Today is the last day of the year 2011. In a sense, this doesn't matter much at all as a simply quirky day of an arbitrary calendar. But for we mortals, the calendar gives rhythm to our lives and helps us understand this odd temporal bubble in which we find ourselves.
I'm musing on everything that's happened this year and how I'm different from the girl I was this time last year.
In January, I broke up with the man I really, truly, completely wanted to spend the rest of my life with. If you haven't done that, I don't recommend it. It gets really old to watch your friends get engaged and to hear platitudes from older married folks, and think, "When you found the person you wanted to spend every single day with for the rest of your life, you married him."
I was a complete mess. I also went to Nebraska for a math conference, where I was a very cold complete mess.
In February, I got the lowest test grade I'd ever received in my life. That was okay; everyone else did, too. But this threw my medical school acceptance into jeopardy, and so for the next few months, all in the entire world that I wanted was to pass that class.
In March, my last Lent as a non-Catholic started. I spent as much time as I could reading and studying, partly out of curiosity and partly out of obsession. What can I say? Converts are weird like that.
In April, I actually did become Catholic, and it was one of the best nights of my entire life. At this point, life begins to get better imperceptibly slowly for me. I credit the Eucharist.
In May, I passed that class by the grace of God. My grandmother, who was a female mathematician and computer scientist in the 1960's, met my favorite math professor, who was the same thing except a professor instead. I rode home from graduation in an old Porsche driven by someone who knows how. This was one of the high points of the year.
In June, I flew sixteen hours to Kenya and spent two weeks seeing things that still blow my mind, like elephantiasis, polio, and thyroglossal duct cysts. I saw giraffes at dusk. I snorkeled in the Indian Ocean and saw an octopus hiding in his den. I drank chai and ate chapatis and rode in safari vans driving on the left side of the road. I saw crocodiles being fed and watched a tiny premature baby learn how to nurse from his fifteen-year-old mother. I gave injections and drained hydroceles and listened to the heartbeat of a baby in the womb. This was another of the high points of the year.
In July, I spent two weeks wandering around Europe alone. This was a series of lots of high points of the year. I saw London, the ancient and new city that is the beloved gem of all England. I saw the great David Tennant in the theatre and got his autograph. I saw the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. I adored London.
I saw the shores of France where the D-Day troops landed and walked through the castle of William the Conqueror. I prayed a Rosary in Lourdes and brought back water from the spring that rose up there, as well as strolling through the beautiful town in the Pyrenees mountains where people spoke French and Spanish, but little English. I rode trains through the south of France and stood in the Mediterranean Sea and watched the tide come in on the coast of Nice. I took in the glories of the Italian countryside, each tiny village becoming the one I wanted to retire to someday, imagining watering the mounds of colorful flowers and herbs in the windowboxes and putting out bright white shirts to dry in the generous sun.
And then there was Rome.
I rode a train into the city of Rome, a city so used to being the center of the entire world that it's become part of the zeitgeist. I saw the ruins of the ancient marketplace and photographed cats sleeping in the sun on the steps of the forum where Julius Caesar was killed. I went to Mass in the oldest church in Rome (and therefore in one of the oldest churches in the history of Christianity). I ate way too much pasta and drank red wine with every meal and learned how to make the most wonderful pasta recipe I've ever had.
I stood in line with an old Italian woman at 4:30 in the morning in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. We waited together, exchanging broken Italian and Spanish and English, then sat together during a beautiful Mass in St. Peter's Basilica celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI. I discovered that he looks like an adorable old man in person, and that the creepy photos you sometimes see are because he's not terribly photogenic, not because he actually is creepy. I stood under the Colosseum and cried for the blood spilled there. I went to Mass in Notre Dame in Paris and heard the beautiful liturgy in a beautiful language. Back in England, I hiked up to Dover Castle and saw the French coast across the English Channel. I flew across the Atlantic Ocean, twice.
In August, I moved to Houston, Texas and started medical school. It hit me like a battleship to the face. I had never encountered any challenge so difficult in my entire life. In August, I met my best friend in medical school.
In September, first exams, first block week, first block party.
In October, Block 2 (of three) hit, and I was even less prepared than I was for block 1. Block 2 was my worst block.
In November, I went home for Thanksgiving and realized how completely my day-to-day life had changed. Thank you, medical school. Also, Advent started, and we began using the new Roman Missal translation.
In December, I took block 3 exams and finals back-to-back: nine exams in two weeks. Spoiler alert: I passed, by the grace of God.
Now here I am, wondering about the upcoming year. When I think back over my college career, I tend to recall individual semesters and wince at how difficult they were. I don't remember a positive semester since freshman year. But I remember individual good things happening. And more than that, I remember the grace. Even before I knew what I was asking for, the grace to handle the situation was always there when I asked for it. Even when I didn't ask for it.
So here's to the really bad years that make you beg for the grace. Here's to not being where you thought you would. Here's to the semesters that contribute to holiness, not to happiness. Here's to the life that ebbs and flows and sometimes is not fair. Here's to the God who gives all the grace. Thank You, as always.