The looming shadow of the great and powerful Ico-Ico has passed us, and we now stand in his full glory. His presence was heralded and ushered in with cheers of “Happy New Year!” We toasted to his emergence. We justifiably spat in the face of the yesteryear. We drank deep from our cups, and in the morning, we woke bleary eyed and hungover. We waddled to our respective windows, gazed upon the stagnant titan of our new year, noted his striking resemblance to 2019, and crossed our fingers that he wouldn’t be as much of a kill joy as his predecessor.
2019 felt like the world’s slowest band-aid removal, and while I can’t speak for you, I find myself sitting here gawking at the shiny new 2020 with eyes like saucers and wondering what it will do first. Is it going to be as much hot bullshit at 2019? Will my finances allow me to eat more Qdoba? Will I manage to find a woman foolhardy enough to give me the time of day? Will Sierra Nevada make a beer that is better than Hop Bullet? Will I finally buy some new pairs of pants?!
The answer to most of those is “probably not,” I reckon. The truth of the matter is, the idea of a “new year” is just a construction to help us keep accurate records and to sell goofy novelty sun-glasses. I’m not sold on the idea that 2019 is far enough removed to not fuck something else up. Seriously, what is wrong with that guy?
In light of the new year, though, I’m feeling inexplicably grateful, not so much for the fuckery that came with 2019 but for the things that survived its wake. That’s the crazy thing about a disaster, it forces you to take stock of the things it hasn’t robbed from you. You are obligated to do inventory, especially by others. I don’t like subscribing to that mentality of constantly living in light of the things you are without, but I do tip my hat to the idea that 2020 just so happens to be the year where I have the clearest hindsight of my life.
On this, the second day under the rule of Ico-Ico, I’m looking back on the previous year, and what I have found alarms me at its mundanity. It was a year of paperwork, legalese, fighting, confusion, and curve balls, but now I’m wondering this: how is that all that different from any other year? That sounds pretty pessimistic, but those were just the bad things. Plenty of really noteworthy things happened too! I figured out how to buy a house. I had someone initiate a first kiss for the first time in my life. I started, navigated, and healthily concluded a friends with benefits situation. I made new platonic friends. I found a new group for D&D. I found my own version of independence. I love myself for the first time ever. I wrote a book. I trimmed the fat on things that didn’t matter. I finally started trusting myself and broke as many chains as I could find on the weights that held me down.
So why do the negative bits of 2019 feel so monumental compared to the positive ones despite their being equally voluminous, and how can one find shreds of gratitude in one as much as the other? Honestly, I think it’s just human psychology. The chapters of our lives that we see as lively and positive often don’t leave too much behind. They don’t need to be readdressed because we already experienced and processed them in their entirety. Negative chapters on the other hand are punctuated with confusion and a perception of danger. The brain wants a resolution to everything, and those parts of our lives that scar us very seldomly find the type of closure that we are looking for. They feel so prominent because the fact of their irresolution compels us to renegotiate their meaning.
That’s why the grieving process so often looks like (or simply is) obsession, and it is this tendency to delve into the past that really makes us human. We want to live a life of meaning. We want to feel like we have chosen all the steps of our path, but that is simply not the case. Our ability to recognize that fact is also what makes us human. I just find it a humorous quirk for us to look at most of the silver linings of our lives and just see a spade as a spade. Then when something disruptive crops up, we lose our minds. We sacrifice our offerings on fate’s altar, lie prostrate on the cold stones beneath us, and bemoan with quivering mouths, “What does it mean?”
I’m not trying to make fun of anyone, and if I am, it’s myself.
The tenuous point that I am trying to make is that the quality of ones life is directly influenced by our perception of what it means. If we eat some delicious confection, we enjoy it in the moment and then move on. We may post a picture of it on Instagram, but by in large, those simple joys are forgotten. We understand that a nice dessert can just exist as nice dessert. What would your life look like if you treated those moments of sadness or anger like that as well? What would it look like to process and experience those negative feelings, and then decide that they probably don’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things.
2019 was hard for a lot of people I know. In my words, it “really bent us over. But if I am being completely honest with myself, none of the bad stuff metaphysically “meant” anything. There was no writing on the wall to be read. There is no mystery to be searched for in the past that will amount to any discovery worth of anything more than a shrug and a nod. Things just happen; it’s what things do.
So, if you were to ask me, I bet 2020 won’t mechanically look all that different. It doesn’t need to, nor do I want it to. Yes, I would rather not get divorced again in 2020, but I have just as much agency to do so as I did in the previous year. Ico-Ico may look so strikingly similar to his older brother because they very well may be the same monolithic, unmoving icon, and what they have to offer us as a race will almost undoubtedly be the same: opportunity. This year, just as all years past, we are given the chance to do virtually anything. In that process, there will be missteps. We will trip and fall and really eat dirt sometimes, but that opportunity is a cosmic currency that we are afforded to spend on whatever we damn well please.
That is how we find gratitude, even in the dark times.
Even when we hate our station, the chance for opportunity that got us there is the same chance that can change it for the better. I’m going to end with a nerdy D&D metaphor, because why the hell not.
I run a lot of games, and sometimes those games get heavy. Players sometimes get discouraged with their character or how grim a situation looks. They look at a foe and see it as insurmountable before they have even attempted to vanquish it. Often they will stare at me, tell me what they would like to do, and then hang their head, chalking up a point for nihilism.
Then I will ask them to roll their dice.
“It doesn’t matter. The odds of me rolling as well as I need to are nearly impossible,” they reply, forgetting the mind boggling sum of odds of all the rolls that got them there in the first place.
Sometimes they eventually roll. Sometimes they do not, but I think it funny that the ones who take up their dye and cast it always wind up being the ones who had the chance of becoming champions. Yes, some of those rolls resulted in their demise. Sometimes the odds are stacked against you, and you will fail. However, as long as there are dice and hands to roll them, you will always have a chance.
The minute we stop rolling is the minute our story ends, frozen in time, locked in the shadow of a titan that is little more than a sun dial. Ico-Ico feels like the patron saint of hindsight not to remind us of the events of the past, but to reassure us that time will continue to afford us new opportunity just as it always has.