I hadn’t planned on making a New Year’s resolution, but I got one anyway, hand-delivered by an angry stranger on a subway platform. It was after midnight. Champagne fizz settled in my stomach while I awaited the train that would take me to Chicken McNuggets and then home. The night had gone the way of many New Year’s eves prior: old friends and new friends all eating off the same cheese plate — the way it should be.
I remember I started to sweat through my layers in the stuffy, underground air. I remember my friends were silly and drunk with the excitement of a fresh start. And I remember I was laughing at something – I don’t know what – when my eyes fell on a man about 15 yards away. A lifetime of things I still don’t understand happened in those two seconds of eye contact.
He shifted, stood, looked me right in the eye and said, “Bitch, I will stab you.” Cue fear. He picked up his things and moved closer. “Pick your battles,” he spat, as he walked past me and down the platform. We hurried onto the next train.
Pick your battles, he had said. A threat that I accepted, hands shaking. Pick your battles.
He was probably angrier with the world than with me, but his words still rattle in my skull so many months later. Now, standing with two feet in December and looking backwards, it is fitting that 2016 began with violent words and mixed messages.
Every time I felt myself break this year, every time I felt threatened, I remembered what he said. It’s not always clear when to fight and when to forgive, but I tried. I picked my battles. Still, even now: I’m picking. I will continue to do so. I will fight them. They will matter. I will get to decide what matters.
I will eschew anger at airport security lines and I will sharpen my rage for the current state of affairs. I will forgive work annoyances at the job that doesn’t matter to me and I will push all that energy into whatever broken corners of myself are full of art and longing and fear and daydreams.
I will participate in building something for myself and I will pay attention to what the world might throw at me. Because you never know when a good life lesson might threaten to stab you.
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