Ah, we come to the end of another year, and that means it’s time for an annual wrap-up post. What shall I make of my most recent loop around the sun?
2018 managed to be wonderful and terrible at the same time. We had some excellent travel experiences (South America, Amsterdam, London) this year, and we published two new novels (Death by Team Building and The Assistant ). In January, Patrick and I launched Adventurous Ink, our new publishing business, and we’ve learned a lot about the industry and how to work together. We had good times with family and friends this year, too. But 2018 was pretty dark at times, marked by the erosion of American democracy, weighed down by the grim news about advancing climate change, and full of personal crises. Like our friends coping with scary health issues, and my father’s unexpected death at the age of 59.
My biggest lesson from 2018, this year of gifts and gut-punches, is that it’s possible to be happy even when the world is falling apart. And more than being possible, it’s also necessary. The late poet Jack Gilbert said it best, I think, in his poem A Brief for the Defense:
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
So that’s 2018 in a nutshell for me. The world is a mess, but it’s beautiful too. Death stalks us all, either quickly or slowly. Meanwhile, stupidity and cruelty have no shortage of admirers in the public square. Yet, despite all those things, I insist on delight. And shouldn’t we all?
May we all chase what delights us in this shiny new year.