the light.

‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time? I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth’ ponders Alice as she hurtles down the rabbit hole. Lewis Carroll describes her descent into Wonderland in three words of humbling staccato: Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end?

This passage came to mind as I reflect on 2022, where I began the year with newfound optimism and gratitude. I had spent much of 2021 re-adjusting from the grips of the pandemic to implementing positive changes in my life, aiming to rectify behaviours that I felt that I had fallen into without properly considering why I continued to participate in them. I made progress in reducing my alcohol and meat consumption, carefully processing my thoughts and words, as well as investing more intentional time with the people that I care about most. I even made the decision to undertake cognitive behavioural therapy to address some of the longer-lasting mental and emotional scars that had been plaguing me, and found myself thinking with clarity and renewed self-awareness for the first time in my life. I gained a sense of comfort in knowing that I was becoming more adept in handling those areas in my life that were relatively within my control, and had begun to see flashes of a younger self-esteem that I had not seen in a long time. Things were looking up.

The steady, compounding improvements that I had made motivated me to continue in the same vein at the start of 2022. I had started to enjoy my new vantage point – the ‘gamification of life’ – and was looking forward to enjoying the fruits of my labour during the course of the year. In my head, I had heralded 2022 as the year that I would begin my dream job, spend two months travelling across South-East Asia, and propose to my partner after four and a half amazing years together. After a prolonged period enduring uncertainty and feeling like I was living my life on a knife edge, it finally seemed like order and joy were permanently slotting themselves into my every day. Many aspects of my life were running frictionlessly, helping me forget how arduous the initial journey had been.

Alas, life is not a game to be mastered, a software capable of being rewritten, or a wind to be manipulated to sail towards our desired course; life is. The illusion of control, no matter how many times I have tried to be hyperaware of its fallacy, continues to seduce me until all control is lost in cruel and devastating ways. As I penned in ‘The Highs and the Lows’, the searing contrast between the summit of celebrating our engagement to plummeting to the darkest depths with Jayne’s diagnosis propelled us both into a level of numbness and despair that I wished I would never experience again. The sudden loss of my good friend, Alex, less than two months later dragged me to a similar place of deep sadness and vulnerability. How steady and unremarkable a train’s onward journey feels until the moment it veers wildly off the tracks, at which point the notion of any previous calm and normalcy feels totally unimaginable.

I used to believe in the mantra that ‘everything happens for a reason’, which didn’t necessarily mean that such reason was a positive or uplifting one, but that there was some meaning, experience, or lesson to be learnt from what happens in our lives. This year has forced me to re-evaluate my understanding and relationship of karma, to reject this attitude. Whilst well-intentioned to invite people to view their hardship from a wider, holistic lens, what possible reason or moral could there be for such senseless, unprovoked misery that exists and inflicts onto so many people? To explain away heartbreaking circumstances as a rational jigsaw piece in some cosmic plan is both insulting and invalidates the sufferer’s pain as something that, in the grand scheme of things, is ‘trivial’. I think, therefore, that ‘everything happens’ is a more apt, succinct explanation to tell ourselves in the face of adversity and heartbreak. Everything happens, the good, the bad, and that’s it. We contend with it not as active participants, but as passive observers in the barbaric wilderness of time and nature.

As difficult as those moments in 2022 were, this is not an advocation for nihilism. Life is, and so we must go on not with gritted teeth, but rather open hearts and minds. As the saying goes, I could continue to curse the darkness or instead light a candle, and I’m focusing on the idea of ‘light’ in the new year to come. The light that emanates from the people who bring such joy and electricity to my life, the light of those that I have lost that will continue to guide and inspire me, and the light that represents opportunity and prosperity in the future. Inevitably, I will hurtle downwards in the year to come at some point, but I will endeavour to remind myself that every fall will eventually come to an end.

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