“WE WILL DO IT AGAIN EVEN IF IT’S HARD AND EVEN IF THE MOMENTS OF GRACE SEEM FEW AND FAR BETWEEN. MAY THOSE MOMENTS OF GRACE BREED IN US ALL LIKE BACTERIA, GOOD FRIENDLY BACTERIA THAT KEEPS THE MACHINE RUNNING SMOOTHLY.”
John Darnielle, vocalist and writer for band The Mountain Goats, posted these words at 9:12 PM on the 31st of December, 2018. This quote was part of a twitter thread, a 2018 benediction, inspired by the increased number of listens their song “This Year” receives each New Year’s Eve.
“This Year” is the third track on album The Sunset Tree, released by The Mountain Goats in April of 2005. The song is an anthem nested among many, but perhaps the most obvious as it literally shouts the words “I am gonna make it through this year, if it kills me.”
It’s hard to tell if people listen to “This Year” on the 31st of December as a tribute to the 365 days that dragged and dropped them there, or if its popularity grows because there are those who understand that even when all the clock’s hands are pointing skyward, they still have broken homes and broken hearts to tend to, and the coming 365 are looking equally as daunting as the ones they just lived through. Regardless, the common denominator is that on the 31st of December each year, people who may not have streamed The Sunset Tree since 2005 participate in the ritual of spinning the track that unites us all with a common mantra:
we are going to keep living, whatever it takes.
It’s March 1st of 2019.
I’ve lived in the south for two months, highways and stinging goodbyes now separating me from the ones I love. My transition from the midwest has been an uncomfortable juxtaposition of sunny days and dark loneliness, a combination forcing me to face the fear that moving has cost me both my home and my health, causing irreversible damage.
Seated alone in my one-bedroom apartment, the words of an old friend echo through my mind.
“You can’t veganize your way out of grief.”
Her reminder was gentle, indicating with grace that my multiple efforts at a lifestyle change since the move were only halfhearted attempts to slap bandaids over my sorrow.
I know she was right, and that’s exactly what’s so frustrating—there’s no blueprint for grief, no clear way to navigate loss.
It’s easy to construct entire identities around being heartbroken, convincing ourselves we are either healthy or we are tragic. Grief has always seemed inextricably wed to helplessness, so allowing myself to experience any capacity of emotional discomfort has always felt a lot like letting the darkness win.
Sometimes I’m terrified I’m not brave enough or strong enough to do the honest work grief requires while still remembering what hope feels like.
Hope can be a heavy thing to carry.
It makes sense to use each tool at our disposal to help us hold it.
Whatever it takes.
As we grow and love and build habits around places we adore, the more we lose. Grief comes for us all eventually and we are not responsible for extinguishing it, but rather giving ourselves the grace and patience we deserve. Acknowledging our grief gives us room to build habits that become handholds, rituals that will guide us toward hope.
Weakness can be a terrifying place to live, but it is not a death sentence. Vulnerability may not feel bold or brave, but it is the soft path that guides us between our wounds and our healing.
Sometimes hope is simply committing yourself to the rituals that have kept you standing in the past. It’s trusting that while the mundane may not save you, the honesty these patterns require will hold you until you can catch your footing again.
I want to make it through this year.
I want to keep living, whatever it takes.
So when the sense of loss fills me to the brim, I will not run. I will call someone I love while I overflow.
When I begin to feel too big for the world that holds me, I will walk through my neighborhood until the sidewalks are familiar and I have favorite houses and porches and pups that bark at me through windows.
When my body begins to shake in ways I cannot control, I will breathe deeply and touch my fingertips to the light and trace the way it dances across the walls of my apartment.
When December 31st approaches with thoughts of difficult moments that lie both ahead and behind, I will listen to songs like “This Year” and I will cling to each word like one does a religious text. I will repeat until I believe “I’m gonna make it through this year, if it kills me” and I will trust there are thousands joining in this ritual. I will believe I am not alone.
These are the rituals grief requires, the practices that nudge us through the moments that are painful.
The practices that become familiar territory, allowing us to acquaint ourselves with our emotions without being consumed.
The practices that have been faithful in our grief before, the rituals that remind us we are capable of healing again.
“And we will do it again.
Even if it’s hard and even if the moments of grace seem few and far between.
May those moments of grace breed in us all like bacteria, good friendly bacteria that keeps the machine running smoothly.”