My 2011 can be broken up into two parts: B.A. and A.A. Before Alysa and after Alysa. Two months of vigour followed by two months of grappling.

While I’m not religious, I can’t help but wonder if the Catholic superstition of my upbringing hasn’t weasled its way into the connective tissue of my consciousness. This is what leads me to suspect that it was by design that my mental health would reach a point of (at least momentary) balance right when it did. Because, gosh wow, has it has been tested.

B.A. I was beginning my weekly gig for Globe T.O., the Toronto section of the weekend Globe and Mail, picking up an additional freelance job or two each week, working my rigorous NGO day job, and relishing in the narcotic effects of a budding career beginning to go right.

Then Alysa died. We weren’t best buddies by any means, but she was a fixture of my extended community and someone I looked up to tremendously. Moreover, she was the type of person who could–who did–pack a funeral home. She was eulogized for her perserverence and dedication to the people in her life, for being a generous listener and a genuine friend. Her life, and the way its end unfolded around me, made me question the vanity of my own life’s choices–the pursuit of a path of letters and bylines instead of a drive to unite the people around me, of prioritizing strangers’ stories over the lives of my own friends. Did I place too much of my own sense of self on the strength of my portfolio? Was I letting myself become defined by the inconsequence of my ambition?

Three weeks later, there was another death. This was around the time my parents announced they were applying for work in Minnesota because the governor of Wisconsin was very seriously threatening the existence of their livelihood. Goodbye, everything we’ve ever known. Goodbye, formative community.

As I write this from the house of a branch of my adoptive family in Austin, Texas, where I’ve just experienced my first Passover seders, the word replays itself. Community. Banging on tables and arguing over symbolic interpretations while drinking (too much) kosher wine, the question with four answers: “why is this night different from every other night?” slaps me around. The real answer, the one that isn’t officially spelled out in the Haggadah, is “we are fortifying our community.” And while I’m not religious, or Jewish, or really a part of this clan, I can see how it’s a thing to be valued, a thing to be clutched tightly to the chest.

On that note, pieced together, I climb out of hiatus. I miss the grind.

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