Yesterday I went to work, and spent the morning amazed at how much better I felt when just 24 hours I could barely hold my head up. I still wasn't back to "normal," but I didn't have to take any cold medication, and I only blew my nose occasionally.
And then, in the early afternoon, I got the news that Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down had died. But he was 92, and truth be told, I was a bit surprised that he was still alive.
It was far more sobering to hear the news of Carrie Fisher's death. She was only 60, just 9 years older than I am. Star Wars was the first PG rated movie I saw when I just turned 12. I loved Princess Leia, but not particularly more than any other cast member. Now that I am older I would see her as an important role model, but back then, I wouldn't have framed it that way.
Now that I am older, I see the ragtag band of revolutionaries as the important role model, more so than Princess Leia as feminist icon, although that's not a hard case to make either. I like the fact that while she may occasionally need rescuing, so do the other members of the team. I like that she's competent, even into her older age, in last year's movie. The battle isn't won, and so she soldiers on.
And in her non-Princess Leia personas, I see Fisher as even more important: her outspoken insistence on treating mental illness as a disease, not an embarrassment, her acceptance of her aging face and body, on and on I could go.
It's astonishing to think about all the losses of this past year--but as I get older, I imagine this feeling won't be unfamiliar.
But frankly, when I look back on 2016, it's the changes that have affected my friends and me that I will remember. Let me just take a minute and catch my breath by listing some of the non-celebrity, non-political losses and changes:
--A year ago, we had a neighbor living in our backyard cottage. In June, she moved to Utah.
--June was also a month of lay-offs at my old school. My Hindu writer friend lost her full-time job, and that led her down a road to a new job that she begins in January. She will leave the old school completely--which really feels like the end of an era.
--How much did these lay-offs lead me down a road to a new job at a new school? It was partly those June RIFs and partly the action against ACICS that ruled they could no longer accredit schools. It was many signs that led me to think that my old school will not take me to retirement. I am glad I made the leap, but that change too was the end of an era.
--Just before I left, there were more lay-offs at the old school, RIFs of fellow administrators which convinced me that I was right to go.
--I'm also thinking of the death of my colleague Patrick Peacock. I still find his diving death an absolute shock.
--This year has been the year of retirements of some friends who are not that much older than I am--one of them was a state employee since the mid-1980's. The transitions have been mostly happy, but it's still a marker of time passing.
I see this past year as a jolting out of our collective comfort zones, whether it be the deaths of famous people, the Brexit vote, the U.S. election, or more local changes like the ones I've just listed. Because my mood usually runs to optimism, I do have hopes that these jolts will lead us to better and safer places than we've found ourselves before. But I'm also a student of history, so I understand the dangers ahead.