It’s been a whole year since the last Thanksgiving, already. I know, Thanksgiving as a Brit living England is technically not my holiday. However, I wish we had something similar in the UK. Like, I dunno, a Kindness-Day – a national holiday where everyone gets the day off & it’s a reason to take the time to be with those who matter to you, to think about what we have & help others out – without it having to be related to some underlying pilgrim genocide, or unrelentless capitalism. But you know, a time to take in & be present for all the small things. Because the small things are the things that probably matter the most. And you guys have given me the bestest small moments this past year.
I started to pen this post in my head, slow walking home through a freezing fog through the quiet neon light of Sheffield city streets. I do like evening walks like that, just listening to christmas-jazz music. But it’s also made me realize something about Sheffield that I love. I love how Sheffield’s meteorology is an excercise in whims and micro climates. I can see how Sheffield has become a city for rebels, artists, hackers, nerds, runners and hikers. It often feels like we are not on the same schedule as everyone else. Time passes in a non-narrative mish-mosh of second winters, monsoons and fourth indian summers, calendar dates be damned. Ney, all this can happen in just one day! Those small things.
2016 has been insanely kind to me, especially work wise. And you were all very kind to me too. I got to draw some amazing things, people and talks. Stories. And I graduated with multiple prizes and awards – when I didn’t think I’d even finish the course.
My medical ‘journey’ started making me think more about how narrative helps us all be more compassionate & empowered (if you’re telling the story)… How empathy is first an act of imagination. An illness is not merely a set of signs & symptoms – it is the story in which it is told that gives us the necessary clues of what needs to be done. What kind of support this person is looking for, how it is affecting their quality of life & ultimately what tests/treatments need to be done/undertaken. The thing is, it’s often the smaller things in a healthcare pathway which makes the most personal difference.
It made me realise how I can never be certain of anything. We are made from our experiences – our failures & successes, our loves & dislikes, what we have witnessed; gentle creatures that get hardened by tragedy. I walk through streets, sit on the bus, in hospital waiting rooms and cafes and think about these people who surround me, I wonder what their stories are.
Because I often find it hard to concentrate these days due to unruly fatigue, brain-fog or just general overwhelming pain on top of deadlines – I’ve spent a crazy amount of time online & reading books trying to find a cheat to trick me into being more productive & waste less time. Ultimately – I’d like to gain more time so I don’t have to carry the guilt of not working as fast as I used to do.
But all i’ve learnt from this is that we are never-ever-satisfied. Life coaches think they’ve figured out the secret – to delete all your apps on your phone. Bullshit. Just turn it off! #firstworldproblems. We await bigger phone screens, & watches that do the same as our phones and complain about things that are arbitatory. I too am guilty of this.
But it’s all just more proof of us not enjoying our smaller things.
Robin Sloan in his book Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore writes about this idea that basically you write a book, a “Book of Life”, that represents everything you have learnt in your life. You work on drafts your entire life and it gets stored and read by a privileged few upon your death. Our lives are filled with a desire to know the universe, and to be known. To leave a dent.
To not be forgotten (my own fear).
As time becomes more valued to me as I know how quickly it can be erased, I started thinking about “quality time”. And its role as the primary means to an end for a fulfilled life. This quality time should be with our own selves, with our interests, and with those people we connect deeply with. They each feed into each other, without one – the others become disconnected. Quality Time makes extremely clear that those smaller things become some of the most important moments in your life. Be present for them, but that’s not easy. Cultivating quality time means attempting to remove circumstances that hinder quality time, and not all of us have that luxury.
I am learning to be wild again. Next week I head back to the U.S.A. again!
I truly believe one of the keys to happiness is to build meaningful ways to make a living whilst working on something you wholeheartedly give a shit about — with good human beings who you give a really big shit about.
In each of our lives, things have changed, for better and for worse. Change and struggle is part of our every day. Becoming and being a parent, as many of you are, is a struggle. Starting a new course, job, moving house, starting a new relationship is all full of struggle. But it makes us better, in some small shape or form.
Being sick reminds me that whilst we might understand the surface of things, deep down there is unprecedented amounts of uncertainty that we have no idea of. All I know is that this Thanksgiving I am happy and thankful for the smaller things. The ability to hold a conversation, the ability to write a blog post, to have so many amazing friends dotted around the world that I can see any time or throughout the years. I get to travel. I get to try and make a difference. I get to draw and learn for my job. I get to hear your story. I get to call you my friends. And i have shelter, and warmth and food (most of the time).
I believe that whilst our trauma’s may linger, kindness & friendship is the thing that helps us endure.
You guys have made my year. I hope that together – we can continue to give just small pieces of everyday kindness to both loved ones, friends and strangers.
So this Thanksgiving, I ask you: What endures, what lingers, and what gets washed away?