Archive for January, 2018


What I Have Learned This Past Year

January 6, 2018

Hello Friends —

Five years ago, while exiting the turnstiles in the Contemporary Art Museum in Lyon, Fatima asked how I liked the exhibit. I asked her if she spoke English. Our walk turned into lunch and lunch turned into a tour of the city. I told Fatima about a new girl I was seeing. She told me about a man that was in love with her. She asked me before we parted how we could have such personal conversations with only knowing each other for an afternoon. I told her it was because we would never see each other again.

This past summer, Fatima and her sister picked us up in her tiny car and we drove through the streets of Lyon. Up into old town. Over to the Cathedral. We saw her apartment in the heart of the city. We visited her art studio. We wandered in and out of Lyon’s secret passages. We took trains and buses and had a great lunch listening to her stories about the year she studied in New York. And as we parted again, I told Fatima that in five years we would see each other again.

Zooming on I-90, on the Bridge, just as the water ends and the Mt. Baker Tunnel begins, traffic slows. Then stops. I look back. I brace for impact. Everyone told me that I shouldn’t have braced for the upcoming collision. But I challenge anyone who gazes back into their rear view mirror and not do the same when they see a car hurtling at top speed at them. The young man’s face held a look of shock as he was coming to the same realization about what was going to happen next. He was taken Harborview and I drove my wrecked Honda home. Five days later, on my birthday, Alex and I bought a new car.

“Catch me,” is what the teacher, from a rival conference, yelled at me from the top of the stage in the dueling piano bar in Chicago. I nodded, though, I did not have much of a choice. She leaned back and lept from the stage horizontally into my arms. The duelists belted out Hit Me Baby One More Time to a full crowd. I caught her. Spun her around. My fellow fundraising conference attendees, whom I had met only a day prior, howled with laughter.

The night ended in Jeff’s hotel room finishing a fifth of Makers and Tanqueray. I find out that Jeff’s parents died when he was a child. That Angela was adopted as a kid. And that David met his wife in the Ugandan airport during his service in Peace Corps. They would end up having one of the last Ugandan adoptions before the federal laws changed. As the night ended, I raised a toast to my new friends. Saying what I said to Fatima years ago, that we were just strangers days before and now we are connected through chance, luck, and circumstance. That we may never see each other again. But I was happy for this moment, this fleeting moment, in my life to happen.

This is my 20th New Year’s Reflection. I remember 20 years ago writing this reflection in the basement of Justin’s house during winter break. I never thought I would still be doing this all of these years later. Alex recently sent me an article from the New York Times. The author finds a note he found in his lecture notes. It said, “The goal of life, for Pascal, is not happiness, peace, or fulfillment, but aliveness.” Pascal, being the 17th-century French philosopher.

When I re-read what I wrote in these reflections over the last 20 years, the moments that stay with me most, are the moments when I feel the most alive. There was the time I almost drowned in the Ohio river. There was a girl that I went out and during our third date, she says, “Nick there is something I should tell you.” She waits a beat and says, “I have a warrant for my arrest.” It was an Irish Car Bomb on my 21st birthday. It was touching the Atlantic Ocean for this first time with Frannie, Megan, and Adam. It was a meringue in my car. Or a late night drink at Smith. It was looking back at the crowd when we got married. Sometimes it happens when you are looking back in your rearview mirror. Or seeing someone again who you never thought you would. Sometimes it is when you are catching a stranger, in a random bar, with people you have only just met.