If you don't know me already, my name is Ashley Susan Arleca Harris, and I have been a devoted and frequent wearer of the rose colored glasses.
I like the way they make things look. I like the way they blur and distort and bring longing and nostalgia to the forefront. Wearing the glasses, I have had the tendency to romanticize things, remembering them in a softer light than the brighter sharper one that surrounded them in real time. Not with 2015, though. I would like to think that in the best possible way, you, 2015, pummeled those rose colored glasses to bits.
It's a trendy thing these days, to have a "word of the year" that acts as your mantra, your battle cry of sorts. For 2015 I decided early on that "BRAVE" would be my driving force for the year. You, 2015, were to be the year of leaning in, of saying yes, of busting up my comfort zone, and of making and taking strong offers.
Right now, I'm sitting in a fuzzy green armchair, halfheartedly watching the Clemson/OSU game, drinking a Coors Light, and realizing that you, 2015, were without a doubt, my hardest, most genuine, and most vulnerable year yet.
2015, I sure did learn a lot from you. Did you see me do brave things? Hell yes you did. You taught me that if I am not growing and changing, then I am not living. You saw me travel out west to Colorado to spend 16 days riding ATVs and primitive camping. I showered three times in two weeks, I peed in the woods, I inhaled lungful after lungful of dry, dusty air. And to my greatest and best surprise, I had the time of my life. Something that I thought would make me absolutely miserable, made me live. You saw me slowly (way too slowly) realize that the boy that I could listen to talk about anything and nothing for hours on end, the boy that I thought I might could love -- that I would never be the one to make him happy. That we wanted different things out of these lifetimes of ours. So you saw me gracefully fade away and cheer him on from a distance.
You saw me pack up my little grey station wagon and move myself down to the sea-soaked, sun-drenched Charleston peninsula. I knew next to no one, I signed my own name to a lease on a little yellow condo, I pay my own bills, and figure out what "adulthood" means one decision, one failure, and one triumph at a time.
You saw me realize a dream, when I stood up and shared my story candidly with a room full of people, recognizing my passion and willing it to continue for years on down the road. You allowed me to meet the worlds greatest photographer, who made me feel like a model, and made me realize that beauty belongs to me too. You affirmed that my life is meant to be spent advocating for those of us who are different and unconventional.
2015, you also knocked me to my knees. You saw me move away from anyone and anything that I had ever known, all in the name of independence and chasing big city dreams. You made me learn my way around every single letter in the word "loneliness." You made the word "depression," for the first time ever, a heavy question on my mind. You made "anxiety," for the first time ever, someone who snuck up on me when I least expected it and moved in as a constant companion. You were dark days on autopilot, barely dragging one leg in front of the other.
You gave me opportunity to pull God out of the shoebox underneath my bed and sit with him in a valley. He used 2015 to break me down in to tiny pieces that he will slowly refine and rebuild. Thank you for thrusting me in the refining fire. Thank you for teaching me that I am stronger that I ever thought. And capable of living in a braver and more honest way that I ever knew I could.
2015, you were also so beautiful. You brought me beautiful new people to love. Mary Scott, Heather, Katelyn, Xanna, HB, Hugo, Patty, Dale, Kelli, Cambren, DeAnna, Jordan, Anna, if you're reading this, it's all you. I wrote a blog post telling anyone in the world that I would write them a love letter if they wanted one. What a joy. That one little post changed my life. Through that experience, I have reveled in the glory of humanity, met my soul sister Hannah, and have been connected to some of my greatest friends.
You showed me that my support system, those people who stand in my corner day after day, will never ever falter. They will dance with me on the happy days, and cry with me on the sad ones. Mom, Dad, Buddy, Mimi, Pappy, Meredith, Lisa, Anna, Mary, little Hannie, Rachael, Jake, Allyson, KK, Hannah, Nancy, Faith, Sarah, thank all of you for loving me so well and for carrying me on the days when I can't even carry myself. And as a pleasant surprise, you also brought me, out of the blue, an old friend. Someone I care about more and more all the time. Someone that I wouldn't mind traveling the world with. Someone with a voice that I love listening to and a smile that is unmatched. Someone that I hope to never stop getting to know.
2015, you taught me more about the world, more about humanity, and more about myself than any year that has ever came before you. You've given my driving anxiety a run for its money, and have turned me into one of those people that drives across the Ravanell and Wando bridges at 70mph like the badass that I am. You have had me learn that ridiculously high expectations for myself will do nothing but cripple me in the end.
You have taught me that that life is too short not to eat good food, and that sometimes, cheap beer is just as good as the expensive stuff. You have shown me that home, and all my people, will have a light on for me when I am ready to come back, whether it is in 8 months or 8 years. You have brought me to my beautiful city so that I can learn to be content with who I am when no one else else is around, so that I can make room for new people to know and love, and so I can know that being alone is nothing to be ashamed of, or to fear. You have taught me a lot about myself, and a lot about who God is. I can never thank you enough for that.
2015, you have shown me the value of showing up for people. And the value of leaning in to His will and His presence. And he value of knowing myself. And that I will never stop trying to leave each day soaked with honesty, love, intention, vulnerability and with a genuine spirit - there is no substitute for that. And that living 5 minutes from the beach is basically the best thing ever. You have taught me more than anything else, that even if this "right now" is nothing like I thought it would be, that it is all that it should be. That this "right now" is the best and only thing I've got. Thank you for shattering my rose colored glasses. I owe you one.
Honestly, I didn't always want to write you a love letter. You were hard. But more than that, you were growth - and that's something worth writing about.
2015, you have been one hell of a ride. I'm glad I went along.
If you see 2016 around, let it know I'm excited for it's arrival. I'm ready. It's going to be a good one, I can feel it in my bones.