For I have good memories of 2011. Even though it promised to be a difficult year, it wasn’t.
I lost my job a year ago, one more casualty of that wretched economy. In the first weeks after I found out I was going to be laid off, I panicked. From a sound sleep, I sat upright in terror. How would I pay my mortgage, my many debts that were barely manageable on a good salary?
I am not a religious person (and don’t want to be), but I do believe that the universe brings us what we need. Time and again, when I wondered how I would pay for something, money always came through. Every time, I wept. I was so grateful.
I also started following my heart. All my life, I had dreamed of living in France. Now without a job, it was finally the right time to do it. I moved to France for 3 months, the longest an American can stay on just a passport. I spent a month each in 3 beautiful cities – Nice (on the French Riviera), Marseille (a vibrant Southern port) and Paris.
I met people who were outgoing and friendly and welcoming. Some became friends for life. I volunteered at the famous English bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. I heard authors read. I bought fresh baguettes every day and ate them with cheese. Drank wine that was smooth as silk and cheaper than American beer. Had picnics in parks and parties on the beach with strangers who became friends. Explored neighborhoods that most tourists never see. Worked remotely from a foreign country. I never wanted to leave.
In France, I lived very simply. It was both by necessity and choice. I could only bring 1 large suitcase and 1 small one. That meant a few clothes, a couple of books, my cell phone and accessories, my camera, toiletries and not much else. I lived in apartments that were clean and decent but sparse. One or two shelves for my clothes. A few plates, 1 or 2 pans, a bottle opener. I was on a tight budget, so I couldn’t buy extra household items, which are exorbitantly expensive in French cities. I had to make do with what I was given. I didn’t live the extravagant tourist lifestyle that people expected – or thought I lived.
When I returned to the States – and specifically to my home in New England – some people were drawn to my new energy, my openness. Others were just as they had always been –closed, distrusting, hostile and rageful, even. I couldn’t bear it.
I went to Atlanta for most of July, putting up with the brain-melting heat to spend time with my family and friends. While I was here, my grandmother died at her home in North Carolina. There is no good time for a relative to die, no way to make up for grief. But I was grateful that I was here with my family and could drive to North Carolina with them for the funeral.
When I got back to New England, I decided that enough was enough. I had no full-time job, no family there, and all of my friends had gradually moved away. I helped my last friend move out of state in September. There was nothing keeping me anymore.
At about the same time, a friend of mine in Atlanta asked me to house sit for her. The timing was perfect. No one has ever asked me to house sit. I was honored and grateful. I came to Atlanta.
I have never been a big partier on New Year’s Eve. I hate the crowds, the cold, the overpriced bars and restaurants and the general manufactured glee of the holiday. So as 2011 drew to a close, I didn’t celebrate with champagne or gross amounts of beer. I watched a movie, fell asleep and when I woke up, it was 2012.
That seems symbolic to me. I don’t see 2012 as a fresh start, a clean slate, a right turn from last year. I see it as an extension of how I have already learned to live: more simply and gratefully than I ever thought I could.
Happy New Year.