Turn and Face the Strange: Coping in the New Year


Was 2016 really as bad as we thought? It was a hell of a year. Just looking back at the cultural icons who died, the first massive shockwave for many of us was the death of David Bowie on January 10th. While we were still reeling from that, four days later, actor Alan Rickman died. Both were 69. And four days after that, Glenn Frye, co-founder of the Eagles, died at age 67. And that was just the beginning.

I am 62. These three artists not only contributed greatly to the music and films I’ve admired and enjoyed, but they were my peers in age, members of my generation. Their creative output spoke to how I felt about life, often helping me understand it. Meanwhile, I’m still getting used to the notion that I’m in my sixties. I don’t feel old, but I don’t feel young. I figure I’ll probably be around for a while. But who knows? Maybe not. The death of three peers in eight days tends to shake you up.

Of course, we all know how this continued. Some of the folks we lost in 2016 at least got to live to their eighties or nineties. Some, like Prince and George Michael, didn’t even make it to their sixties. And, in a two-fisted gut-punch, Carrie Fisher died at age 60 on December 27th, and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, died at age 84 the next day. You could be forgiven for thinking that 2016 was apparently bent on cutting a cruel, irreparable swath through our cultural lives.

So, yes, 2016 was just as sucky as we all thought it was. And that’s not even mentioning my more personal losses. Or politics.

Because I am 62, and have a long memory, and pay attention, I have for decades been reading and listening to news about the putative winner of our presidential election. And I must admit I’ve always thought he was a self-serving vulgarian. I have long been aware of his questionable business practices, his misogyny, his prejudices, his colossal bankruptcies, his shafting of thousands of contractors by not paying them for their work, the myriad lawsuits filed against him, his unfaithfulness to his former wives, his divorces, his execrable taste in interior design. He did nothing to change my opinion during the campaign. Indeed, he brought new meaning to the definition of cynicism. And apparently that cynicism was shared by enough of our fellow citizens to have gotten him elected. Or perhaps folks just weren’t paying attention to his history all these years. It’s an understatement to say I’m disappointed, but I can’t say I’m entirely surprised. The issue now is figuring out how to cope and what to do.

The Butterfly Effect

The day after the election, I was on a plane, flying to a conference whose purpose was to begin to thrash out some practical ways to help people with metastatic breast cancer deal with the collateral damage of living with the disease and its treatment. It was the perfect distraction and antidote to how I was feeling. Spending two days surrounded by a few dozen intelligent, passionate, articulate clinicians and advocates restored a lot of my faith in humanity. It was also a rare treat for me to take time off from work and spend a few days on the West Coast. I don’t get limitless time off, and I can rarely afford to travel whenever I want to every conference I’m interested in, so I appreciated this opportunity. When I got home, I napped, unpacked, and went back to my patients on Monday. At least I get paid to help people. That privilege has been especially helpful to my sanity these past several weeks, while I’ve tried to process the ramifications of this election.

Most of us can’t just quit our jobs and become full-time activists. But we can view all this as a wake-up call to learn more about how our government works and how to become perhaps better and more active citizens. There is a lot of information out there to help you figure out how to make your concerns heard. I have contacted my representatives on issues that matter to me, and have heard back from them. I’ve signed a few petitions, written emails, made phone calls and contributions to non-profits, subscribed to a few reasonably reliable media sources. If you wish the election turned out differently, here’s a link, from Patti Mulligan, with resources to help you figure out what you can do if you want to do something.

Mostly though, the challenge for many of us is how to get from one day to the next. And that’s where butterflies come in. The Butterfly Effect is the concept that even small actions can start a process that creates large changes down the road. It was initially coined in the realm of weather science. In popular culture, it’s come to be used by many to assert that there is a reason or an explanation for everything, but that is not it’s original meaning. Nor do I believe there is a reason for everything, because sometimes shit happens, like cancer for instance, and we don’t know why. Hence chaos theory. But in my own daily life, I interpret it to mean that every small act of kindness, consciousness, or goodness can make a small change for good in the world, at least for a moment. And that those acts can influence others to do likewise. And if we live our lives that way, deliberately acting from our best selves, those small changes can add up to bigger ones. So, it matters that you treat everyone with respect and kindness, even if you don’t like them, or agree with them. It also matters that you treat yourself with kindness and respect, and that may mean not permitting people to treat you like crap. Or permitting them to treat others like crap. Acting from your best self doesn’t mean being a doormat.

Of course, I’m a physical therapist, so I have to believe in the power of small, incremental actions. I have to believe that if my patients do a few simple exercises every day, they’ll eventually walk better. And, indeed, that is what happens, over and over. And I have to advocate for them when the healthcare system isn’t giving them something they need. Think about all the times when someone thanks you unexpectedly, or does something extra for you, how good it makes you feel. It can be something simple, like having the cashier at the store recognize you, smile, and ask how you are. It all matters. Most of the time, when you just smile at someone, you get a smile back. Smiles can be contagious. Kindness is contagious. Advocacy is contagious. That’s what I’ve experienced at least.

Sometimes I fail at this. I’m only human. I get frustrated at bad drivers like anyone else. It’s okay to feel frustrated. It’s even okay to curse. But we can choose not to then cut off the next person at the next intersection. We can feel and verbalize our frustrations, but we can choose not to take them out on someone else. We can pick our battles, and let go of the tangles we can’t fix.

It’s not easy. The world we humans have made is full of pain and misery and violence and hatred. But the people we have lost this year demonstrated that it is also full of art and music and talent and humor and goodness. And that those things may not fix everything, but they matter. We have to believe that they matter, and never let anyone talk us out of that belief.

I leave you with some perspective from David Bowie, from his song, Changes:

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through
Turn and face the strange
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it

This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 09:12 pm, filed under Art & Music, Life & Mortality, Making A Difference and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

20 Responses to “Turn and Face the Strange: Coping in the New Year”

  1. Kathi, I’ve often thought that the little things we do for others are the very things that make a big difference in their lives. Thank you for being one of those people whose little things make a big difference. Happy new year, my friend.

  2. Thank you, Eileen, for being someone who believes in that, too. It works, doesn’t it? Hope we both experience lots of lovely small things in 2017. xoxo, Kathi

  3. Kathi, a hard year to digest. Someone commented that it left them dazed and confused and I’m in that group. Along with luminaries, I lost my father in October, and 2 weeks later the election occurred. I was watching Mavis Staples at the Kennedy Center awards and there was footage of her marching on Washington for civil rights, and it reminded me that the need to be engaged and protest when appropriate is not new. One of my favorite photos from my childhood is me in a peace walk with “Another Mother for Peace” protesting the Vietnam war with my activist parents. I sure hope this year will bring a disgruntled but passive electorate transforming into an engaged one.

  4. I hope so, Judy. What I really hope is that our reps in Washington, on both sides of the aisle, find some backbone, stick to principles not politics, and don’t allow us all to get steamrolled. *sigh*

  5. I wish the best to you in the new year. Resist! Expose! Speak out! (my mantra in the coming days…)

  6. You, too, Chandra. We can only hope…

  7. Hi Kathi,
    Good to read this and thanks for the David Bowie. As a fellow 62 year old I definitely haven’t ‘grown up and out of it’ and in fact I rejoice in being increasingly strange as I get older. Both of our countries have taken seemingly insane decisions but done them, more or less, democratically. So we’ll need to deal with the consequences democratically too. But maybe we need some new ideas, even new politics? Because certainly here in Britain a lot of us are completely disillusioned with the Whitehall political establishment.

    Anyway, enough politics for new year’s day. Hope you have a great and musical year despite it all! x

  8. Ronnie! So good to hear from you. Been thinking of you & Sarah. Yeah, huh? What the ever-loving heck is going on in our two countries? This past year has been altogether too much in many ways. I hope you and Sarah are in good health. I am glad to say that I am feeling well, still NED, so that’s one good thing. Hugs to you both. xo, Kathi

  9. This is beautiful. I noted in my journal a week or so ago that small changes will be the key to 2017 for me. With so much unknown, the future is overwhelming, so I think baby steps is the key.

    Happy new year Kathi!!


  10. Thank you, Katie. Once again, we’re on a similar wavelength. Maybe because we were both named Kathleen? 😉 Happy New Year to you and your family. xo

  11. Thank you for this lovely reminder. I’m still reeling from the political aspect more than anything of 2016. The small act of kindness may just be the perfect antidote. I am struggling with the knowledge that most people I run into voted against my access to affordable health care. There is a “I got mine/I need to get mine and the hell with everyone else” haze in the air in America. For example, as you know I’ve mentioned to you before–those complaining about $10,000 while not understanding that a single session of Herceptin infusion costs $15,000+, it just boggles my mind, the ignorance.
    Thanks for the reminder I must react with kindness–my urge has been the opposite lately! xoxoWendi

  12. Wendi, I don’t think any of us has had to struggle with getting through each day the way we’re struggling now. I struggled with what to write about. But the thing I needed most to figure out first was just how to get through the day to day, and this was what I reminded myself of, which is how I already try to conduct myself day by day. Otherwise, I couldn’t function. Believe me, the ACA and healthcare accessibility for all is just one of the issues that is crucial to me, too. And I will likely tackle it — and probably a lot of other issues — in a separate post. I just can’t deal with carrying all this stuff around with me all the time. No one can, I don’t think. That’s the challenge — choosing how and when to address these issues, but still feeling like a sane, functioning person. There is so much ignorance and misinformation out there. I’m sure both of us will be trying our best to correct some of that in the future. Big hugs to you, my friend.

  13. Hi, Kathi. 2016 was hard year in many ways. I’m still trying to absorb the losses too, including the sudden death of a friend in our same age group. And of course, the political situation. I’ve thought about things a lot since the election and have come out to about the same place as you. We really all need to step up and get involved in any way we can, however small. I think it’s necessary if we want policies put in place that reflect the true interests of most Americans. If many more of us did get involved, the effects could be amazing. BTW, I’m so glad you were able to participate in the MBC collateral damage conference–I know they benefited from your insights and professional experience in such an important field. Wishing you health and peace in the New Year!

  14. Thank you, Lisa. Yes, this year has really proved once again that we can’t take much of anything for granted. I think it already has shown a lot of us that we’ll need to speak out and get more involved in our country’s issues, in whatever way we can. I’m looking forward to the next steps on the MBC collateral damage group. It’s one of the things that keeps me going. Thank you for all you do, too, Lisa, on your blog, reviewing and informing us about research and progress. We need that. Peace to you, too. xo

  15. Kathi, I’ve been finding it difficult to cope in general these days. It’s one bad news after the next and it’s hard to keep up. I can say there was a lot of eye-opening for me in 2016 (and especially with the elections). My feelings about some people I know are rapidly evolving. It now feels weird. And yes, the constant reminder of death doesn’t help put things into perspective. I wish to slow down and breathe. I need to figure out new ways to cope by creating new meaning in my life. Thank you for this post and for the reminder of what’s important. May the New Year be kind to all of us. Hoping it brings us some good news. xoxo

  16. Rebecca, I certainly hope this year is kinder to us all. It’s all been too much. It’s been hard to hold onto our own center, to even find it sometimes. Love & hugs to you. xo

  17. […] read this great wrap-up of 2016 from Accidental Amazon Kathi. Not one to mince words, Kathi lays out the mess of the year that just ended and the potential mess […]

  18. Hi Kathi,
    So lovely to read this. I’ve been in such a funk as 2016 closed out. It was a rough year for me personally. 2016 will always be the year that took my dad. Still, I hated to see the year end. Grief is complicated. As you know. And as for that election…mostly I’ve been tuning out the news. I just can’t handle the coverage. I know I need to step up and do my small part, but I’m still just so sad about it all. Your words feel encouraging. Thank you. Wishing you good things and good health in 2017, my friend. Onward, right? xo

  19. Oh, yes, Nancy. Your dad. And Jody. 2016 was rough and sad. There was so much tragedy, global tragedy and personal tragedy. I’m glad anything I said would feel encouraging. All we can do is hang onto our souls and take it a step at a time. Big hugs.

  20. Hi Kathi,

    2016 sucked. I can’t say it any other way. All the deaths. And Trump. Oy.

    That being said, I think that being a physical therapist is an important job. Things that may seem little are big things, really. And it’s a wonderful feeling to help others. As you know, I’m a teacher, and I see that sometimes just doing a kind act for a student — offering to help him/her with a project, or just listening when a student is frustrated — really helps me feel better.

    Thank you for writing this wonderful post.

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