by Francesca Zelnick

Bang.

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On my way to work yesterday, I got hit by another car. It was sudden and unexpected, like everything that happens. It was just another morning. It was just another day. Until it wasn’t.

Bang. My little car was destroyed.

The celebration of the New Year is a celebration of hope. We reflect upon the past. We plan for the future. We count the seconds between one adventure and the next. At midnight we close the current chapter and open a blank page – loudly, colorfully, cheerfully. Year after year we rejoice in promise.

Last night I stood on my porch and watched fireworks. It surprises me, even now, after all of these years, how beautiful and magical and full of wonder they seem. It amazes me that I can still find ways to be amazed. That’s not nothing.

Every year I hope for change, within myself and outside myself. I hope for the hope a new year offers. I hope for the courage to accept it.

Every year I stand and watch the fireworks burst open across the darkness. I watch their sparks fall, like pixie dust. I wait for magic.

Bang. A promise. Bang. A fresh start. Bang. A clean slate. Bang. A new beginning. A new life. A new me.

But every morning I wake up and I am still me, and this is still my life, and this is just another morning on just another day. And reality hits with the weight of a piano. Bang. The blank page isn’t blank at all.

I cannot begin again, not now, not ever. I can only rebuild. And only I can do it. And it is scary and it is difficult and it takes a very long time to do. But I hope to have hope. I promise to keep promises. I believe in magic. I believe it exists in me. That’s not nothing.

What I ask of the new year is not blankness, or emptiness, or a void to be filled. I am not asking for happiness. I am not asking for ease. What I want from this year, for myself, is to be able to say that I kept trying, even when I felt like giving up. What I want is to be able to wake up each morning and still be me, in this life, and for that to be enough. What I want is to be able to do the work – to read, to write, to explore, to discover, to understand, to build and rebuild, to create. What I want is to remember that I can.

I have fireworks inside of me. They are explosions of thought and feeling. They go off suddenly and unexpectedly. They are loud and bright and colorful. They are beautiful and magical and full of wonder. They shimmer across the darkness.

Bang. There is hope. Bang. There is promise. Bang. There is pixie dust. Bang.

There is whatever happens next.

Connections

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Yesterday I got my first iPhone, an early Christmas present from my mother. It is a beautiful little thing, sleek and light and colorful. I spent hours downloading apps and organizing my interests into icons. It is amazing how much of myself I can fit inside something so small. I can hold my life in my hands.

All night my new phone dinged and pinged and swooshed with notifications of lives that went on living after I closed my eyes to sleep. And for all of the complaints there are about social media, about the over-sharing and the publicness and the distraction from the “real world” (whatever that is), I am continually grateful for every little noise that reminds me I am connected. I am not alone. I have an entire network of people literally at my fingertips. There is something really remarkable about that.

The work of my life is to connect. Every day I try to make connections – between myself and other people, between the past and the present, between what I know and what I feel. Every word I write makes a connection between one idea and the next. Every thought I think makes a connection between me and everything else. Every moment is a linking and a synching to the rest of the world.

On Wednesday night I had dinner with a dear friend, and we had a conversation that I will hold in my heart for the rest of my life. It was a beautiful little thing, to sit across from someone and connect, to understand and to be understood, to fit so much of ourselves inside something as small as a conversation. Every little noise – the sound of yes and I know and me too – reminded me that I am not alone. I have an entire someone who I connect with entirely. And there is something really remarkable about that. It is no small thing.

At times it can feel as though the world is the wrong size, or you are the wrong size in it – too big or too small for what surrounds you. The dimensions are constantly shifting. You get stretched and crushed and pushed around a lot. It is impossible to remain fixed as any one shape. It is foolish to try. What doesn’t bend, breaks.

The only way to survive is to expand and to shrink, and to know when each is necessary. Sometimes you can hold your life in your hands, and sometimes you need to be held by someone else. Sometimes you are sleek and light. Sometimes you are rough and dark. We all go through this. All of us.

And the only way to understand that is to connect. It is to open the icon of other worlds, to step inside them, to listen to their stories and to contribute some of your own. It is more than being social. It is more than networking. It is the sharing of a life. It is the sharing of yourself.

It is an invitation and a gift. “Come in,” you say. “Be a part of this. Understand and be understood. Love and be loved. You are exactly the right size and shape for my life. You fit into my world perfectly. Come. Let’s hold each other’s lives in our hands. Let’s never have to feel like we’re alone.”

What You Are

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You are the question and you are the answer. You are the giver and you are the gift. You are the dream and the dreamer. You are the blossom and the seed.

You are possibility. You are potential. You are success and defeat. You are chances taken and opportunities missed. You are the gains and the losses. You are what you carry with you and what you leave behind. You are what’s remembered and forgotten.

You are the homes you have lived in. You are the people you have lived with. You are the body that houses the soul and you are the soul that dwells there. You are the guests you have invited in. You are the host forever making room. You are the door that opens and closes. You are the hearth that warms.

You are the poetry that slipped beneath your skin with and without your knowledge. You are every word you have ever read. You are the sentences you’ve lovingly underlined. You are the careful notes in the margin. You are the paragraphs and the chapters. You are the story, beginning to end.

You are the writer and you are the reader. You are the artist and the art. You are every color of the spectrum and then some. You are the canvas. You are the brush stokes. You are the masterpiece.

You are the lyrics and melodies to all of your favorite songs. You are the characters and scripts from all of your favorite movies. You are the star of your reality. You are the dialogues and soliloquies. You are the performance. You are the show. You are the creation and creator.

You are your inner monologues. You are your conversations. You are your parents and children and friends. You are the teacher and you are the student. You are all that you know and have yet to learn.

You are how the world sees you. You are how you see yourself. You are private and you are public. You are unique and you belong.

You are like everyone else and you are like no one else. You are independent and dependent. You are want and you are need. You are gratitude and you are desire. You are safety and you are adventure. You are laughter and you are tears.

You are the things that excite you and the things that scare you. You are the things that get you out of bed. You are the hours and the days and the ways you choose to fill them. You are the experiences. You are the thoughts. You are all of the many feelings.

You are the things that you love. And you are loved. And you are love.

You are the capacity to love. You are the product of love. Your life stems from love. Your heart reaches for love. You are the love that you breathe in.

You are the light and the darkness. You are the pains and the joys. You are the explorer and you are the journey. You are the person you were and the person you will become and the person you are right now in this very moment.

You are you.

And you are enough.

The Other Half

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My childhood home was a twin. We shared a porch and a backyard, divided by railings. We shared rooms divided by walls. I didn’t know my neighbors and they didn’t know me, though we lived under the same roof for almost two decades. I never once set foot inside the other half. I don’t know if their side mirrored ours.

In my teenage years, I made a lot of jokes about living next to a home for the mentally challenged. “Which side is really crazy?” I’d ask playfully, teasing my family about our many individual and collective quirks. I never really believed it was funny, but I needed a way to make dark things feel light.

At night I could hear them scream. Our shared walls were not very thick, I suppose, or maybe their anguish was just that unbridled. Sometimes one of the caregivers would come in and yell at them to be quiet. This always troubled me more than the initial screaming, but as a young child, I didn’t yet know why.

And the truth is, except for the occasional yell of a caregiver, nothing about living next door to a group of mentally challenged men ever bothered or worried me as a child. Not even the screams or the cries. It was just something that was – a fact about my house, like the sound of my bedroom door opening and closing, or the floorboard in the hallway that always creaked. The voices that came through the walls were just another house noise. They were part of my home. They were the other half.

On their side they cried a lot, and screamed a lot, and fought a lot, and I presume, dealt with a lot of pain and sadness. On our side we joked a lot, and laughed a lot, and ran around a lot, and played a lot of music, and held a lot of parties, and tried to keep pain and sadness as far away as possible, and tried to make everything light. Which side was really crazy?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be whole. So much of my life is unbalanced. I live in the extremes. I can be blissfully happy or devastatingly sad, but never both. And how I am feeling at any given moment dictates the way I feel about what surrounds me. It’s never the other way around. Everything gets swallowed up by one feeling. It gets divided into a category. It becomes fractional.

I am never really complete. I am always looking over the railing at the other half of my life – the half that is happy or the half that is sad, whichever I’m not currently standing in. I can see it, but I cannot will myself to get there. Sometimes feelings, like people, are so close and yet so unreachable. Sometimes you can live with them for decades without even knowing their names.

I know that being mentally ill is different than being mentally challenged, but I also recognize that both are deficiencies of the mind. Both mean something is broken or lacking. Both deserve our compassion and our help.

Sometimes they cannot be helped. And I know that. I do. But I also know why, even as a child, I was so troubled by the caregiver’s response to her screaming patient. I know that anger was not the right response. I know that there was more that could have been done. I know that something was missing.

I have struggled – and continue to struggle – with depression. It is a part of me that is broken and incomplete. It has never made me want to hurt someone, ever. But it has made me lonely and angry and irrational at times. It has made my life feel uncontrollable. It has made me understand how easy it is to go mad.

I am lucky in that I have a support system. I have friends and family and health insurance. When the darkness became unbearable, it was difficult to ask for help, but easy to find it, and a common enough problem that there were answers for me. Not everyone is so lucky.

Some people are unreachable, and fractional, and lonely in ways it is difficult for the other half to understand. Some people spend their whole lives trapped in the houses of their own bodies, listening to voices and screams, unable to break through the walls. Some people get swallowed up. Some people can’t make it to the other side.

And some people look at them and call them hopeless. But who among us doesn’t wish to be rescued from the darkness? Who among us doesn’t wish to be the rescuer? It is crazy not to want to try. It is crazy to stop reaching for the light in ourselves and others. It is crazy to call anything hopeless. It is crazy to give up now.

The Language of Loss

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One of my least favorite phrases in the English language is “everything happens for a reason.” But I understand why people like to say it. I understand why they want to believe it. I understand the need for the language of loss.

It is a difficult language, because it can never really be spoken. We try, of course, in whatever way we can – through writing, through art, through clichés and mixed metaphors. We try to express hurt and sympathy and empathy and comfort. But it never really feels like enough.

I am struggling to find words about what happened today in Connecticut. It is a grief no phrase can ease. It is a tragedy that cannot be explained, in any language. It is something that happened without reason.

There is no reason for the murder of innocent children. There is no reason for guns to be so easily accessible. There is no reason why the phrase “school shooting” should be a part of our cultural lexicon. There is no reason why a parent should have to bury their child. There is no reason for this violence. It is reasonless.

There are no words. But there is need for conversation. There is need for more than sympathy and prayers and the language of loss. There is need for change, which can start from language, but cannot end there. We need action, as individuals, and as Americans, and as human beings. We need to move toward something better. What happened today is reason enough.

What happened today has happened before. And each time it is shocking and appalling and saddens us in every way possible. And each time we become fluent in the language of loss, we share in a mutual grief, we post images and words and expressions of our sorrow. We call our parents. We hug our children. We hope for the future.

But then we move on, because that is the way of things, because if life had to stop each time we encountered tragedy, the world would always stand still.

We have to keep moving. But we can choose the direction. We can choose to say this isn’t right. We can choose to keep shouting until we are heard. We can choose to address the conversations we aren’t having. We can choose to participate in them.

What happened today has happened before, and it is more than a pattern and lesson in grief. It is a discussion that is taking place without words. It is a plea for need.

Need for change. Need for gun control. Need for mental healthcare. Need for safety. Need for unity. Need for education. Need for love. Need for a future where our children don’t have to fear their own classroom, where they don’t have to practice “lockdown drills,” where the phrase “school shootings” is not part of their everyday language. Need for a world where our children are sure to have a future.

If everything does, in fact, happen for a reason, then the reason here is this: we are failing. We are failing to address why this is happening, over and over again. We are failing to use the language of loss to make change. We are failing to provide a language for those who need help and don’t know how to express it. We are failing as a country and as a species to protect what’s important. And it is not our right to bear arms. It’s not.

There is nothing more important than our children, and the world we are creating for them to grow into, and the lessons we are teaching them, in action and in words.

There is nothing more important, right now, here, than to do everything we can to save the rest of them. We have to change. We have to try harder. We have to do better. Our children are the best reason why.

Since I’ve Been Gone

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It has not been a lack of inspiration that has kept me away. There has been plenty to write about. There has been a lot of sadness, and some happiness, and some overwhelming feelings that have yet to be given a name. There has been loss and there has been growth. There has been the most tender and uncertain of hopes. There has been so much to say and so little strength to speak. There has been too much silence in the places I should have been filling with sound.

I went years and years without crying. Not without sadness, but without tears. There were times I considered there was something wrong with me, some physical malfunction that kept my eyes from welling up, that locked everything inside. It was unnatural and unhealthy and a weakness. I recognized that. I hated myself for it.

My body was failing me. I needed it to express the things I couldn’t put into words. I needed it to say all of the things I couldn’t. I needed tears to fill the place of silence.

Instead there was only silence, and the desperate longing to be capable of things I knew I was incapable of. There is no suffering like the desire for the impossible.

And then one day, not so long ago and for little reason at all, I felt a tear on the side of my nose. And I laughed, because I thought of Pinocchio, and I knew how silly that thought was to think.

But I also understood more fully than ever what it felt like to become real. I understood what it meant to wish for something and have it come true, the incomparable beauty of the moment when the seemingly impossible becomes possible. I understood how being alive is enough of a dream for anyone. I understood the quests we all make in pursuit of becoming real. I understood the sacrifices. I understood the risks. I understood why. And there is nothing silly about it.

That single tear rolled down my cheek as though it were a key. It opened every cell in my skin. My body hummed. More tears came. Years of tears. Years of joys and sorrows and things that had been stored within me without my consent or knowledge. Years of feelings that have yet to be given a name. They flooded me. They poured from me. They filled the many silences of my life.

And for the past few months, I have been crying – over books and movies and “real world” circumstances. Every feeling has made my eyes well with tears. There has been a lot of sadness, and some happiness, and some loss, and growth, and hope. There has been a lot of change, and a lot of moments so big and so small that I can hardly find words to contain them.

But I will try. Because that’s part of my quest. Because that’s part of what makes me real. Because it is not only possible, but absolutely necessary, to try and create beauty out of the things that make us weep.

Many years ago, I learned how to fall in love. Over and over again, and in a multitude of ways. I learned what it means to care about others, what it means to live for them, to wish for their happiness more than anything you wish for yourself. I learned what it means to open yourself so fully to another that you laugh their joy, and cry their grief, and share your hearts so completely that no distinction can be made between their life and your own.

I learned this from loving Meghan, and from loving Sam, and from watching Meghan and Sam learn to love each other. And every day, I learn a little more.

It has been one of the great privileges of my life to learn love from the two of you – to give it, and receive it, and to watch it grow and strengthen between you, and to feel it grow and strengthen between us. I am so proud to say that I have been there from the very beginning, and I am so honored to be a part of all that is to come.

And I am so grateful. I am grateful for you, and your friendship, and all of the joy and comfort you’ve brought me. I am grateful to you, for always being there for me, for teaching me, for giving me faith in love.

If I know what love is, it is because of you. It is because many years ago I learned to fall in love with each of you, and then got to be there to see you fall in love with each other, and then got to experience another kind of love – the love I felt for you as a couple, as something new, something more.

It is not that you complete each other, but rather that you make two complete people stronger, and wiser, and happier through love. Your love for one another makes each of you better. And by sharing that love with us, you make each of us better. And we are all better for loving the two of you.

And I love you – as individuals, and as a couple, and as two of my truest and dearest friends. I love you for your creativity and talent and ambition. I love you for your kindness and generosity and compassion. I love you for your intellect and wit and understanding.

I love you for being silly and for being serious and for knowing when each is necessary. I love you for laughing with me and crying with me and sitting by my side in conversation and in silence. I love you for growing up with me, and for helping me to grow up, and for allowing me to be with you while you became the remarkable people you are.

I love you because it is impossible not to love you, because I can’t imagine my life without you, because there is no distinction between your lives and my own. You are my life. You are my friends. You are my family. You are my teachers. You are the answer to all of my questions about love.

I have learned so very much from you. And every day, I learn a little more. And what else is there to say? But over and over again, in a multitude of ways – thank you. And I love you. And I wish for you a lifetime of happiness and joy.

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