We are in the second day of this new year and I find that 2020 is much easier to type than 2019. January 1st always makes it seem as though we have a clean, unblemished calendar ahead. Too bad we can’t as easily clean the slate of old feelings of bitterness, grief, dislike and prejudice and never let them affect the clean pages of our lives. We could then replace them with feelings of enthusiasm, fairness, inner peace and compassion and consideration for all. Perhaps the ultimate in New Year’s resolutions!
Christmas was lovely. Our granddaughters were here for Christmas morning and then the rest of the family gathered on Boxing Day (Dec. 26th) for dinner. It wasn’t snowy, which was probably a slight downer for kids. I’m sure Santa doesn’t care whether he uses runners or wheels on his sleigh, but I remember being disappointed at no snow when I was younger and more agile. Now I am grateful for the mild weather that made shopping, and venturing out for tasks easier. I notice that my viewpoint changes along with my ease in movement or lack thereof. New Year’s Eve was also low-key, as it usually is for us. I think the last time we felt compelled to go out was when our sons had a party at our house with their friends. Their Risk or D&D games tended to be loud, so we decided that finding another place to spend the evening would be kinder to our ears. As I recall, we tried to go out for dinner but ended up at Purity Ice Cream. Without reservations there isn’t a lot open on New Year’s Eve. So currently an evening at home in front of the fire, with a cup of hot chocolate seems more attractive than the glitz and clamor of any New Year’s Eve party. In fact I wonder what draws all those people streaming into New York City to watch a sparkly ball drop at midnight. Hmmmm………….????
Beginning a new year — a new decade even —brings me to a place where I’m once again contemplating where my life is going. I know myself, and I know that making the usual sort of resolution is futile. But I can make a list of things I’d like to consider; that might make a difference. It is very easy to lounge in a comfortable rut of doing what we’ve always done which probably leads to stodginess and arrested development. My feeling is that no matter what our age, we are each here for a purpose and the details of that purpose may shift in some way. We need to be alert for those changes in call and aware of our daily lives. Too, our brain health requires the challenges of fresh ideas and activities.
I’m not planning to begin any new career at this point, although as I think back, my mother, when she was my age, was very actively turning out painted items for her Early American Decorating Guild, gardening and taking in at least one of our sons for the summer. I must admit that now, at seventy-seven, I am less energetic than she was at seventy-seven. But regardless of actual vim and vigor, I think that we must be open to new choices for using our time if we are to continue learning more about ourselves and deepening.* It is a difficult world out there; a world that needs our help in its healing.
In these times of crisis, I have often heard it said that we need to return to old values; to bring back times when things did not seem to be in chaos; when life was more predictable. I guess it depends on what values one is wishing back. I think that once Pandora’s Box of Changes is opened, it becomes impossible to go backward. All kinds of things pop out of that box — good, evil, and questionable possibilities. The final thing that always comes out of the box, according to legend, is HOPE. That, for humanity, is fortunate. There is very little worse than despair.
Using that “hope” wisely might mean assessing our “values” to determine what is truly valuable and what is simply keeping us in our comfort zone. Many people wish to return to a time when ignorance seemed to be bliss; when there was no TV or internet to keep us over-informed; when we didn’t know about wars in other parts of the world or slavery or what our diamonds cost in human lives. When I feel a nostalgic pull toward my mostly crisis-free childhood, I am well aware that my situation was not the norm even then for many, many people. I was just not aware of the poverty, the injustices, the discrimination and the well-hidden moral degradation forced upon many. Things have not changed really; it is just that much of the evil and corruption is more visible and depending on who indulges in it, more acceptable. Ignorance may be bliss for those of us who lived in its shelter but it doesn’t do much to repair a world that spins on its wobbly way to possible disaster. I am reminded of a poster that I own; a quotation of Gandhi**: The Seven Deadly Social Sins: Politics without principle — Wealth without work —- Commerce without morality —- Pleasure without conscience —- Education without character —- Science without humanity —- Worship without sacrifice.” In short, to make the world a better place, we have to begin with ourselves, actually living out and then sharing our visions. And our comfort zone may be collateral damage
It is good perhaps that we have January and February weather to slow us down a bit. Winter can be a restorative time with less calling us outside and fewer activities creating that rushed feeling. We can think in peace and maybe perceive with more clarity. Snow and even a cold rain seem to muffle the noise and frenzy of the world.
Being outside is calming to the mind. Check out the tiny tracks of field mice, the pronounced hoof-print of a hungry deer looking for sustenance amid your hostas. And if you are at all interested in how nature copes with winter, it is also a fine time to see where birds snuggle in at night and where chipmunks and squirrels find refuge. It is less pleasant, but part of survival, to note a hawk swooping in to grab a dove off the feeder and how, in that moment, there is no movement from any other birds; they freeze in place. Disney movies are fine fare for entertainment, but children need to know, to an extent, the reality of natural life and being outside in the fresh air is good just in itself. It’s good for adults too! There is something about the negative ions in moist cold air that actually helps us feel hopeful. The mind and body need a time of slowing down. In that way we restore our energies and maybe even see more honestly.
As January ushers us into a new decade I expect that my hopeful lists will meet with some conflicts. Annoying interruptions will happen. My firm belief though, is that interruptions are often more important than our original plans. People are far more valuable than polishing the silver or cleaning the laundry. Nan Fairbrother,*** author of The House In The Country says: Most of anyone’s life is a preoccupation with urgent inessentials. If we divide our affairs into what matters for a day or a season or the rest of our lives, it is the long-term fundamentals we give the least time to, and put off till tomorrow’s tomorrow. We are more concerned with the pressing than the important……”
Over a year, my list of homely little tasks may be relatively valueless, but I will polish like precious stones the candle-lit time with friends, the conversations on the phone with family and the times some of us gather together to sing. None of us can really predict how a year will go, but we can do our best to meet its challenges with courage and patience, and try to spread happiness instead of gloom. And just perhaps we can be sure hope and caring stay alive within us and take precedence over our busy bustling. I wish you a 2020 that showers you with blessings and peace!
Carol may be reached at: email@example.com.
*Deepening is a process described in A Swiftly Turning Planet by Madeleine L’Engle. We have a choice to deepen or not; to mature or not; to become more — or less.
**Gandhi — Indian statesman who, via non-violent protest, brought India to independence.
***Nan Fairbrother –English writer and lecturer on landscaping and land use. 1913-1971.