A roller-coaster 2017

It has been a bad year, but as 2017 draws to a close, some pieces of good news make me feel it may end on a good note after all

By the time it had dragged itself into December, a year which had started under less than ideal circumstances looked in danger of ending the same way.

I know we all said "Good riddance to 2016" but what a year 2017 has been.

I don't even mean the insanity that has roiled the United States, where I live, although that has been a huge factor in my thinking back on the last 12 months with some sadness and a tinge of regret.

Though no one should regret the days one is allotted, bad news seemed to dog the headlines on almost every single one this year.

I've lost count of the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" that took aim one after another.

Real news dismissed as fake and fake news sold as real. White supremacists emboldened. Gun violence unabated and seemingly on a crazed upward trend.


ST ILLUSTRATION: MANNY FRANCISCO

Universal healthcare and environmental policies undermined. Islamaphobia stoked. Gerrymandering and padding of judicial seats with partisan judges.

Even what was sold as good news wasn't, really. To help deliver a triumph at home for President Donald Trump, Congress passed a bill that will benefit corporations and the haves more than it will the have-nots.

By comparison, life in Singapore looked remarkably smooth sailing, MRT disruptions notwithstanding.

Perhaps that's why my trip here in July was one of the year's high points. Removed from the slugfest that we were forced to watch daily, my daughter and I spent an enjoyable month of just being with family.

Going back home, however, meant returning to a state of rage. I vacillated between wanting to scream at politicians in power and itching to shake the half of the country - those denizens of the parallel universe - that stood behind them.

The sight of a middle-aged woman behind the wheel of her car, apparently screaming, became a regular occurrence.

That would be me or one of my friends listening to the news on National Public Radio.

But I'm not referring even to that, when I think back on this year as one which I would redo if I could.

No, it will go down as one in which I might as well have been asleep, for all the growth or progress I achieved on a personal level.

Yes, okay, I went to work every day; yes, I made meals and kept house. Of a fashion. Life went on. But a lot of the time, I was just going through the motions.

Where it mattered, I let things slide. I stopped getting involved in community life. Any creative life I might have had before dwindled to nothing.

This after starting the year with good intentions - a resolution to find the discipline to stick to a daily ritual of self-care in order to be in tip-top form for the storm to come.

Every day, I would read a little, write a little, exercise and meditate. Did I? For the most part, no.

I'll admit, it's not unheard of for me to be slack. Not being Type A, following through on intentions has long been a challenge for me. But this was not my regular, easygoing attitude towards life, content to watch, rather than to do.

Much of the time, I felt exhausted. Where was this malaise coming from?

In the end, I had to acknowledge that it did indeed stem partly from the prevailing political climate.

I was amazed that this could have such an effect on me, until I discovered a number of my peers felt equally dispirited - even debilitated - by the current zeitgeist.

Can a toxic political climate make one depressed? Apparently so.

Nor did it help that our little nest at home has begun to empty. One child went off to college and the other will follow next year.

Without the duties of our children's lives to anchor me, I felt not so much liberated as no good to anyone.

Finally, rounding out the perfect storm, was the great enabler of my desire to escape unpleasant reality. It was easy to bury myself in the ever-expanding avalanche of entertainment on Netflix and other streaming services.

So in a year when making connections was vital, I became quarrelsome and difficult. I let ties wither, or pulled away from those that I found too much of a strain.

When looking outwards was the way to live, I turned inwards.

This feeling that I had lost my way came strongly to me at a recent memorial for a friend.

Dan was a few weeks shy of his 50th birthday, still in the prime of his life, when he died last month after a prolonged illness.

I hadn't known him well, but we had enough friends in common, and our children were schoolmates, that I felt it right we should pay our respects.

Dan had planned the entire service, from start to end. He had chosen the speakers - his older brother and brother-in-law, thereby sparing his wife and parents - and the music and he wrote his own eulogy, which was delivered by a friend.

In that hour, I felt that I got to know him, both from the remembrances of others and his own words, which were in equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking.

In his desire to spare his loved ones as much grief as he could through his message of love, even while he wrestled with his own mortality, Dan's sweetness and generosity of spirit shone through.

It didn't mean he was all right with dying.

"I'm incredibly p***** off," he had written on another occasion. But he also had no regrets about the way he had lived and the love he had demonstrated towards his family and community.

There is nothing like the premature death of a friend - and there have been too many this year - to bring home how precious time is.

Just as how there is nothing like real suffering, of which there was also no shortage this year, to make one count one's blessings.

And yet, the truth is we do struggle sometimes and it is just not possible to live as though every day is one's last.

Still, just when I was convinced the year would finish as badly as it had begun, the second week of December brought some welcome relief.

First came the news that a breakthrough treatment might be around the corner for Huntington's disease, a genetic disorder with a very dismal outcome. I got in touch with a dear friend whose loved ones are carriers of the Huntington gene and therefore destined to suffer the disease.

She was happy about the news, which she was already familiar with, as one of her relatives was in the trial.

The next day, the people of Alabama defied all predictions and voted No to a candidate who was dogged by allegations of sexual misconduct and who would have, in all probability, deepened the divisions already hurting the country.

That reason to cheer was followed a day later by a friend's news that he had received the all-clear for his cancer at his yearly scan.

There still lies before me the question of how to keep an open heart and mind and not succumb to the tendency of life to close up, as one grows older.

But here were hopeful signs that we humans can be our own best friends, if also our own worst enemies.

Maybe, just maybe, the year will end on a good note after all.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 31, 2017, with the headline 'A roller-coaster 2017'. Print Edition | Subscribe