2018 reflection: lessons from the leaves

Lauren Arnold
12 min readJan 2, 2019


It’s that time of year again. The time where I (try my very best to) reflect on the year — the good memories and the ones that still bring back a residual ache when I try to confront them.

For as long as I can remember, eight has been my favourite number. That, and the fact that I truly resent purple — the royal, gaudy, pretentious, unnatural kind. Those two simple, yet polarized, thoughts — that I hated the colour purple and deeply adored the number eight — began to define me. Weirdly, I still take purple as a bad sign and eight as a good one. But maybe I should broaden my thinking because this one guy had multiple 8's in his phone number and ended up being pretty awful, and some of my favourite humans adore purple, even the royal shade.

Anyways, all of this is to say that I had high hopes for 2018, because, yes — perhaps you guessed it — the year has the number eight in it. Shocking, I know. And to be fair, this year was filled with more than a fair share of glorious, or as I prefer to call them, perfect, moments. But there was also more sadness, mostly the inexplicable kind that comes from inside you, the kind that lingers and subtly filters out the sun, than I am used to experiencing. Truthfully though, the universe doesn’t owe me anything. That is to say, this year wasn’t going to be automatically close to perfect because it contained a number that happened to be my favourite.

I learned that sometimes, probably more often than not, you have to make perfect moments. Search for them. Create them yourself. You can’t always wait around for them or begin to expect them. Like I said, I don’t believe the universe owes anyone, anything.

Although I have touched on the concept in previous annual reflections, I suppose I should again define what a perfect moment is. To me, a perfect moment is one where you wouldn’t change one thing in the whole wide world because that moment feels nearly too good to be true, causing a sort of calm yet commanding sense of pure happiness. Mostly these moments are unconventionally perfect, points in time many wouldn’t recognize as being special because they take it for granted or maybe have different priorities. Sometimes these moments fall into my lap, completely out of my control. But most of the time, they happen because I indulge in the moment or take the steps to put myself in that space at that time.

A perfect moment.

This can be as simple as lingering outside during a perfect snowfall, when the snowflakes are slow and gentle and fluffy as ****. Or putting down my cellphone to really look at the colours that comprise a sunset and think about how I could recreate that sky with paint and my fingertips.

For example, this was a perfect moment I wrote about on May 16:

Walking to night class on Wednesday when the sun is shining after a glass of rosé, listening to “one thing” by finger eleven after a lonely day, and you feel whole again.

I am so lucky to have experienced these moments, made special by people and places and perfect timing, or a combination of all three. Not to say that it’s all been elation and perfection — because that’s untrue — but that it has been an incredible myriad of emotions. An unpredictable dream of deep indigos alongside soft sunset oranges.

Something can be both heartbreaking and exceptional. I can’t regret the hardest of times because I wrote beautiful sentences to describe them afterwards, or because the experience served to help make me the human I am. For example, a previous year taught me what it meant to give yourself completely to someone, and then relearn how to breathe when you’re a tiny bit broken.

This year, I went through a few weeks (or months) where I felt distant, more than a little lost, and just empty. It sounds terribly corny, but it felt like I lost that spark that made me Lauren, the part of me that smiled all the way to campus for truly no good reason other than how in love I was with the people and buildings and feeling that was McMaster, the part of me that made it a priority to go out of my way to make those around me feel loved and seen and appreciated. I didn’t have the energy to do a lot of things; I fell back into my bad eating (or lack of eating) habits and I couldn’t find the moments of magic anymore. I didn’t really feel sad, but I definitely wasn’t happy. I remember thinking that I couldn’t really feel anything. It was a state (of what I described so eloquently as meh) I thought I couldn’t shake. But I did, eventually, and am very happy to say that I am starting 2019 feeling like myself again. Having experienced those months have filled me with a renewed appreciation for the moments and days and the feelings that come along with living while feeling like myself.

I’m thankful for the moments where my heart flutters and lurches and drops and soars. I’m thankful for feeling safe and at peace. I’m even thankful for the moments where I feel empty and lost and hopeless because it makes the moments where I’m sure of myself ones I’m able to be grateful for.

Also, in my annual recap, I tend to write about new lessons and experiences that differentiated the year from others. This means that I don’t write about the people and things that are a more constant fixture in my life, the friends and family (and my dog) that have supported and loved me for months or years. This in part stems from the fact that I can never thank them enough. But I hope if you are a friend or part of my family (or both), you know how much you mean to me. I see you and appreciate you and hope I can bring a sliver of the happiness to your life that you bring to mine.

My apologies that this letter is rather jumbled. I suppose all of that was a rather lengthy prelude to what comes next — eight things that happened in 2018:

  1. I went to Portugal with my mom on Valentines day! Talk about looove. We stayed with relatives who had rented out a gorgeous villa during the off-season and were generous enough to let us stay with them. I got to experience the tilted, cobblestone streets of Lisbon again and see corners of the country I hadn’t before. The Algarve, a vision of rock formations, water, and beaches, was virtually deserted at that time of year and I felt damn lucky to have experienced that beauty without the crowds the summer heat draws annually. We did this wild boat tour in and around the caves, and I swear I had never felt more alive. I had an ear-to-ear grin the whole time despite (or perhaps due to) feeling like I was going to fall overboard. That trip taught me: 1. If you are kind, the Portuguese will treat you like family (pretty much immediately); 2. The best expectations are no expectations; 3. It is important to see and feel and live as much as possible in this life while you can. Oh and, I also learned that I could successfully navigate the winding streets of Lisbon with a map and a terrible sense of direction (I ended up getting home safe and sound despite having adventured to the other end of the city with a dead phone, but hey at least I didn’t feel the effects of the viral sickness I had received until I got home! Being violently ill, alone, and lost would have really been not so good, so thank you dearly, body, for keeping it together until I got back to the Airbnb).
  2. The concerts that I attended reminded me of the power behind live music and the art that happens when someone bares their soul on stage. Lorde left me in awe and with a commitment to be more confident and appreciative of what makes me, me. Here’s what I wrote after the concert: “I’ve been having a hard time being present lately. Truly present, in the moment. Feeling the moment and appreciating it, whatever it may be. Last night at Lorde was different. I felt every note and all the emotions and I was so alive and comfortable in my own skin and nineteen. I felt life in its myriad of emotions and feelings and it was a kaleidoscope dream. Lorde was so genuine and incredible because she was unapologetically herself. I need to be fine with being tall. Let loose. Stop being so stiff. Because I have this one shot at it, and I can’t waste time being concerned with creating an image that’s anything but honest and me.”
  3. I raised bunnies with my sister (who started school at McMaster this year, who I am endlessly proud of always). They taught me how to appreciate the little things. Like when one accepted a little of the formula I’d made on the first night, giving me a slight glimmer of hope that they’d be okay. Or when the lot of them polished off the clovers I gave them at record speed, when they started getting strong enough to jump out of their temporary home, when I had successfully fed all six by myself (and realized I had never truly multitasked until then, with one hand holding a little feisty ball of fluff, one hand feeding it, one foot on one box while another foot nudged each bunny back down when they nearly popped over the edge). I felt as if the universe placed them in my path because I had to learn how to slow down and take in the small victories, as seemingly insignificant as they may be. And I’m so grateful for that. Although by no means am I advocating on kidnapping baby bunnies that have a mother (and if you find ones that are actually abandoned, a humane society or wildlife rehabilitation centre is definitely the best choice — raising newborn bunnies is actually a part-time job. But if taking on that job is the only option and you’re willing to, please feel free to reach out to me for more information, recognizing that I am no expert).
  4. I took time to paint this summer (canvases, not walls). The goal was to take a few months to do a few of the pieces friends and family had asked of me. So, along with two months of summer school, I worked for myself and spent hours on hours being creative (and getting paid for it — what a wild concept). Having no set deadlines and depending on myself for an (unsteady) income was intimidating and harder to navigate than I thought — but it challenged me and fulfilled me like nothing else can. May and June were more school than painting though, and I started to lose the spark I talked about earlier. It was kind of ironic, I guess, because I was doing what I love most in the world — utilizing my artistic mind and exploring the passion that defines me — yet I was starting to feel more distant and lonely and meh (for lack of a better word) with each passing day. I wouldn’t interact with people most days, and would end up calling my mom around 5PM before class once I realized I hadn’t spoke one word out loud. But I pushed myself to make plans with friends, surrounded myself with a family of plants, and bought a fish. His name is Kiwi and if you’re wondering, he is doing quite well.
  5. Then Italy happened. I wish I could do those 24 days justice with words, but I don’t think I’m capable. My knowledge of the English language suddenly feels limited when I attempt to describe the people and customs and scenery and food contained within the Italian borders. Let me put it this way: if I could travel to another country for the rest of my life, I’d choose Italy and not be disappointed for one second. I did a two week course on Italian culture and got a credit for it (yes, you heard me right). The academic part wasn’t exactly challenging, but it was incredibly interesting to learn about ~Italy~ in a different post-secondary institution from a dozen professors from around the world. And I met some incredible humans (you know who you are) that called me Bambi and made me laugh and live to the fullest. They pushed me to look at the world differently and took a part of me with them when we said our goodbyes. What a magical thing it is, to form an unbreakable connection with people, who were previously unfamiliar, in two weeks. Then, my mom and sister joined me and I saw cities that took my breath away (and climbed flights of stairs that did the same), ate pasta that ruined all other pasta for life, and saw water in shades of blue I didn’t think existed outside of photoshop. It was exhilarating and exhausting and just wow (told you I can’t describe it adequately).
  6. Two words: Dermot Kennedy. This is what I wrote on the bus ride home to Hamilton from the concert: “He makes you feel something more. Something you can’t quite put into words. Something tangible and somehow more than a feeling. Even in his quiet poetic moments he was as powerful as he was when he was yelling beautifully — I’ve never seen someone put so much of themselves into a song. I’ve also never seen a crowd as enamoured with the performer. Everyone was melting. The whole damn concert was a perfect moment. He put moments into words and you could feel everything. I can’t quite describe the impact he left, but all I can say is that I left feeling different afterwards. It was life changing, I suppose.”
  7. I had the girls trip of my wildest dreams with my best friend, Zoë (who will see this because she is probably the biggest supporter of my writing, so you have her to blame for this lengthy and excessive recap of 2018). I learned that the French are fearless in their fashion choices and unapologetically themselves. Rather than seeing Parisians as rude, I saw them as genuine; there are no unnecessary apologies and also no words masked with false kindness, making the warm smiles and greetings special because there isn’t a custom of faking it. Also, Paris is so, so much more than hitting all the top tourist attractions. Don’t get me wrong, they are attractions for a reason — the Louvre is magnetic and the architecture of the other postcard-worthy buildings (and those lesser known, of course) is downright astounding. But Paris is also about getting lost in the side streets, sitting for a latte instead of taking it to go, and marvelling (respectfully) at the perfectly messy but put-together in the most handsome of ways Parisians appear to be. Also, as much as Paris being the city of love is perhaps stereotypical, it is rather fitting, and seeing small (and big) affirmations of love was refreshing and gave me hope. After a few days, I felt like I finally was beginning to comprehend the significance of traveling. Maybe it was the culmination of my previous travel experiences, but a sort of realization hit me when I was in Nice, eating pizza so delectable I had to close my eyes with each bite, eat it 3 nights in a row, and moan out loud in a jam-packed restaurant. We were sitting next to two guys in their mid 20s — one was from Italy and the other from Belgium — and we talked to them for probably two hours about instantaneous connections and European vs. North American hookup culture and my sad excuse for a love life. And I understood that moments like those were everything. Life chats with strangers who suddenly feel like old friends is one aspect of travelling that makes it an irreplaceable experience. I remember Zoë and I vowing to do everything in our power to make exploring the unfamiliar a priority. Because it’s an everything kind of feeling. However, I recognize that being financially and physically able to seek that feeling is a privilege. That reality is not lost on me, and I understand everyone’s circumstances are different. I try not to take mine for granted.
  8. I fell in love with leaves. Maybe this seems insignificant, and maybe it is. But I don’t remember being so enamoured with the various shades of leaves and quite awestruck with their imperfect perfection. Sight is most definitely a gift in and of itself. But really taking the time and effort to look is something different entirely. During past years, I wasn’t really seeing this particular beauty — I mean, I loved autumn and the colours that signified its presence— but I did not treasure the whole spectacle like I did this year. I would literally (annoyingly) exclaim ‘ohmygod’ out loud on the HSR when the bus passed by a japanese maple that happened to be a shocking, brilliant red on a perfectly cloudy day. Walking to school took 5 minutes longer most days because I couldn’t stop looking at the azure expanse of sky juxtaposed against waves of fiery petals, threatening to leave the branches and dancing in the air when they did. How did I miss all of it before? This applies to the clouds and friends that feel like family or a room you know like the back of your hand. When something becomes well-known or routine it often becomes harder to see its value. My advice is to make the occasional effort to search for the beauty in simplicity and familiarity. You might be surprised.

That is all for now. Please let me know if you enjoyed this word vomit! I’m looking forward to creating (and living) a year worth writing about.

‘Till next year,

L xx