Friday, December 30, 2011

The 2011 Farewell Speech

So imagine this: you turn on your tv to see some kind of swanky year-end awards show being hosted by a distinguished announcer. Let’s call him Mark Harmon.

Mark Harmon: And now, to say some words as 2011 draws to a close, I’d like to introduce a fabulous woman, one with style, panache, and who speaks sarcasm fluently. Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in welcoming to the stage – Danielle Hayes Balentine.

(Danielle, who is having a fashion moment in which she manages to look amazing and who, miraculously, has managed not to spill anything on her dress AND doesn’t have anything in her teeth, holds her breath as she walks to the stage. She somehow doesn’t trip as she walks to the podium, which causes the audience to give her a standing ovation.)

Danielle: You all expected me to fall, didn’t you?

(Audience laughs.)

Danielle: I admit, that with my track record of complete klutziness, I would be expected to fall. Plus, I’m wearing these killer heels – you can’t see them, but they’re quite sparkly and wonderful – so I was a little nervous about walking onto the stage.  But then I realized – so what if I fall? You’d all gasp and I would get back up – or maybe Mark Harmon would have to HELP me up, woohoo (audience laughs) and it would make a great story later, right?

Because that’s what I want to talk about. That’s what I think 2011 was about. Falling. And getting back up, either under your own power or with the help of your friends.

This has, for the most part, been an amazing year.  I don’t want to sound like it hasn’t, because it has – a new nephew, who I adore.  Concerts with some of my best friends. An entire glorious summer of weekends spent at the beach. Moments with my family that I treasure, friends I love to see and laugh with… it doesn’t get much better than that.

And yet.

This has also been a very difficult year for me and for many people I know. There’s been grief and loss and sickness and uncertainty. On a personal note, in August my life took a turn that I was truly blindsided by. Without going into the gory details, let’s say this: one moment, my life – my finances, my career, my stability – were going down one path. In an instant, in the time it takes to exhale? All of that was gone and in its place was only uncertainty and a tremendous sense of betrayal.

However  -- at that moment, as now,  I was surrounded by people who were looking at me to speak, to act, to move forward.  I admit that I was frozen with fear – what would I do? How could I make this work?  If I stepped forward, what would happen if I fell?

But then, like now, I realized: falling is a result of forward motion. If you stand still, you don’t fall – but if you stand still, life and all of the opportunities it brings? They will pass you by.  You need to risk falling in order to get anywhere.  This is true in moments of professional crisis, which is what I was facing, but I truly believe that it is also true in moments of personal crisis as well. That we can be paralyzed by the things we face, or so afraid of falling – and failing – that we refuse to move and, in doing so, miss out on the opportunities in front of us because we simply won’t walk forward towards them.

However, as I began taking those small steps that would lead me to whatever happened next, I also realized this: I wasn’t alone. I had the most tremendous group of people who were walking with me.  If one of us stumbled, the others held out hands to catch and steady. Because of that? We have been able to take an event that was crushing and turn it into something that has triumphed, and that will continue to do so.

I think the lessons of 2011, then, are this: That life is, quite simply, beautiful.  It’s beautiful when it’s decked out all fancy-like in sparkly shoes,  and it’s still lovely when it’s wearing more somber, funeral colours. In fact, it may be more lovely at those moments, because it shows you what you have. It lets you see the hands that will hold you up, and it gives you a chance to put your own hands – and heart – to good use while you support others.

My wish for 2012 is this: that when I fall – and I will, because we all stumble now and again – that it will be with grace. Grace and the memory of the gifts this year has given me – though they came with adversity, I hope they will  continue to serve me well in this New Year and all those that come after it.

And I hope, as always, that those falls will continue to make great stories.

Thank you.

(Mark Harmon leads the audience in another standing ovation.  Music swells, and screen goes to commercial.)

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