Please welcome today’s guest writer, Hannah Leisman. Hannah graduated from Calvin in 2014 with a major in English and gender studies. She now lives in Washington, D.C. and is a first-year student at GW Law, pursuing both a JD and MA in women’s studies. When she isn’t studying or spending time with her husband, Josh, she’s probably updating her Snap story or shopping for her cat, whom she loves maybe too much.
It’s 11 a.m. and I’m sitting on my kitchen floor. I’m double fisting coffee and OJ, forcing down stale bread that I’m too lazy to toast and scrolling through Instagram so furiously my eyes are watering. It’s a good morning.
And then I remember that I signed up to write this post. Per usual, I instantly regret my decision to participate. What was I thinking? This is my vacation, my two blessed weeks away from the huge bummers of real life (i.e. school, commuting, cooking) where my only obligations are to show up for family Christmas parties and to pick up the Bacardi en route to see my friends. I’m especially concerned I signed up to do this right around now because, for the first time I can remember, I’m just not feeling the holidays. I know Christmas and New Year’s are a time for enchantment and togetherness, Hallmark and It’s a Wonderful Life and all that, but this year the disenchantment hit hard. I used to be the picture of holiday cheer—Christmas radio, Chestnut Praline Latte, blissful hours spent in Target—you name it. But this year, this year I’ve been a royal Grinch. I dragged my feet around the mall looking for last minute gifts, avoiding eye contact with children and cheerful employees, spending far too much time in Pottery Barn and eventually ditching the entire experience for a giant margarita. In short, Christmas 2015 came in like a wrecking ball—hurried, stressful, expensive. (If this is adulthood, hard pass.)
Now we’re approaching New Year’s Eve. This is my favorite holiday, in spite of the fact that every year it disappoints. Each year I anticipate ringing in the new year with class and sentiment and every year I end up twerking with a bottle of André, ushering in the new year with Advil and the “untag” button. Then there’s the fact that New Year’s is a time of reflection and resolution. My last New Year’s resolution was in 2007, and I’ve never looked back. But bring on the reflection—I’m a sucker for nostalgia. Except for this year. Maybe it’s the lack of snow or congestion or the overall displacement of being back home for the holidays, but I’m unable to go there. Every time I start to think back on 2015 I end up in bed with Netflix and a Bota Box of cabernet.
But it strikes me, as I start yet another episode of Downton Abbey, that maybe I can’t reflect back on 2015 because I don’t want to. It’s been a hard year. A heavy year. For me and my family, a year filled with momentous change and challenges. For the world, more so: think ISIS. Paris. San Bernardino. Syria. Refugees. Steve Harvey’s Miss Universe mishap. Exploding hoverboards. Donald Trump.
It’s a lot to process. A lot of people to unfollow on social media. A lot of differentiating between real news and The Onion.
But, just as I’m about to slink away to hide in bed forever, I think of the other night. I was curled up next to the couch watching my cat bat at ornaments under the Christmas tree. It’s a beautiful spruce, tall and poised, just the right shade of green. As I watched, I was surprised to notice the trunk of the tree was oddly crooked despite its tall frame. I suddenly had a flashback to seventh grade science and a lesson about heliotropism, that is, the way plants bend and twist towards sunlight in order to grow.
And the more I think back on this, the more I think heliotropism is a badass and beautiful thing. It’s not a major search for identity or a declaration of self-improvement (see: New Year’s resolutions) that is, a fern doesn’t decide to become a redwood by 2017 then self-destruct when it proves impossible. Instead, heliotropism is an infinitesimal leaning towards something warm, bright and sustaining.
As the coffee kicks in, my brain starts thinking about human heliotropism, creating both a smooth alliteration and an encouraging thought for the new year: What if, while recognizing those things in the world and our own lives that are heartbreaking and scary and all around bullshit, what if instead of turning to hatred and finger pointing, comment threads or Instagram, we instead took a leaf (see what I did there?) from our plant sisters and practiced a bit of heliotropism? I’m not talking about making huge resolutions for self-improvement or starting a flashy nonprofit but instead am giving a shout-out to the small, intentional shifts away from the dark cobwebby corners of work, relationships, or even your own mind. I’m not encouraging massive denial, but what I’m trying to say is, in the same way that plants can’t survive without sunlight, we also need light to grow and contribute.
My word limit is up and my coffee is gone, but I want to leave you with this: I know that none of this is new or mind-blowing or particularly Norman Rockwell, but when I try to set aside my Grinchiness to reflect on the past year and look ahead to the new, I’m stuck by how dark and stupid things can get and how fear and terror and Ben Carson are all too real. But I am also struck by how important it is to embrace fear and imperfection, and the tremendous courage it can take to love and change and hope even in the smallest ways. So maybe this new year I’ll break my streak, buy a nicer bottle of champagne and resolve to buy a plant, if only to remind me to act as a human heliotrope, daring to stand proudly with a crooked spine and never stop bending toward the light.