(I thought I had published this one. Or maybe I forgot I wrote it [believe the second thing]. Although COVID-19 has completely reshaped what we thought 2020 was going to be, perhaps this is still worth sharing).
It is New Year’s Eve 2019. Steve and I are in one of our favorite places: a good friend’s condo near the beach. We did this last year, too, and I think it will be an annual tradition if possible; having made it through the holidays, we escape to breathe, lick our wounds just a little, and rest up before Tax Season carries us off.
Like most of humanity today, I’m reflecting a bit on the year just about to exit, the side door soon to click shut behind it just as 2020 waltzes in the front, full of promise and possibility (3/31/20 note: wow…but I know a bunch of others who felt this way. And maybe this is still true, somehow). I’m not one to make resolutions because I hate failing, and I am pretty bad at predicting the future; instead, I like to try and think of what I have learned and write it down, lest I forget (and I usually do forget anyhow, because that’s how I roll #middleage). Perhaps there is something here for you, too.
- Make time, as often as possible, for whatever brings you peace in your soul, helps you feel closer to God, brings you JOY. Nature just…heals. Beauty, big beauty, heals. And those moments do sustain you in the long-term. This is why I go to Sanibel. If I could mandate or prescribe “one hour of doing nothing but sitting in the sun watching animals do animal things” to the world, we might all be better off (look at the popularity of animal videos on Facebook and YouTube! I know I am right!). Steve and I were highly amused today as we watched a resident swan, who believes himself King of his little pond, pouf himself into a monstrous-yet-still-elegant feathered badass in order to scare off transient Canadian Geese (who just said “eh!”). It was marvelous. Every dog that walked by with its owner was so completely, goofily happy to be at the shore you could not help but grin, too. I also, personally, think time spent with small children is like a joy-shot, straight to the heart. Everything else falls away in those moments. YouTube is full of awesome baby-laugh videos if you don’t have kids in your life.
- If your thoughts are like a runaway train, there will be a wreck — unless you GET OFF THAT TRACK (sorry for shouting, it’s just super important). This is very hard for me (more tattoo ideas have surfaced, like: STOP. IT.). Maybe it’s negativity or a feeling of deep insecurity you battle. I have an accusatory voice in my head that keeps me feeling unforgiven. It’s the nature of free will: we will make mistakes, some of them terrible, or do terrible things. AND: there is trust, hope, love, faith…there is God still working miracles in willing hearts…there is growing/learning/carrying forward/apologizing. Those are the Next Right Things, not staying stuck. And while it is super-helpful to have something to do that will help you get your mind out of its ruts, it’s more important to learn to discipline your thoughts.
- Try not to overschedule. This is also hard. I tend to fill my days to the brim and I have plenty to do, between working with Steve, overseeing my MIL’s care, other projects/volunteering, cooking/feeding us and our cat, etc. I guess my lifetime habit of staying busy (since I didn’t have what I call a “J-O-B Job” — that full-time paying career that most of my peers have had) was not just about what I did but how it made me feel (purposeful, useful). Now, grief has left me a bit more fragile (maybe age, too) and my “range” is necessarily shorter and this forces me to adjust and examine what it means to be human; what is our value, really, beyond innate being? I also still struggle with being at the house by myself for too much, too long — it’s too quiet, and the kids rooms sit waiting for next steps that I’m not ready yet to take. So I do still try to go fast, to pack my days. I get going and gallop, gallop, gallop…until I get to the end of the invisible leash I now wear and then: yank. Sometimes I get sick; sometimes my heart starts to act up (literally); mostly I just get super-tired and my mind gets foggy and sputters. Letting myself be/have days where I don’t do much runs completely counter to my upbringing and sense of self-worth/purpose, but my health now depends upon it. (3/31/20 note: YIKES. Those last 7 words). (See #1, #5. Wash, Rinse. Repeat.)
- Stay Present. A friend gave me a necklace a couple of years ago, a simple silver chain from which dangles a rectangular pendant that reads: “Be Here Now.” She is a cancer survivor deeply conscious of the gift of life, and I cannot express how much I love this necklace; “Be Here Now” is just so many layers of prayer. In one of the bajillion books I’ve read in the past years, someone who’d had a near death experience said that in heaven, every moment of time is an endless treasure; one can explore every moment for an eternity. I find this fascinating (and maybe it explains why we can feel our dead ones’ absences more deeply sometimes – maybe as they dive into all the permutations of a moment in time)…and there is the lesson for us as well. All we have is now and the people with whom we travel. Letting go of the past and future is a form of surrender and trust, and in that still space of being…we may finally be met with the beauty that’s been there, but we’ve been missing.
- Get Some Exercise, Get Outside, Breathe the Air, Look at the Sky (this is a drum I’ve already been beating here on this blog…and this incorporates #1. Honestly: these are all one big point, I guess). Be reminded of how big the world is, how big and beautiful creation is, how marvelously and intricately made it all is. Rediscover delight. (3/31/20 note: given that the gyms are shut and exercise is now completely up to us, I’ve been thinking maybe cleaning my house and yard work are #thenewoldworkout).
- Forgive Everything and Everyone. This is hard. Super super hard. It’s only God’s grace that helps us do this. Because the first person to forgive is you, probably. Maybe. The second person (or maybe the first) might be the one or ones who hurt you, disappointed you, “ruined your life.” Maybe you have to forgive God for “letting this happen.” Maybe you have to forgive the person you loved who died. Maybe you have to forgive your parents or your kids or politicians or your neighbor that supports those politicians. I am not advocating for not setting boundaries/not doing the right things in response to injustice, etc. It’s just that I know what anger and resentment and unforgiveness feel like: a boulder on my own back, a knife that I stab myself and others with. And when I think about Jesus’ last words in this life, they were forgiveness:”Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And when I think of all the mistakes I’ve made, and others too, I see the choice often comes from an almost unconscious place; we are unable to know the full impact, the ways what we do here ripples outward. I am also trying to believe that in the letting go, in giving up the illusion of control (3/31/20 note: that illusion may be growing less prevalent for us all), Something Greater is moving.
Postscript: It’s now March 31, 2020, and I really need to go to work (our line of business doesn’t get a break, which I guess is good, although I have a bit of “quarantine envy” when I hear about all sorts of tidying and down-sizing going on…until I remember that I tend to squander a lot of my own free time. *ahem*).
When I re-read what I’ve written, I feel hope, I remember hope (but man, this is too many words for a tattoo). I think maybe this is part of why writers write: to remember, to remind ourselves of the journeys we’ve taken and that the darkness does pass. And so I have to believe, and indeed I see that even in this global crisis we face right now, there is deep mourning now and ahead, as are gifts and silver linings that may last and linger, reshaping our world and humanity for the better.