As 2012 drew to a close, I inevitably found myself reflecting on some of the highs and lows of that extraordinary year. I refer to it as extraordinary because during the last 12 months, some truly life altering events have occurred in my little corner of the universe.
In Chinese culture, 2012 was the year of the Dragon - the Water Dragon, to be specific. The dragon is widely regarded as the most auspicious of all the animal signs; therefore, in Chinese astrology, dragon years signify good fortune. Dragon years are also associated with growth and change. According to popular mythology, the dragon’s head and tail cannot be seen at the same time - symbolising its unpredictable and untouchable nature. From this, we might infer that believers in Chinese astrology would have expected 2012 to be a year of transformations and unexpected events.
Broadening our cultural reference point, the ancient Mayans also predicted that 2012 would be a year of deep and far-reaching transformations. Unfortunately, the wisdom of the ancient Mayans was erroneously interpreted by many as a sort of ‘Nostradamian’ prophecy of impending apocalypse. However, according to Mayan scholars, what the Mayans foretold was that significant transformations would occur in 2012, not that life on earth would cease to exist. This is because, according to the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, 21 December 2012 marks the end-date of a 5,125-year-long cycle. Consequently, far from signifying the end of the world, this date referred to a period of change and renewal – the start of a new era.
On a personal level, there is no doubt that for me and my family, 2012 was a year of cataclysmic shifts. In early January, I suddenly found myself facing the threat of redundancy– a terrifying prospect for anyone who has no other income to fall back on and a child to support whose father makes no financial contribution. Not only that, I had relocated from London to take my current job and, after less than two years, it seemed like I would have to begin the arduous search for work all over again. It had taken me a long time to adjust to living in the South West and to settle my son into a new school so this idea did not fill me with joy - particularly as it would most likely involve moving away from the area.
Then in May, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. This was a huge shock to me and my family, particularly as this formidable lady has always seemed so physically strong and robust – so much so that in 25 years she never once took a day’s sick leave from work. However, on reflection, I realise this may have been due to her stubborn British stoicism, rather than because she was blessed with exceptionally good health.
I have never had an easy relationship with my mother, but suddenly finding myself forced to confront the prospect of her imminent death was devastating. We all know that our parents will not live forever and, having worked for a bereavement charity, I thought I would be better prepared than most to deal with this reality; yet, as I discovered, nothing prepares you for the loss of someone you love.
However, there is no doubt that I would have coped better with the shattering reality of my mother’s life-threatening illness were it not for the fact that I was also facing huge pressures and uncertainty at work. As if things were not tough enough already by this stage, I had also taken on the role of primary carer for my father, who has early stage dementia. During this period, it felt like a huge fist had appeared from nowhere and shattered my whole world, with one deadly blow after another. For, no sooner had I started to deal with one difficulty when something else presented itself. I was being dragged out of my depth by a hostile sea and it required all my energy just to stay afloat.
Having read the above, you will probably not be surprised to hear that these events had a detrimental effect on my personal life because, like most people in times of crisis, I reverted to my default survival mechanisms. Such automatic and instinctive responses may be designed to protect us but, because they are fear-based, they never serve us well. In my case, I have allowed some of life’s more bitter experiences to convince me that I cannot rely on anyone other than myself. So, when faced with a serious difficulty, I tend to close myself off from those closest to me. As a consequence, over the years I have gradually built up a formidable armour of self-reliance. Furthermore, having battled through life’s difficulties alone for the greater part of four decades, it seems that I have become an expert in going solo – not because I want to, but because I am unwilling to risk being let down by someone I love. It seems I have gone from being naively trusting in my misguided youth, to intensely guarded and risk-averse in my middle years. The unfortunate result of all this is that, rather than reaching out for help during the dramas of 2012, I drew up my emotional drawbridge and disappeared behind a self-constructed fortress.
We have all heard the expression ‘no gain without pain’ and, from this viewpoint, there is no doubt that 2012 taught me some very valuable life lessons. Knowledge is power – or so they say - so I would like to think that in 2013 I will find a way of using my hard-earned self-awareness to make some changes to my life. The beginning of any new year offers an opportunity to reflect on the year that has just passed and although I don’t have faith in so-called New Year’s Resolutions, I do believe that now is as good a time as any to make determinations for the year ahead.
Therefore, the time has come to share with you my dearest hope for the immediate future – a form of prayer or vow, if you like. In broad terms, it goes something like this: no matter what challenges I may face in 2013, I will respond to them differently from last year. Instead of going it alone, I will risk being open and learn to gratefully accept support whenever it is offered to me; I will constantly strive to discard my stubbornness and fear; finally, I will learn to share my journey through this life with all its joys and sorrow – my hopes, dreams and fears – with those who truly love me. Above all, I will no longer allow the bitterness of the past to colour my experience of the present.