That Time You Read “K” -- The secret to getting what you need in 2022
I do not think it altogether inappropriate to introduce myself to this audience. I am the gal who survived 2021, and I can’t say I enjoyed it.
This is, of course, a parody of JFK’s tongue and cheek introduction in a 1961 speech he gave in Paris after his wife, Jackie, bowled over France during their European tour. Her ability to woo what was considered the hardest country to impress cemented her as JFK’s secret weapon. She went on to do the same in Vienna and then over and over again throughout his 1000-day administration. She wooed me when I was 13 and home with the flu. Bored but too weak to get up to turn on the television (this is pre-remote control days, kids), I grabbed the nearest book beside our fuzzy green couch, a dusty, outdated “K” from the encyclopedia shelf. The rest is history — a lifelong fascination of Jackie’s life, culminating in my college argumentative thesis about why we’re so drawn to the stories of celebrities. My conclusion was that we see our own story somewhere within their layers of fame, fortune, and endurance. It’s not just that we want to “be” them. I went a step further explaining that because of our innate need to know more about ourselves and who we are, we can’t help but invest in their lives repeatedly. We may never be famous or rich or nearly as successful, but it doesn’t mean we’re not a Jackie, a Sally Ride, or a Beyoncé in our own right. I stand by my theory today. How we apply it to how we live…well, there’s the rub.
Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by 2021.
Another parody ("Mean Girls" this time) but I won’t elaborate other than to say that like school plastics squad leader and bully Regina George, 2021 was just plain mean. Mean and fugly! Y’all remember how pumped we were at the end of 2020? I mean, it just couldn’t get any worse than 2020, right? Then 2021 asked 2020 to hold its beer and once again here we are thinking that it can’t possibly get any worse than 2021. Is the joke on us again? I’ve read a lot of sage advice that suggests we shouldn’t even try for a better year in 2022. They say to keep expectations low and take what we get. Insert clap emoji to the sage. What an inspiration.
But I get it. Why get our hopes up? The Omicron variant gained speed after Delta did the dirty, and undoubtedly Theta or Gamma Nu or Psi Psi Psi (Tri-Psi for short) will be here soon with a pink bow in its blonde highlighted hair, ready to cheer us into a rousing Rush season of despair. Only, I cannot go the way of the pessimists. I may feel depleted. I may be justified to say, “Wake me up when it’s over.” You may too, but it doesn’t mean we should. After all, how are we supposed to learn more about ourselves — who we can be, should be, and will be — if we just resign to living as defeatists? Jackie straightened her pillbox hat and kept going. And if Kim Kardashian can keep smiling after three failed bar exams, you can enter the new year with a shred of optimism.
2021 was rough: Covid, cancer, and discovering my mother’s body on my way to let the dogs out on a balmy June morning. Chemo and grief don’t make a good cocktail. Remission does, but when it’s followed by a hurricane and pneumonia, its flavor wanes. One thing after another. It seemed like every time my world leveled out, it was almost immediately off-kilter again, leaving me to ask on numerous occasions, exactly how big was 2021’s beer?
I pondered this question recently while waiting for news that could’ve given me an awesome end-of-year boost and might have almost (almost!) made me say, “So I guess it wasn’t all bad.” (Nothing health related, but important nonetheless.) I waited and waited. I fretted, wondering if I’d done everything right to get what I wanted. My stomach was in knots. I drummed my fingers endlessly. I refreshed my email six times an hour, checked the volume on my phone after refreshing my email, and half-listened to every conversation because my mind was perpetually at “When will I know?”
Then in the midst of my unknowing, I had this revolutionary thought: If you’re this worried, Annie, you haven't any faith about anything.
I only wanted to hear what I wanted to hear. I was clinging to a best case scenario that I had created. If it goes this way, everything will be fine. My perspective was so limited. Foolish, Annie. Don’t you know by now that you don’t have all the answers?
I tell my children that if they worry, they aren’t praying and that when they pray, they needn’t worry. However, my anxiety was so consuming that it left no room for my own advice. Even as I prayed for God to send me what I wanted, I smugly thought my request was the only good solution. That isn’t faith. Faith isn’t believing we will get our way. Faith is knowing His way is always better.
I say this with scars from multiple surgeries and a cancer fight. I say this having buried my mother in the midst of my chemotherapy. I say this after a year knowing that every time my little girl says, “I love you, Mama,” she says it with fear that my cancer will return. I say this having had the same fear, myself, every day since I rang the remission bell. I say this having lost a father too young, jobs I loved, homes to hurricanes, friends to stupid fights, and other battles, both petty and serious. I have suffered. You have suffered. Yet each time, somewhere in my mourning was that tiny crack of sunlight that revealed a path forward – a better path I never would have seen had I not been in darkness first.
I wouldn’t live in the beautifully chaotic home in which I’m raising my children if Hurricane Katrina hadn’t knocked down my old one. My children wouldn’t have the friends they have or the outstanding education they’ve received if we hadn’t been forced to switch neighborhoods. The doctor who saved my life this year was only made known to me through a professional relationship my husband forged because he tragically lost another. My family’s faith flourished this year under the worst conditions imaginable. Old friendships bloomed again as support over my diagnosis and mother’s death poured in. It was my father’s voice I heard on the way to my diagnosis. “Don’t be afraid. You’ll be fine,” he said. From that moment forward, through all the physical and emotional pain that followed, I felt a closeness to him that surpassed our bond while he was here in the flesh. He was the angel sent, the messenger I needed time and again to trust the outcome, and I have no doubt he was placed exactly where he needed to be for when I would need him most. As hard as it is to let go, my mother is too. Twice already, she has come to me in powerful ways, making an impact greater than she could have here. Some call it The Butterfly Effect. I call it grace.
I’m an idea-person. Give me a problem, and I will find the fix. I’m a planner. Give me ten minutes, and you’ll have an agenda. But I’m not God, and as inconvenient as that may be sometimes, I have to accept what it means. I am, however, a believer. I believe I wasn’t born to suffer. I believe I’m not meant to only be rewarded if I do suffer. I believe that plenty of good has come my way under good circumstances. I also believe that peace is often found when I get out of my way and see my circumstances from another angle. That news I was waiting on? I didn’t get what I wanted, but what was truly surprising was that afterward, I was relieved. It was as if I knew as soon as I didn’t get it that it probably wasn’t good for me anyway – sort of like passing up a fast food restaurant on the way home from a long day and eating leftovers in the fridge instead. Life is fickle that way I guess. We finally get everything we need when we stop believing in the power of everything we want.
Stuffy-nose and foggy from the flu, 13-year-old Annie fixated on the image of the first lady in the encyclopedia. At the time, it was the glamour that drew me to her story – all that Chanel, Givenchy, the yachts, and the Schlumberger bracelets. As I write this, I again have a stuffy nose, only now it isn’t the glitz that grabs me. After the encyclopedia's publication, Jackie would go on to reinvent herself again and again, even starting a publishing career in her late forties. That unabashed middle finger at what tried to knock her down is what impacts me today. Stoic in her black veil, giant sunglasses, keeping what was private, private, shoulders back, and dressed in head-to-toe resilience. That was her real legacy.
Several verses carried me this year, but one I returned to again and again: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.” (Proverbs 31:25) I may not be clothed in Chanel, but I am dressed in the garment of a survivor. I don’t always get what I want, but I do get what I need when I need it. God has never let go of that promise, and for that, I am filled with joy for what’s to come. You’re a survivor too. We’ve gotten this far, friends. Anyone who tells us to turn back has obviously never read a “K” encyclopedia.
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