In a year that felt like months of upheaval, formed in part by cumulative hours spent sobbing in cafe’s and staring into space on park benches, shouting at the tv, or standing open-mouthed while the world imploded. Maybe it was just a few days that backed into weeks without sunshine, but it overwhelmingly felt like we just got through a year of darkness. Yes, that would be a more accurate description of the geopolitical times of 2017 – raw, emotionally charged and dividing. Almost when we’d collectively bowed our heads and given up on humanity, a strange new story circulated on the morning on Friday 17th November, about a 14-year-old girl, dying of an aggressive incurable cancer, fought nail and tooth in a landmark case for the high court to cryogenically freeze her body after death. She died just days after finding out she had the go ahead to do the procedure.
I can’t explain why this shook me to the very core. My instinct is that the girl, a young teenager with a more real and lived experience of life and death than many of us will ever know. Her decision, as traumatic an it was for her loving family, acted like a beacon holding out faith that we could progress as a human race. Through science and technology cures could be found, methods invented to wake her body decades later and given a second chance, free from cancer. This optimism in human evolution is something we rarely hear about – but we all must remember what it is like to be young, and full of hope and dreams, to be so forward-looking and fearless. This is a rare golden thing and a sharp reminder of how easy it is to forget the big picture when all around looks like it’s falling apart and yet we hold on to unsteady ground.
Of course, media outrage erred on the side of the concerned father, who had initially disagreed with her wishes fearing that she would one day ‘wake up alone, with no family’ this as a parents instinct to protect and nurture is natural. Yet, our fears about advancing technology and science are mostly unfounded – it is more likely that the girl’s body remains frozen for decades before science can come close to being able to resurrect the tissues and cells that make up a human. Nevermind the frankenstein future race of cryogenically frozen relics from the 21st century and beyond. It’s precisely this that makes her bravery beautiful; taking the risk of a future that isn’t yet formed, forgoing the worries about how one could recover from a procedure not even yet designed, the trauma of waking up in another world, a future – where we are heading now is unimaginable; but to come to a time when cancer can be zapped from our bodies and cured, one hopes that this isn’t too far away.
That girl’s story has just begun. She takes her steps on a new path – bringing with her 21st century teenage optimism, the mysteries of being born a millennial, a focus on digital connectivity, the image as identity and the experience of the unlimited social connectivity of the world – she sleeps her way into this future. I for one may be alone in thinking she is a pioneer, a future leader – she’s a hero for these dark days – unrelentingly focussed on what could be, the magic unknown, the leap of faith, looking forward instead of inward to the dark, fogging up our eyes and making us all blind.
I want this new year to matter. Not because I’ll notice and absorb more externally, precisely the opposite. I may retreat into silence to reflect, rage with renewed focus. This year is more evolution than resolution, no more sleepwalking and daydreaming away the hours. It all matters in equal measure – precious as this life is – it has no value if precious seconds fall into days without notice or action if you fail to be present – breathe in the difference, inhale the reflection – dive in, get uncomfortable – whatever happens don’t tread water. Dive right into the story unfolding now before your tired eyes. Be here, be alive, contribute and most of all, bear witness.