Looking Back on 33


Yesterday having been my birthday and all, a friend asked me if I ever do some sort of written 'end-of-another-year' wrap-up for myself… to help me gain some more self-perspective as I turn another year older. (I'm now 34.)

If I remember correctly, I responded something like, 'Oh, yeah, like I'm going to write even more words, after I'm done writing all day for work…'

…before it dawned on me that I might post some such thoughts on here, like I suggested I might during my recent confessional / bitch-session.

Since my last birthday, I've deepened as a person. And by that, I mean to say: I've confronted sobering realities about life that stopped me dead in my tracks, so I'd reconsider some of the more hopelessly optimistic beliefs I've held about the world… though not necessarily to be replaced by the commoner-by-far world-wearied cynicism that permeates our contemporary society.

Sure, we can always find the perennial 'silver lining' in our most difficult experiences, confident (somewhere beneath the agony) that 'everything happens for a reason'… and valiantly point out to old friends, therapists, or anyone who'd dare engage us in the encapsulating exercise of making meaning from our lives how we have no regrets, wouldn't change a thing, and those darkest periods made us these people we're proud to be.

But as I've discovered from having my bubble of blessings shaken up (if not exactly 'popped', since I'd still consider myself extremely blessed), this spiritually evolutionary outlook—and how very grand (and self-important) even such a label sounds—doesn't serve all of us all the time. In fact, we're lucky if we ever steal more than a few fleeting moments of such distance and 'higher' perspective.

How could we dream of laying down this sugary icing of an upbeat spin upon, say, the happily married mother of a precious 2-year-old daughter who, right when she's ready to try for her second child, discovers her husband has been diagnosed with incurable leukemia in his mid-30s? As the nearly-actualized fantasy of her 'perfect' life comes crumbling down, and as she sobs in her best friend's arms, do you think she wants to hear that it's all going to be okay—when, for the foreseeable future, it's decidedly not okay? No, neither do I.

Often, when we face the mortal fallibility of these throwaway human bodies, we must also confront our secret (and wholly 'inappropriate', eh?) responses to such feelings—how will your tragedies affect me? See, when we peel away the perfunctory I'm-sorrys and whatever-you-need-just-ask-mes of our public reactions, we find another, more graceless layer underneath: 'Damn, I'm glad it's not me. Damn, it's annoying that, in order to be your friend, I have to deal with months or years of this heavy mood of yours, putting the damper on my fun. And damn, I almost wish the worst would just happen already, so things'll move along and I can get on with my life.' But ssshhh! Don't tell 'em I said that.

Even the sincerest efforts at generosity may become tinged, if not totally infected, by our own narcissistic need to maintain appearances. When I hear of another ill-health diagnosis, do I attempt to ford that burned bridge so I might reach his side just in the nick of time to offer unsolicited suggestions, solace, salvation? Suddenly, just because I catch wind of the bad news, I strive to be your savior all over again? I must check my 'good intentions' at the door: Do I want to help you, or do I merely want to seem kind and compassionate, going through motions so that, on your eventual death-bed (next year or several decades from now), you'll remember what a kind and compassionate guy I was… and finally forgive my other transgressions?

It doesn't take somebody getting sick or dying to activate these shadowy truths. A debilitating romantic heartbreak, a deep familial rift, or some up-close-and-personal money or power nastiness will get us there, too. But what we may learn about ourselves—perhaps more valuable than any other lesson that pain offers—is our tender humanness.

Maybe that doesn't seem so profound?

Put another way: It is immensely humbling that, no matter who we are or what we accomplish, how hot our partner or how brilliant our children, how slim our waistline or how fat our pocketbook, we all face these same problems. We will get sick, and we will die. We will confront things we'd rather not. We will feel feelings that make us fear ourselves, others, and even that burdensome fact we must keep on keepin' on… at least until time's up.

As an astrologer, I face the real danger of fooling others—and, of course, myself—into believing I hold answers. I've never really bought into that self-aggrandizing guru shtick (at least not in my astrology practice), but after this past year, I'm more certain than ever that my insight hardly 'answers' anything. What would I have told the leukemia patient, anyway, about his condition, armed with nothing more than his natal chart and a transit report? Would I have seen it coming? Would that have helped or hurt? I will never know: I'd been long overdue to give him a chart reading, but, for whatever reason, I'd kept putting it off for over two years. Perhaps I'd known something… but not because of the planets' positions.

In response to some of life's cruelest challenges, we usually need offer nothing more than (1) an open, understanding ear and (2) an affirming presence, to give the pained individual the permission to feel however he/she organically may. No astrological wisdom can change that.

I used to worry about what I'd say to clients facing such near-insurmountable difficulties… how I could 'spin' the planetary messages to offer profound hope. Now I simply do my best to show all the way up (prepared with chart details, of course) and see what happens, honoring that the magic of our exchange will do its thing, if I give it a chance. Interestingly, I find I've drawn more clients with more serious problems over this past year.