Getting to the end of 2014 was like finishing an epic ultra. My ears are ringing and my mind is dancing from one fleeting memory to the next, unsure of where to land. Amnesia has set in, softening the edges of the extreme lows and dimming the glare of some of the highs, but I’m left with an overall feeling of burning exhaustion and exhilaration in equal measure. And for the first time in a long time, I am completely content with where I’ve wound up.
January 1 may not feel like the natural start of a year to everyone – at least, it doesn’t always feel that way to me. I tend to segment my life into stages according to significant personal events, rather than according to the calendar. Instead of years, I think of countries (“that was during my time in Afghanistan”) or occasionally relationships (“that was when I was dating so-and-so”). Sometimes certain events are so significant, like deaths, births, or weddings, that they turn everything else into a ‘before’ and an ‘after’.
For me, last year began not on January 1, but on February 28 when I flew to South Sudan. After months of looking for work and recovering from a bad breakup, I finally landed a job. In a tent. In a conflict zone. As scary as the prospect was, I knew it was exactly what I needed to shake off the dust and doubt that had settled on my shoulders and get back to a version of myself that I actually liked.
And I did.
This year on January 1, I woke up wearing a fuzzy Zebra onesie, somewhere in the French alps surrounded by humanitarian workers from conflict zones around the world. As I listened to the soft cacophony of snores, I was hit with a wave of immense gratitude for 2014 and where it had gotten me. For the last few years, I have done the countdown to midnight on New Year’s Eve, and made a wish for something more. A better job, a better living situation, or a better relationship. This year, I didn’t even know when midnight hit. I
was having too much fun with the other fuzzy animals to worry about the countdown, let alone New Year’s wishes. There wasn’t anything to wish for because it was all right in front of me.
In last year’s post, I recounted a few of the things I had learned in 2013 and what I still had to work on for 2014. I can say that I’ve failed miserably on a few of the things I still had to learn (eg. how to wean myself off of Diet Coke), but mastered others (eg. how to hashtag properly… #Ithink? #justkidding).
In the same tradition, here’s what I’ve learned in 2014. I’ve learned that my mom can predict the future pretty accurately, so maybe I should start trusting her crystal ball more often. I’ve learned that life simply goes on even when we feel that our own clock has stopped. Our 30s are truly the new 20s and I’ll probably say the same when I hit 40. I’ve learned to route through Nairobi instead of Addis, and Amsterdam instead of Geneva. But I’m still learning how to keep my patience travelling through Tel Aviv.
I’ve learned to wear rainboots to the latrines and cuddle up next to a flashlight, bug spray and whistle in South Sudan. I’ve learned to pee in a mug amidst gunfire and successfully flirt in a war zone (not in the same night – that would be weird). I’ve learned that when hoping to find a rugged war doctor you’ll usually be greeted by a fleet of 20-something female nurses… but that 20-something female nurses are probably exactly what you need instead. They will give you a hug and an orange soda instead of a brooding speech about the randomness of life and the loneliness of the field (wink, wink).
I’ve discovered that the world won’t implode if I stop running for a while, but that I don’t need to apologize to anyone if I feel like it will.
I’ve felt the strength of Afghan women and learned that it is possible to rock climb in high heels. I’ve learned to run in circles on rooftops and sleep through the call to prayer. Okay, who am I kidding, no one can sleep through it.
I’ve learned that men who seem ‘exciting’ are just like the rest, and men who seem ‘nice’ deserve a second look (obvious, but evolution seems to have wired female brains differently). I’ve learned to run away screaming from men who seem troubled or complicated (three cheers for men in glasses and sweater vests!). I’ve learned to trust my gut again. I’ve learned not to cater to the voices that ask “when are you going to settle down??” and instead to smile at the ridiculousness of the question. I’ve learned that life is a process of ramping up, not settling down, and that I’m completely incompatible with anyone that prefers another trajectory. I’ve re-learned to value those who follow their hearts and dreams instead of their wallets, but reminded myself of how lucky I am to have figured out where my dreams lie.
I’ve learned I’m not as adept as I think I am with dealing with this lifestyle. I’ve also learned that it is indeed a lifestyle, not a ‘phase’, and that those who love me accept my weirdness and my path. I’ve learned how much of a strain my choices can be on others around me, but I haven’t figured out how to fix that.
I’ve learned that it is always possible to do more, but sometimes it is enough to do what we can, when we can.
This year promises more epic adventures, beginning with this week! Tomorrow, I will be presenting at Free to Run’s first major fundraising dinner in Hong Kong, and the following morning I will be heading out to the start line of the Hong Kong 100. Last year, I had a phenomenal run as Agnes Cheng (unable to secure my own bib, I ran under a friend’s entry and managed to place third, resulting in immediate – and justified – disqualification!). I do not expect to come anywhere close to ‘Agnes’ time this year, but I am just excited to get back out there. I haven’t raced since the ICE Ultra last year and I feel a little like a horse locked up in a stable. It’s time to get back out there!
Thanks for following my blog last year – over 100,000 visitors! I hope you’ll continue to join me in 2015. Here’s to happy trails, scraped knees, late nights and impossibly bright mornings.