Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year of Humility

Most places around the world, 2011 is complete. The year has a few hours of life left here, and a few more in Hawaii, and then 2012 will shift from the future to the present.

The previous year was pre-selected for some major events in my life. I finished college, and began grad school. I knew these milestones would be passed this year some time ago, and looked forward to 2011 with a hopeful kind of impatience. I picked up an award, a diploma, a few fellowships, and a job offer at Boeing, and left for a summer in Seattle for the second time in my life.

2011 was trying in a host of ways I didn't, and probably couldn't have, anticipated. Finishing college forced me to come face to face with the wideness of the gulf between the shifts I want to effect in the world and the tools I have to accomplish things right now. The constant, gypsy-like motion of living my life in 16 week increments is starting to get old. Most of all, grad school itself has been trying beyond anything I would've believed before this August. I feel battered and weary after a semester striving to warp myself into some creature that can thrive in this climate, and realizing that I don't really want to do that. More on this later.

More than most years, it seems like the world's a bit emptier than when the year began. In 2011 we said goodbye to people evil (bin Laden, Gaddafi, Kim), visionary and creative (Jobs, Hitchens, Havel), and personal (my grandpa, Obbie). The three surviving Space Shuttle orbiters lie still, never again to fly under power. Juno and Curiosity have left Earth forever, bound for Jupiter and Mars. Earth now holds seven billion people, and space six, all better fed than ever before. The gains of this year are sure to exceed the losses, but that will take time to realize.

More than anything, I feel humbled at the end of this year. I've reached all my life, and after the last semester I'm sorer than usual from reaching. For all the ends and codas and completed programs of the past year, the world remains incomplete, to say the least. There's nothing special about the particular year of 2012. Even its boundaries are arbitrary constructs. It's simply next. The next place we act, the next time with which to yearn and act and decide. As the year closes, I think A. E. Housman's sentiment in "Reveille" is appropriate:

Clay lies still, but blood's a rover;
Breath's a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad; when the journey's over
There'll be time enough for sleep.

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