Realizing stuff

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2016 has probably been the most mentally and emotionally taxing year of my relatively short life.

It’s been the year of seeing staples of the Berkeley experience such as the Pacific Cookie Company go away, seeing hate bubble up and divide this country and watching some of the most important people in my life go.

At times, I’ve felt a despair so deep and all-consuming that it was all I could think to identify myself by. Not so much true for the cookies — although it is an absolute tragedy that we can’t look forward to free cookies anymore — but definitely for the other things.

For one, it was hurtful to see my friends and so much of the rest of the world break down over the results of this year’s presidential election. The democratic election of a president shouldn’t throw anyone into pits of fear and anxiety, but this year’s unfortunately did.

And for justified reasons. The head of the United States ran a campaign that was based on spewing hate and marginalizing huge proportions of this nation. In turn, the formerly more silent side of America has taken the results of this election as an indication to be more open about its prejudices. For instance, mosques have gotten hate letters that blatantly call for the genocide of Muslims, citing Donald Trump’s presidency as justification for such claims.

I go to UC Berkeley — the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement — so I’m all for free speech. But free speech needs to be productive and respectful. Being hateful, through both actions and words, gets us nowhere.

On top of the results of this year’s election and the consequent hate that sprang from it, there was also the protest at Standing Rock over the Dakota Access Pipeline. A group of people who have been historically shunted to the sidelines for the sake of the “American Dream” had to, yet again, fight against material greed for their right to clean water in their area.

My heart broke for the nation and the world.

I also dealt with a personal shitstorm that had me stuck in a rut for months. People whom I had once trusted wholeheartedly hurt me and essentially left my life. These things led to others until I was a mess, convinced that all the issues I had been dealing with were made up in my head and my fault, that all of my friends and family were exasperated with me (which they weren’t, bless them).

There were times I thought 2016 would be it. Not an “it” made up of unbridled exhilaration and curiosity that I entered this year so hopefully with, but an “it” I can describe only as a heavy emptiness or an empty heaviness.

I suppose this latter “it” has always been there somewhere, first as an ethereal thing that floated around in the forefront of my mind for 18 years. “It” was then swept behind the curtain of excitement that new experiences and people hastily constructed for me within the short timespan of freshman year. During the second half of 2016, “it” solidified into a hollow weight that came back to center stage, and I finally had to address and work to live with “it.”

Frankly, the latter “it” was hell. But in a weird, clichéd way, “it” has also made 2016 a hell of a time and place.

As Kylie Jenner aptly put it, 2016 was the year of “like, realizing things.” And sure, I’ve “realized” that life isn’t always that great, but I’ve also “realized” that those lows have allowed the highs to stand out all the more.

We might have a bigoted misogynist for a president-elect. We might have seen innocent people get hurt for standing up for their rights. But the people who don’t support such hate have become more vocal about their experiences — allowing for more visible, unified communities of accepting people.

And I’ve learned who and what to let go of and hold on to.

I sound like every clickbait article on Facebook, but it’s true. The people who want to leave should and will. And the people worth hanging on to will stick around, even when you don’t think you want them to.

See, I have this tendency to try to hold on to everyone who walks into my life, because I think all the people I know are unique and good and lovely. But time, distance, whatever make it hard for people to stay. And some people just shouldn’t stay. The biggest takeaway from this year probably was learning that people can be good — just not good for you. And it’s totally sad, and I hate it, but that’s just how it goes.

And then there are the people who support you regardless of how many tantrums you throw. They’re the soothing presences who stick close to you through your highs, and even closer during your lows. These are the people who make you want to be a better person, even when you want to wallow in your misery and tears. And these are the people who made 2016 worth going through, even after everything happened.

On both societal and personal levels, it’s been a whirlwind of a year. So to everyone and everything — the bad and the good, those who didn’t stay and those who did — I just want to say, “Help,” “Goodbye,” “I love you” and “Thank you.” In one way or another, you all made this year memorable.

Contact Ericka Shin at [email protected].

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