Friday, January 2, 2009

A new year

I've been reading everyone's posts celebrating the new year, looking back at the achievements of the past year, full of resolutions and plans for the new one, and wondering whether I had any such thoughts and plans to write about myself. I was thinking a lot last night before going to sleep about the past year, what I want to remember and what I do remember, and realizing that, for all of the bad and difficult things that happened, what I think about most often at the end of the day are the things that I'm grateful for.

I'm grateful above all for my family, for the pleasure of their company, for the fact that their company is such a pleasure, and for the fact that their presence makes home a haven. I am grateful for my extended family, who may live far away, but who are always there when I need them. I'm grateful for my friends, who laugh and cry with me, who walk with me each week and listen to me and talk to me. I'm also grateful to my friends further away (you all know who you are), whose emailed conversations over this past year have often kept me sane and laughing when I might not have otherwise been. I am grateful that Older Daughter's transition to middle school went as smoothly as could be expected, and that Younger Daughter is settling into her role as older kid in her classroom. I am grateful that my leg and back continue to heal, and for the way that injury taught me to rethink some priorities in life. I am grateful that, after all these years, Rick is still my best friend. I am grateful for the new members of my extended family: three baby boys this year! And I am grateful for the picture that Rick's cousin just sent to us, of Grandmom holding her newest great-grandson, almost 95 years her junior, the two of them gazing at one another across nearly a century of living.

Grandmom's life, while privileged in many ways, has not always been an easy one, but she seems to have the trick of grace. When she looks back at her life, her summary is always, "It was good." She doesn't ignore or deny the bad and difficult things she's lived through, but they're just not what sits in the center of her vision. I think that that is my goal, bigger than a year-long resolution, but one that requires working on little by little: to look back at my life and to be able to say with honesty, "It was good."

I know that there's often a certain jaded sense that looking for the good is a pollyannaish way to walk through the world. And it's true that if one insists on never seeing those things that are broken, that is a form of denial that's not particularly useful. But I truly believe that it is equally deluded to only see the bad, and moreover that to do so is to give in to despair; if there is no good in the world, then there is no hope for mitigation, for repair, for better. Believing that nothing needs to be fixed and believing that nothing can be fixed are equally flawed visions of the world, and they're both cop-outs. As silly and trite as it sounds, I think of this the way I think about driving in tight and fast circumstances (L.A. freeway anyone? talk about a metaphor for life...): if you only focus on what you don't want to hit, dang if you're not going to run smack dab into it. The trick is to keep the obstacles in your peripheral vision, and to focus on the open space, however small it might be, the little bit of light that you're aiming for.

The reason I'm going on this way is because I realize that my resolution for this year, such as it is, is to try to keep my eyes on that open space, to look for the successes around me and to learn from them, rather than to look for the ways in which people live up to my negative expectations. I'm not talking about setting unrealistic goals for everyone to suddenly become happy! good! nice to me! Rather, I'm thinking more of a willingness to see what is really happening around me, rather than only what I expect. A willingness to see that even small right actions create change for the better, rather than focusing on what is left undone. A willingness to forgo the easy path of despair and not-trying in favor of the harder and more mindful way. I'm guessing that I'll fall off this wagon many a time. But I suppose that accepting that is part of realizing that not-100% success is not the same thing as failure. Not at all.

Welcome to 2009, everyone.

14 comments:

Rachel said...

Good luck with your very sound logical resolution, maybe I will adopt it too if you don't mind :)

Helen said...

I have to confess that sometimes when I see a long post on someone's blog I groan inwardly, but with yours I don't. Thanks for another thoughtful piece. I'm with you on pollyannaism and denial, and I often think of Dr Johnson's observation, 'Depend upon it that if a man talks of his misfortunes there is something in them that is not disagreeable to him; for where there is nothing but pure misery there never is any recourse to the mention of it.' There is much to be said for the constructive approach.

I wish you and yours a very happy new year and, not least, a safe and rewarding trip across the seas :)

Marianne said...

Exceptional post! So very well written and the meaning conveyed, keeping ones eyes on the open spaces and striving to be ever mindful of it all.
Beautiful. :^)

the boogeyman's wife said...

your thoughtful posts are so well written, and contagious (as in, they get me thinking about things). you make an excellent point, we see so often what we expect. it is a fine balance to see and acknowledge the bits that aren't working so well, and yet focus on the good. it is possible though, and a worth-while goal.

Lynne said...

Well said!

Anne said...

Yes, indeed. And wouldn't it be nice if all the bureaucracies upon which we depend had regular occasions to do this kind of reflecting -- and to ponder the things that worked and those that didn't -- and resolve to focus upon positives and keeping people centered and happy rather than stressed and worried about their families and keeping roofs over their heads and ... well, you get the picture.

twinsetellen said...

Like half the country, I'm reading "Team of Rivals". The attitude you describe embodies what seemed to be much of Lincoln's approach to life. In the midst of horrible circumstances, he pulled himself up and optimistically moved forward, usually with a funny story to tell. I bet the two of you would have been great friends.

And as several others have said, I think your resolution just might be the right size for me to wear this year, too. Thanks for a lovely post.

AlisonH said...

Amen. And thank you.

Carrie K said...

Just as I'm thinking that you've confused Thanksgiving w/NYE you wrap it all up into such a good observation.

KnitNana said...

Oh.My.
You do so have a way with words. And I agree with Helen. There are few long, wordy posts that I'll read. But I always read yours.
;)
It sounds to me as if you'll be walking in the light...can't wait to read your observations in 2009!
(((Hugs)))

Bea said...

Good resolution!

Mary Lou said...

Good post - I agree with the need for balance. I tend towards denial too often,I think, and my husband - aka Mr. Apocalypse Now-- leans the other way. We should try to balance it out together! Best wishes for 2009!

EGunn said...

Hear, hear! Setting your intention is half the battle, right? That trick of grace is definitely something worth learning, and something that we could all use to practice a little. Good luck with keeping your resolution!

Rachael said...

I think looking for the good and finding it no matter how small - even if it's a simple as I DID NOT SPILL COFFEE ON MYSELF TODAY - is the only way to stay sane in this world.

Here's to you have many days this year where something other than the lack of coffee on your shirt is the bright spot in your day!