This was my husband’s and my first season as members at Petco Park, home of the notably horrible San Diego Padres. Through the season we lost a lot of games and traded away most of my favorite players. But, we had a whole lot of fun and since Petco was the home of the 2016 All Star Game, at least we got to be there to watch us lose!
9. Gene Wilder died. This joyful, quick-witted, blue-eyed wonder starred in nearly every movie that I loved as a kid, which would have made his death hard enough. But as a professional advocate for persons living with Alzheimer’s disease, it was particularly hard to know that he and his family suffered this journey in silence. His death further strengthened my resolve to bring memory loss and dementia out of the shadows of stigma.
10. Big Sur caught on fire. Life in California means wildfires. Like traffic jams and the “sunshine tax” they are part of the price that we pay to live here. Watching some of my favorite parts of our central coast (which are, in fact, some of my favorite parts of this planet) burn this year was particularly wrenching, but we were fortunately able to make our visit this summer as planned. Never have I appreciated more the beauty of a run than that one.
11. I had to work on my birthday. I love birthdays, and traditionally take the day off and indulge in a spa day, a favorite indulgence. But as it happens, my birthday also happens to be World Alzheimer’s Day, and as you are surely gathering, the cause of dementia-related education and outreach is now a big part of my life. So this year I worked on my big day – as I suspect I will for many years to come – but did so with gratitude for the opportunity and the platform to be a voice.
12. My transmission went out. I hate cars almost as much as I love birthdays, but the nature of the work that I do requires a lot of driving, and I can’t really get by without one. It’s always a hassle when your car breaks down, but a blown transmission while you’re out of town is a particularly nightmarish hassle. (Death and hassles: the emerging themes of my year.) But in keeping with the task of looking for silver linings, it did at least break down just as we arrived at the venue of my dear niece’s wedding, where we spent a magnificent long weekend with family and friends in celebration of one of the greatest couples I know. And we didn’t have to miss a thing.
13. I just missed getting into a rally with President Obama. While I was out in Nevada in October canvassing with the Clinton campaign to encourage voter turnout, a last-minute organizing rally with President Obama at a local high school was announced. I decided to extended my stay, and stood in line for hours to try to get in. I was gravely disappointed to not make it inside, to just miss my chance to see one of the great orators of our time speak in person. But I’d invested the time, so I decided to stay anyway and watch the rally from just outside of the high school on a big screen that was set up for us. To our surprise and delight, the president came outside and spoke to us first before the rally started, and it was just as inspiring and energizing as anything I could have hoped for. A great reminder that showing up is always worth it.
14. Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election. She shattered one important level of the glass ceiling, and unfortunately a lot of us got damaged in the shards. But the wounds are mending, and we’ll all emerge stronger for the fight.
15. We forgot the 20th anniversary of our first date. Amidst the fatigue of having just run the New York City Marathon, and then the chaos and confusion in our lives surrounding the presidential election, my husband and I both plum forgot when the 20th anniversary of our first date rolled around earlier this month (a date we usually remember, and celebrate in some way). But the next day, some great seats at The Sound of Music at the San Diego Civic Theater dropped in my lap, a perfect opportunity for a much-needed night out together, and a great way to celebrate two decades of his putting up with my nonsense.
16. The water crisis in Flint, more mass shootings, Brock Turner’s six-month sentence, more police shootings, continued war and humanitarian crises …. sadness has piled up on us heavily this year. Nearly all of us have felt torn up in some way or another, and I’ve seen a lot of ugliness emerge. But I’ve also seen us engage in thoughtful argument, and find ways to laugh together in the darkness. I for one intend to just keep running toward the light at the end of this tunnel.