Monday, December 31, 2012

12 in '12

This has been a pretty awe-inspiring, tear-inducing, laugh-producing, life-altering year for me. I guess that's true every year, but this year is different. I guess every year is different... you know what I mean. This morning, as I thought about what to write today, I decided to try to find 12 things, moments, discoveries, experiences in 2012 that deserved a second consideration today. Of course, I came up with more than 12 things, but I've whittled them down to these.

(You may want to grab a cup of tea or a shot of something strong. This is gonna be a long one...)

1. Reaching out... to me

Far more often than I'd like to admit, I think about discontinuing this blog. As much as I love to write, to share my thoughts, to spill my heart onto the page (or the screen), I confess that I suffer from acute and severe comment deficiency. I want to know that there are people out there reading these ramblings of mine and enjoying them. I know that Blogger doesn't make it easy to leave comments sometimes (I apologize for that), but I still wish that more folks left more comments.

Thankfully, this year several of you have reached out to me. Some of you have posted comments here on the blog and more of you have sent me emails privately. Thank you for doing that. Thank you for letting me know you are out there, reading, nodding, laughing, moaning, and walking along with me on this, my life's journey.

The most surprising thing you've shared in your comments and emails is that you think that when you write to me you are annoying me. To the contrary - every writer, scratch that - every person everywhere yearns to be seen, appreciated, and told that they matter to someone. Everyone. Please don't ever apologize for saying hello or for saying "thank you." I'll show you how it works: "Hello out there. Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. Thank you for being here." See? That was easy.

2. Haiti

Vaccinations. Multiple forms to fill in. Charlotte. Miami. Port-au-Prince. Bayonnais. Driving through active streams in the mountains of Haiti in a Charlotte-Meckenburg County school bus. Discovering that Spanish was the only common language with some of the people I met there. Those sparking eyes and bright smiles. School uniforms with sharp creases and ruffled socks. Cholera tents. Naked babies. Our dining table loaded with bowls and plates of hot food while those who lived within yards of our building went to bed hungry as the smells of our meals wafted overhead. Getting choked up again right now as I remember the beauty, the poverty, the gladness, the sadness, the colors, the smells, the moonlight, the wild fire, the fresh mango, the bottled water, the hike I didn't take, and the hike I did take. A new perspective on life, on school, on travel, on gratitude, on joy, and on the resilience of people. I cannot wait to go back.

3. The beach

Who doesn't love the beach? The water. The sunshine. The sky. The plants. The vastness of it.

4. Religion and Joy

On Wednesday, October 31st, I began teaching a three-week series of evening classes at the church we attend. Earlier that day, I underwent a mammogram that raised enough concern that I was scheduled for a biopsy two days later. The following Wednesday, on the 2nd night of the class, I talked to them about the things that sometimes take our joy away - and I announced to them that I had been diagnosed with breast kanswer the day before, Election Day. On the 3rd and final night, we talked about how to incorporate practices that rebuild and maintain our joy. They promised to pray for me and for each other. I promised to pray for them. We hugged, kissed, and promised to do all we can to keep joy at the center of our lives.

After I told him about my diagnosis early in that second week of class, the pastor of Christian Education told me that I didn't have to continue teaching the class if I needed or wanted to stop. I responded: "If what we say is true, that joy doesn't have anything to do with circumstances but comes from God, then how can I stop teaching this class now? Besides, if God is who God says God is, then God knew that I was going to volunteer to teach a class on religion and joy at the same time that I would receive this diagnosis. So again, how can I stop teaching this class now? These are the times when religion and joy have to be lived out. Or what is the point?" 

5. Freedom to fail and freedom to drive

My daughter is a licensed driver. Thanks be to God! Unfortunately, the first time she took her driving test, she failed because she drove to slowly. As far as I'm concerned, slow driving should be rewarded, especially when the driver is a teenager. But her DMV test-giver was not amused. The second time, she maintained adequate speed, used her turn signals appropriately, completed her K-turn, and parked the car well enough to double our auto insurance payments.

Of course, all of that got me to thinking. We each and we all have the freedom to fail. To move too slowly. To move too quickly. To forget too soon. To not be able to forget at all. To marry and then to divorce. To get a job and then be let go. To earn a living wage and waste it through unnecessary spending. To try again and again - and not get it right. To ask for change, for compromise, for a new way to be in relationship again and again - and be rebuffed every time. We all fail sometimes. Often.

But if we push, if we give it one more attempt, if we pray and act, if we plan and execute the plan, sometimes we pass. "Success" may not look like what we hoped for. The end result may be different from what we set out to achieve. But we are granted the freedom to drive. To be free. To move on. To leave the past behind and move into a new future.

6. New handrails out front

We've lived in this house more than ten years. For most of those years, we have had wooden bannisters and handrails leading up to our front door. For all of those years, the bannisters and handrails have been splitting, flaking, and decomposing. I began to fear that one of our friends or family members would grab the handrail as they descended the stairs and both the handrail and our guest would descend the stairs in a heap. This year, we finally replaced the rotten wood with wrought iron. Upon completing the installation, one of the workmen said, "Give it two or three hours for the cement to set and then you can do back flips over these new handrails." To my knowledge, no one has attempted any back flips over the new handrails. But nor has anyone taken a tumble - for that I give thanks!

Once again, I got to thinking - which handrails and bannisters in my emotional life are in decline and in need of replacement? Who are the people and what are the practices in my life that have proven untrustworthy and unreliable? Which spiritual practices need to be reinforced so that when times of back flips and belly flips come, I can be reasonably sure that they will hold? Who are the men and women in my life that I trust to help me replace, rework, rewire, and reestablish the foundations, handrails, bannisters, and structure of my life?

7. Eight more days of silence

Not much needs to be said about the power of silence, of solitude, of unplugging from the noise in the world in order to plug into The Silence of Father God, of Sweet Momma Jesus, and of Wise and Ever-Present Sarayu-Spirit. To reconnect with the One who invites me to put my head on Her lap, to rest, to be consoled, comforted, loved. The One who invites me to cast all my care upon Him, to come when I am weary and heavy-laden so that She can give me rest.

Deep sigh. Even deeper gratitude.

8. The allure of that one huge tree

I promised myself that next time I'm at the Jesuit Center, I will sit in that chair and pray.
Staring up at the branches and leaves. Listening to the birds in their nests.
Imagining myself deep in the life-giving womb of My Sweet Momma.

9. "I am not my hair"

A brief and succinct message for kanswer - 
on the day I had my locs cut off

A brief and succinct hat for my new hairdo - or lack thereof

10. "You are a highly powerful woman."

I went to a one-day writing retreat with this amazing writing teacher, and a woman at the retreat said this to me: "I can tell that you are a highly powerful woman." Needless to say, she and I are great friends now. But those words caught me off-guard. No one had ever said that to me. Not so directly. Not upon meeting me for the first time. Turns out she was right. I am powerful. (So are you!) What will I do in 2013 and beyond now that I know that for sure? How now shall I live?

11. Strength.

Partly because of what Mica told me (see #10 in this list) and partly because of what I found out on November 6th of this year (see #4 in this list), I have chosen "strength" as my word of the year for 2013.

Strength to overcome "these light and momentary troubles."
Strength to get back to teaching, studying, travel, culture, language, and art.
Strength to be the woman, the friend, the teacher, the aunt, the cousin, the sister, the daughter, the mother, and the wife I was born to be.

Which reminds me of the final verse of an old song of the church - Great is Thy Faithfulness.
"Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.
Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see.
All I have needed thy hand has provided;
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me."

12. Putting the tree away

Every year, just before I put the Christmas tree back into its two boxes and carefully repack all the Christmas ornaments into their respective cartons, I sit and stare at it and wonder: "What will the new year bring? What will our family be like when we pull these boxes out of the attic again next November? Will we still live in this house? Will we all still be alive and in good health?" Invariably, I get emotional - but I get emotional invariably, so who's surprised by that? Anyway, I get teary whenever I ponder the possibility that we might not all be around the following Christmas.

This year more than ever, I am acutely aware of the fragility of life, the brevity of life, the truth that in the twinkling of an eye, in the probe of a needle, in the test tube of a laboratory, in the spray of a madman's bullets, everything can change. But it is also true that in the delivery room of a hospital, at the altar of a church, in the moment that vows and rings are exchanged, in the meeting of eyes across a crowded bar, everything can change.

Life is short. And every year feels shorter than the last.
So make haste to be kind. To love one another. To forgive as well.
Don't hold back your tears, your hugs, or your laughter.
Life is short. Take not one person, not one conversation, not one moment for granted.
If you mean it, say it, out loud - "Those are the best chocolate chip cookies ever."
"It may suck right now. But this too shall pass."
"I'm here with you. I'm here for you."
"You are one of the best things that has ever happened to me."
"I am grateful that you are in my life." "I love you."

Happy new year.
Happy new everyday. 

* And finally, a prayer for the cave time, for the darkness, a prayer of trust, gratitude, and hope.


Clare said...

Beautiful. Thank you for this--and for being who you are. xx

Monee said...

Lovely post Gail. Then again I do enjoy reading all your posts. I check your blog atleast twice a week looking to see what you've written about next. Wishing you & your beautiful family a healthy & happy 2013.

Jan said...

Hello, Gail:
You don't know me, I don't know you (except through your writing). I can't remember how I found your blog, but I do read it, pretty much as often as you post. So I hope you keep writing. And that the new year brings more health and light to you