My memory is a sieve. Most daily events drain right through, but the most important parts remain. Today, I spent some time picking through those important parts. The treasures. The residue. The treasures and residue of 2012 — what I wasn’t able to forget.
This was the year I beat Crohn’s disease for a few months to train for the Las Vegas Half-Marathon, where I and 30,000 others ran up and down the Las Vegas strip, many of us raising over $4 million for research into this disease. I learned just how many supporters I had in my corner — the lurkers on Facebook, the periodic text messages from family and friends, or the donation that would come in from the most unexpected of people. I found out who cared. And it’s taught me that I need to start caring back.
This was the year I finished my doctorate in education alongside my wife. Besides the sheer accomplishment of the blessed thing, I feel a deeper responsibility to my profession as a teacher — to uphold the dignity of my practice as an educator. More so, I enjoy my family referring to me as “the doctor” when they introduce me to people. And maybe more than that, I enjoy seeing my older brother roll his eyes at that and introduce himself as “the one who isn’t the doctor.” The turd.
I attended two funerals, two weddings. I experienced the divisions dug among family and the bridges built to reconnect them. I hugged friends and relatives in their darkest moments. I celebrated with them on their best days. In the same month I spiked the punch at my mother-in-law’s wedding reception, I paced in a waiting room waiting to hear the verdict of my uncle’s surgery to remove cancer. It’s the beauty and ugliness of living a life.
It was the year of words like “fiscal cliff” and “binders of women.” A year when politicians turned into circus clowns and partisan mouth pieces. A year when I finally came to terms with the idea that my government wasn’t going to take care of me, nor should it.
It was the year I remained firm in my belief that the Kardashians serve no purpose in American entertainment. That people like Bill Maher, Sean Hannity, Ed Schultz, and Rush Limbaugh remain on Paul’s Least Influential But Most Poisonous List.
It was a year that tested my 31-year faith journey as a Catholic when Bishop Finn was convicted of failing to report child abuse. The same year I began my 3-year term on my church’s Pastoral Council, helping to set the vision for our Catholic community, was the same year I questioned whether I could remain in a Catholic diocese so scarred by scandal and sin. The cross the bishop bore was also the cross thousands of us bore each Sunday in those pews. But the deep, undividing sense of community, and steadfastness toward faith reminded me that no faith community is led by one individual. It’s led by a belief system that is unrivaled by any other. And no government law or Chick-Fil-A media storm can darken that faith.
I was reminded again that alongside joy there is tragedy. While I administered a final to my Comp I students, sharing our comedies of the semester, hugging and high-fiving on the way out, a man gunned down a group of children in Connecticut. Life is beautiful. Life is sick. And when I pulled over to the side of the road that cloudy day in December to just weep, I turned that ignition and drove forward.
Because enduring tragedy isn’t all I’ve learned. If 31 years on this earth has taught me anything, it’s that it doesn’t just get better. It gets worse. Then it gets better. Then it gets worse. Then it gets better. And every time it gets worse, it’s just that easier to deal with. And every time it gets better, it’s just that sweeter.
And right now, it’s getting better.