When All is Said and Done

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It is surprisingly quiet in my world this afternoon, and it creates a mild state of reverie. The dryer stopped tumbling. I ignore it. Marc is on the couch, designing a Sudoku puzzle. Our busy street has emptied itself midday. One of our five children left with her partner to meet/talk/eat/coffee with friends, and in three more days they will journey back to the place where she attends grad school. Two more live in our city; we will see them sooner. Two others and a grandson reside back East, and for a moment I feel the  shape of their absence and want to curl up in it. To have them all here would be a miracle.

I drift and follow one thought-picture to another. The last two weeks are a mental collage of people, places, objects. Mounds of bright wrapping paper and ribbon figure heavily in the picture, and a meticulous gift list to which I referred until the last minute. Bits and pieces of conversation slip in and out of my mind. They are accompanied by a chorus of laughter, eyes closing and opening, hands that wend through the air as though independent messengers of the real story. There have been candles, at least twenty of them, lining up on the coffee table, throwing light from bookshelves, casting a steady glow over several family meals. I think that each child and grandchild is like those candles, aflame with life, softly or boldly. Beautiful fires. In the center of the oak dining table is an angel chime powered by four miniature candles and its sweet dingdingdingding is a background accompaniment to this Christmas imagery.

Christmas Eve and Day 2012 007There were gifts upon gifts; the fir tree presided over such abundance. I admit to a tendency toward extravagance. It has little to do with money and more to do with an intense desire to offer surprises and items of use for both external and internal possibilities. I still want to nourish this family although they move away from me daily as they design and administrate their own lives. I wish to give their children ways to support dreams, stretch the parameters of mind. And encourage opportunities for fun. I think I did alright. No one sneered or let escape a sigh, at least in my presence, which is appreciated in an increasingly uncivil world.

The candlelight service at church replays against the greys of this waning Saturday: songs luminous and familiar reaching the rafters; prayers for the living, those leaving or gone; communion, that mysterious melding of earthy and divine. It was good to  see people gathered, knowing we each harbored complex humanness rife with needs and wants yet came, anyway. There was a moment when members of the choir took places among us, and music enveloped us, entered my blood, connected my spirit with all. Moved us to tears. Then, finally, we took small candles and all those vivid points of light were ignited from person to person, then raised in the wide canopy of darkness.


But here’s the thing: it finally ends, the fanfare and bustle, the gorgeousness of this season. That pause wherein the holy is made more palpable and the contrasting secular is given its due is left behind. It all has a prelude and finale. We take up our workaday posts as family members and friends, workers, students, dreamers and doers. The gifts may or may not figure into anything we start and accomplish. We learn early on when the toy breaks we can’t count on things, and before the new year begins they may be forgotten despite our best intentions.

What we are finally left with is something else. What we snared from the feasting and communing will help define the tone of the coming weeks. The light is fanned and fed or allowed to fade. Perhaps even the angels breathe quietly and wait and watch.

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There are few days between this old year and the new one we try to envision. As they pass, my home will be emptied of the once-gallant tree. Trimmings will be hauled to the basement. My children will have again departed. I will have more work to do, projects to consider, worries to corral as will we all. And yet I will sit in the middle of each new day and night, and I will surrender to them, and to this, an essential solitude. There is reassurance in this. In the end, when all the trappings are gone, I have my own self within these moments. And even though I keep intimate company with a failed will, flaws and errors, I am still at home with the truth of who I am. And with God, in the most pedestrian ways. What I make of things remains up to me as I sort through odds and ends.

Let this year, this time pass, and come what may, let the living continue with expectant gratitude, a savory dash of merriment. Let us be captivated, made more present. Alive.

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As Before, So Ahead

As Before, So Ahead

Yesterday I went to a trendy hair salon. I had imagined that there would be women and men lined up for refreshed or fancy hairstyles, as this week-end is New Years’ Eve: parties, dinners, nights out on the town. But the place was quiet, with only two stylists in the salon and one other customer getting a decidedly ordinary cut, like myself. I inquired of the owner whether her week-end schedule was packed.

“Not really,” she answered. “A lot of people are going out of town for New Year’s, a long week-end. Maybe they’re getting ready mentally for 2012 and whatever changes are ahead?” In the mirror I saw her palms turn up to emphasize either lack of interest or puzzlement. “But I’m throwing a big party. What about you? Big event? Resolutions?””

I laughed.“We’ll be home New year’s Eve, maybe watching the ball, just as likely reading and listening to music. And I host an annual potluck for my family, maybe fifteen people. But that’s on Sunday, 2012 by then.” I closed my eyes and breathed out slowly as prickly pieces of hair rained down. “No resolutions. Change happens all the time, like it or not. And much does not.”

She smiled blandly and offered no argument. We fell into a companionable silence as she expertly snipped away.

On my way home I mused over the fact that I have not made resolutions for at least thirty years. One reason is that the more time I spend on earth, the less apt I am to believe significant changes can be simply strategized and accomplished on a clear timeline. My life refuses to be run like a business no matter how I have tried.

Another is that if I set external goals that matter less to me than internal ones, like lose five pounds, walk more miles, save more money, I begin to lose interest. Those are often easier to attain and thereby less challenging; if they are unpleasant as well, they might fall off my list altogether. At this curve in the journey, I am more interested in change that occurs not only due to intention but as a result of unexpected phenomena. The surprise element can make a big impact.

But the main cause of my lack of resolutions on the eve of a new year is simple: in order to remain in good working order, I have to keep tuned up all year long. There are matters of errant steps and reactive mishaps to address. And good choices, hard-won triumphs, and serendipitous occurrences to savor.  Waiting until the end of the year to review my strengths and weaknesses, goals met or forgone, doesn’t work for me. When another year has passed, it is just so many days experienced. As I see it, time flows less like the proverbial river than an improvised dance through the solar systems and, ultimately, galaxies. I want to be participating daily in that dance. And I want to pay close attention to the stories we create with each move.

I generally awaken fully conscious, whether or not I am always thrilled with those first moments. I put the kettle on and make a mug of tea to accompany my bagel. Then I proceed with meditation and prayer. That way I don’t forget that, although I am a minute part of the global population, my actions and reactions can count in the scheme of things. I strive for clarity about what I can offer others and what I cannot; what I need to resolve and what I can let go; how I can encourage my internal and external well-being. At the end of the day I rewind the tape and review how I managed. I say a prayer for as many as I can before burrowing into sleep. There is never enough hope and healing sent into the world. We all benefit from helping hold one another up.

But today I revisit what mattered when I was a youth. I kept a diary for years and scribbled a long entry on the cusp of each new year. There were many dreams then. True love. A few solid achievements. Creative freedom allowing me greater output. God’s love becoming more fully manifest. Nature’s beauties experienced more. I wanted to be a sort of gentle warrior in the world. These priorities have remained as potent to me as they were then.  The difference is this: although I was a romantic, idealistic teen (this was a girl who had as a motto: Courage, Strength, Tolerance, Determination, “C.S.T.D.” my impassioned rallying cry!), I had narrower definitions of what mattered. I couldn’t know what I was missing as I kept my gaze on the future. There was little experience to anticipate transformations already underway, much less those yet to come.

So, there have been conundrums and trials that demanded greater problem solving and fortitude. Love took on subtle shadings; it has been more constant in my life than I dared to believe. Creativity has more complexity and variances than I imagined. Success has become equated with work I hadn’t even planned on doing. Money has added far less to the final equation. Nature has sustained me as deeply as ever, but is more appreciated since places and creatures are more at risk.

And about God, well, for a child who calmly informed her mother she was visited by guardian angels in the midst of loss, this living cannot be anything other than numinous to me. Powerful. Mysterious. I tread this earth as though it is a short stop on the journey.

As we move toward a new year on this tilting planet, I reflect on the past, yes, but mostly on the inventorying I will continue. It keeps me honest with myself. It encourages greater freedom to welcome others into my life. All that has happened this year has brought you and me to this point. We are made of found bits and pieces, as well as grand intentions or courageous leaps. The unexpected occurrences, even those which are not wanted (sometimes mostly those), are what make us more adaptable, better informed, richer in heart and soul.

I have been practicing my living skills awhile and making a little progress day by day. I’m confident I can keep on with it. That’s good enough.  Maybe it can be for you as well.

Happy New Year

(This marks one year of blog posts—many thanks for stopping by!)

Credit: NASA. Andromeda Galaxy.