When you tend to process things in writing and you also like to be vulnerable and post about such things publicly, you will find that when the New Year rolls around Facebook will present you with undeniable evidence that you tend to exhibit certain trends around this time of year. Healthy eating goals, exercise, hopeful schedule changes. I tend to reset around this time of year. This year, my reset has as much to do with attitude as with any of those things. And as with all of those intentions, this one will also need to be revisited throughout the year to maintain.
My husband has a birthday at the end of December. It is, without a doubt, possibly one of the worst times to have a birthday. Right smack between Christmas and New Year’s, his expectations are somewhat low for a special day devoted to marking his start of a new year. This year we had a communication failure that ended up in him having a pretty lousy day. This coupled with the depression that was already quite low, meant the days leading up to New Year’s Day were quite hard.
John’s birthday is the 30th. On New Year’s Even I woke up without hope. It was so hard to envision any sort of future as I look into a year that will have to include a lot of change. We can’t just sit back and maintain the status quo. It isn’t that the status quo is that great right now anyway. The last year has been rough. There are lots of positive highlights, but just as many, if not more, really sucky things. And right now, even though we are technically in the middle of a job search for a priest position starting this summer, there are days I cannot picture a future at all.
I wrote the following words in my journal that morning: “This year is hard to hold hope. There is so much unknown. I can see clearly the pain that lies ahead. I want to be able to face it with courage, to remind myself that the pain is the shadow, which means there must also be light. But right now I am afraid. I do not know how much will be asked of me this coming year. Will I have the strength to meet it?”
Along with the fear that I was feeling, I also recognized anger. Anger at circumstances and situations that have robbed me of things. And in my journal I allowed myself to express those things. But afterwards I wrote gentle words of encouragement to myself, ending with “It’s ok to be angry. But what you do with it matters.”
That night, we lit a fire in the fireplace and gathered around it. Being all together as a family is important, but I’m going to be very real with you and admit that it is hard right now. The kids ages and all the stress that we have all internalized the last few years mean that peace and calm are never long-lived, and even meaningful connection is punctuated by frustration, tears, and misunderstanding. So, it is important to focus not on the negative parts of that night, but the positive. The light reflecting off my children’s faces. Their smiles. Their laughter. Seth had written a letter to Emma and had asked if he could put it in the fire to let the message go up to her in the smoke. So, we lit that fire, and all together, we watched the note burn and crumble and the smoke rise. This was true sacrament.
I asked my kids what their favorite memories of the year had been and I asked them what their hopes for the new year were. Some answers were expected, some took me by surprise. All showed my kids deep inner selves.
After everyone but Elise, John, and I had gone to bed, we sat and talked. We laughed and teased. Regrets were shared. Hopes and creative ideas for the future were discussed. Eventually Elise also retired and John and I sat and dreamed together. We painted a picture of what life could be like this year. We talked about job opportunities and we talked about logistics. I don’t know if the specific plans we made will actually come to be as obviously we don’t yet know where he will get job offers to, but what we envisioned was hopeful and exciting to the both of us and that was something that I hadn’t felt in awhile.
I woke the morning of January 1, 2019 full of hope. A song by George Ezra ran through my head:
“If it’s a new day,
Why don’t we invent a new world to explore?
Why don’t we create a moment to remember
In five years?
Winner’s just a word,
Loser’s just one too.
Oh, forever dreaming
The song is called “Only a Human” and the chorus goes like this:
“You can run, you can jump
Might fuck it up
But you can’t blame yourself
No, you’re just human
Come on, come on
No, you can’t blame yourself
You’re just human.”
This is my song for the year. I step forward choosing hope. I will take risks this year. Risks that open up possibilities for a healthy future for me and my family. But I will also hold gentleness. Gentleness for myself and for others when things inevitably fall apart. Because life is not perfect. In the light, there is pain. In the shadow of joy, sorrow lives. I choose it all because it is beautiful only in its wholeness.