How do I begin to put the stuff of the past twelve months in a box and tie it up in a big red bow? Just begin. Pluck out a memory and wrap it up. Move on to the next. Handle with care. It’s the perfect day for it, New Year‘s Eve, a day designated for wrapping things up, for reminiscing and resolving; for Auld Lang Syne and kissing strangers; for holding on and letting go. For loose ends. For fireworks.

There was more to 2013 than its last forty-six days; there was a time when we were three instead of two. Like lightning bugs, the memories flash. Ken tapping his feet at a Fleetwood Mac concert this May, marveling at the genius of Lindsey Buckingham, wondering what Lindsey must be on and if he could get his hands on some of it. My fiftieth birthday and the wood floors I’d wanted for two decades in this little house finally installed. Expense be damned, I wanted it to feel like a California beach-house underfoot. Art supplies for Sophie’s summer college class. Binge-watching Breaking Bad in late summer. The three of us watching on my computer screen, an animated film in which a frail yet fervent 83-year old Maurice Sendak gives his final interview, each of us in tears when Sendak tells the interviewer,

Almost certainly I’ll go before you go,so I won’t have to miss you . . . Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.

Ken squeezed my hand at that part. I can almost feel it. I wonder did he feel that Mr. Sendak was speaking for him too? Now tears. But wait. Another memory and a smile. He with a wink, “Are you ready for Tony and the boys?” every night at 8PM when HBO re-aired the entire series of The Sopranos.

And then, unthinkably, big, invincible James Gandolfini was gone. And then Seamus Heaney. And then Lou Reed. Lou Reed. Ken didn’t want to talk about Lou Reed dying.  But, Ken darling, did you forget we cannot have the magic without the loss? Two weeks later, you would be gone too, and if I could have just one more conversation I would tell you it is all going to be alright, because the loss of you, and all the pain of it, will never trump the magic. Never.

Yes. 2013 has been what a friend describes as”a full year.” A year lived fully. A cliche, maybe, but it has been a roller-coaster.

Remembering my first time on The Big Dipper roller-coaster at Barry’s in Portrush, I must close my eyes to better see myself again hurtling through the North Atlantic air. Curls wild in the wind, mouth agape, eyes squeezed to block out light and noise and fear, and me half-hoping to stay aloft forever, because ”coming down is the hardest thing.’’

At the top, breath suspended, I wait for the world to fall out beneath me. A sudden plunge at shocking speed has me convinced I am plummeting to my own death. But not yet. More unpredictable twists and turns await, above and below. White-knuckled, I am clinging to the bar, only half-believing there is enough life in the clickety-clacking, old machinery to set me down again on solid ground.

When it’s all over, I am free to return to the midway, albeit a little green around the gills, unsteady on my feet. As he helps me out of the car, I hope no one but the weather-beaten carnie can tell I am not as confident as once I was.

This New Year’s Eve feels tenuous, and I am settling in somewhere between Tom Petty’s”Learning to Fly” and Robert Frost’s lovely “Birches.”

I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

Neither do I. Nowhere would it go better than a place where I can find myself held up, daily, by the kindness of people who have walked in my shoes, who feel my pain. People who know a thing or two; people I may never meet but who hold me in their thoughts and prayers, who light candles for me in faraway places, who say something even when they know not what to say. For reading, for remarking, for taking a step or two on the hard road with me. Thank you. We are forever bound in a human chain.
May 2014 shimmer for you and yours.