FYI

Introduction

I wouldn’t say I’m a “restless” writer, but every once in a while, I feel myself begin to stagnate. And stagnation leads to laziness, which leads to procrastination which leads to anxiety which leads to depression which leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms and, eventually, death.

Yes, stagnation might as well be death.

I have had two blogs in the last 15 years. The first I retired after I got my (late) bachelor’s from college at the age of 31. It was a horrible first attempt at this medium, but I learned a lot and made some awesome friends. Shortly after the shuttering of blog #1, I discovered how much I missed writing, and A Pensieve View was born. It was better, but I believe it is time to move on.

As I’m staring down 40, on the cusp of empty-nesting, and having just completed the life-long dream of building a house, I am taking the opportunity to, once again, close the old chapter and begin writing the new. Lest I stagnate. And die.

It’s a chance to try some new approaches to this thing I love to do, and to make it more than just an online journal that centrally focuses on me, while in some ways, sharing more of myself than ever before.

I’d love the opportunity to share some of your story or recipes (or both!) here as well. Feel free to reach out to me about an interview on my “About” page. And, as always, I welcome your comments and thoughts and general praise.

Signed,

A.W.

Art and Media, Nature, Personal, Reflections

The Process

There are artists who, either by strategy or serendipity, have found a way to make a living doing what they love.

And then there are the rest of us.

Painters, musicians, writers – whatever the medium – we create because, for us, there is no alternative but to indulge the muse and allow our hearts to become unburdened through the release of creativity.

When we are young, tiny, un-biased beings, creativity comes easily, though it may appear messy. But that is simply because we have not yet become weighed down by the expectations of others….the expectations of ourselves. Perfectionist tendencies are still dormant. There is only the joy of creating.

As we age, parts of our artist-self become stripped away, piece by piece, until the act of creating becomes more and more difficult. Unless we have managed to compartmentalize that part of ourselves that is free and unburdened – preserving that part of innocent wonder and imagination – most of us live a balancing act between what we must do to survive, and what we must do to not die creatively.

I read a quote a couple of weeks ago – “Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing.”

It struck me so much that I typed it into my notes app and have revisited the thought on multiple occasions.

What am I changing? What am I choosing?

There are jobs for writers. I could get one, probably. But it would be no less of a sacrifice than what I already make on a daily basis in my current 9 to 5. In fact, it might be more of one. By using my artistic medium to make a technical living, writing technical words – that is not “making a living doing what I love”. I’ve tried to break into the freelance market and found it tedious, un-rewarding, and a cancer to my muse.

I think, as artists, we are on a constant and never-ending journey to a place within ourselves that requires daily reflection, and a determination to get to, or get back to, the comforting sense of joy and accomplishment that our creativity initially sparked within us.

In addition to thinking about that journey, I have also been reading a book about childhood trauma.

“Trauma” is an emotional response, but it is so much more than that. It shapes the way our brains work. It changes…….everything.

The painful things we experience as developing infants, toddlers, children and adolescents become the mold for how our brains process information, threats, relationships, self-image.

And our artistic abilities.

I don’t suppose I had ever really considered things from that point of view until today, which is why I am committing it to paper.

I have spent the last several years of my life working through painful parts of my past through therapy, through spiritual contemplation, through writing. And I’ve done these things to be a healthier person, a better mother and wife, a more empathetic and humble individual.

I never realized that the same needed to happen for my artist-self.

Because while we are the same “person” the artist-self exists separate and apart from my day to day life. It has to. Unless I ever stumble my way into making a living from creative writing, to protect this part of me and the personal benefits it provides, I have to choose to keep it away from the daily processes and stressors that threaten its existence.

Before you start thinking I have a dissociative personality disorder, let me try to explain:

While I use words to convey emotions and struggles and joys and thoughts that my day-to-day-self deals with, those words come from a part of me that is not present all the time. I don’t know if keeping that part of who I am locked away is a result of trauma or habit or just the way I’m programmed in general, I only know that in order to maintain balance in my life, I have to keep my artist-self and my day-to-day-self in separate rooms.

But in recognizing that, I now see that, while I have experienced a lot of healing in my personal day-to-day-self, I have neglected some healing that my artist-self needs in order to dig deeper, write better, and express more.

We are approaching the dog days of summer here in Mississippi. Residents here are preparing for the 3 “H”s. Heat, Humidity, and Hurricane Season.

But we’re also in for the return of the Cicada.

These loud, demonic looking insects that emerge from the ground every so many years to maintain their species.

I hate bugs of all kinds. In fact, I bought my first bug zapper this year to hopefully entice more of them to the light than to my bare legs.

And I don’t enjoy the noisy Cicadas. Or their bright red eyes. Or the thought of one getting in my hair or on my arm.

But I understand their cycle. I feel a bit like a Cicada myself sometimes. Keeping myself buried – absorbing all of the nutrients I can, and occasionally emerging to give what I have to the world.

But, unlike the Cicada, I don’t die following that cycle. I just go back underground, see what else I can absorb, until it’s time to break the surface again.

It is a process of both changing and choosing.

It is a process of living between two worlds – the one I choose and the one that holds infinite things I cannot change.

It is a process of living and creating.

It is a process.

 

Personal, Reflections

Grant them rest


https://youtu.be/W-hrBhA4XkM

The fictional book I’m reading right now takes place at an abbey of monks. A central focus of the story is their dedication to the preservation of Gregorian Chants.

Being the inquisitive person I am, I did a YouTube search of these ancient prayers and found myself almost hypnotized by the one I shared in this post.

Depending on the church, Episcopalians often chant part of the liturgy and I have always found it to be both beautiful and reverent, and, for me, sometimes certain notes or tones can reside in my heart more easily than words.

In addition, prayer is one aspect of my spiritual life with which I have always struggled. Words feel so hollow and empty when I think about Who I am delivering them to, even in faith.

One of my first revelations in my prayer life came from a teacher that became a prayer partner to me. She encouraged me to pray the Psalms. To let the words there become my prayers. Especially when I would struggle to find my own words.

This turned out to be a bit of an introduction to how I would eventually learn to pray when I joined the Episcopal faith.

I recently listened to the Gregorian Chants for a couple of nights, and found that one part continually bubbled up to the surface of my mind and heart through the days that followed.

“Dona eis requiem”

Grant them rest.

In the last year, there has been so much unrest in our world.

People have feared for their lives and livelihoods. For their families and their health.

People have had generational wounds laid bare for the world in a time of racial unrest like we haven’t seen in decades.

Political divides run deeper and more poisonous than ever.

There is much unrest.

In society. In families. In our own individual hearts.

So I have turned, once again, to words other than my own, when in prayer. And lately, “Dona eis requiem” have been the words I meditate on and lift throughout the day.

Last Sunday was Easter. The height and pinnacle of celebrations in the Christian faith. It is the mountaintop of worship experiences, as we celebrate the fact that we are restored to our Creator through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.

Oftentimes, in the days and weeks that follow, we forget that mountaintop experience and fall back again into the valleys of unrest and doubt.

After all, most of life is spent in the valley.

But while they may include uncertainty, they do not have to include unrest.

May the peace of the Lord be always with you.

Dona eis requiem.

My prayer for you. My prayer for me. For all.

Art and Media, Latest Picks

Back at it…with a movie review

It has been quite some time since I posted. All I can say is, I’m tired. I’m continuing to post consistently about each of my friends on Facebook and that tends to bleed me dry of writing inspiration for the day, and that’s if I post
one. On the days I don’t, I’m just not feeling the creativity at all.

When I’m struggling with my muse, when it seems to play hide and seek and I’m doing more seeking than usual, I turn to art. Music, books, film. And usually I’ll get enough of a spark to share something.

Once again, that process did not disappoint. Here is my review of the Oscar-Nominated “Nomadland”.

I don’t often get an opportunity to sit and watch a movie of my own choosing. Alone.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy watching movies with my husband or my daughter or as a family, and I love all types of movie genres – from silly/stupid to action/suspense.

But sometimes, sometimes I just want to watch something thought-provoking. Character-driven. Something that is more about humanity, psychology, and emotion.

This weekend, I took the opportunity for one such film. I chose “Nomadland”.

I read some mixed reviews of this movie before I watched it – and nothing with spoilers. I knew I was going to watch it the moment I realized the reviews were either “love it” or “hate it”.

First of all, I love Frances McDormand. She is one of the most unique, under-celebrated actors in her profession. She is older, different…not conventionally beautiful, and, for me, that makes her performances all the more powerful. More relatable.

In “Nomadland”, McDormand plays a 60-something widow that embarks on a journey of seasonal work and living out of a van, sometimes camping alone, sometimes with other nomads, as she makes a new normal for herself following the death of her husband and the closure of her home town.

Yes, you read that right. The main factory that supplied all of the jobs for her town shuts down, and the town dies with it. They even recalled the zip code.

Without children, without steady employment, McDormand’s character, “Fern”, has nothing to keep her tethered. You can feel her grief, her frustration, her fears, her joy, her contentment, and her need to satisfy her own wanderer’s soul.

The conveyance of all of this to the audience is done without a large amount of dialogue, which I think makes the dialogue it
does contain all the more powerful. The smallest of interactions can have some of the most significant of impacts.

McDormand’s performance is beautifully moving and stirring, but it is done almost stealthily. Quietly. Without fanfare. That takes enormous talent, and incredible transparency.

The cinematography of this film is truly gorgeous. There are plenty of desert landscapes and open road visuals to take your breath away, but some of the most impressive scenes were of Fern’s abandoned home. Abandoned town. After spending
some time with her, the movie ends back in Empire, where she began her journey. And it leaves such a different impression seeing it in that order, because we don’t see that part of her until the end.

This movie is shot as a sort of snapshot in time of Fern’s life. There is no real catalyst that immediately sparks her to action that the audience sees. We join her as it appears she has already been planning to live a nomadic lifestyle for some time, and we only get to see a very short section of her journey. But that also makes for good cinema, in my opinion. I enjoy a good ending, but I also enjoy, especially with this kind of movie, the opportunity for the audience to take our own individual
lessons from it and the ending left to our own imaginations.

I’m still processing those lessons.

Lessons about community. About simplicity. About living life on one’s own terms. About appreciating the everyday beauty in ordinary things.

It is obvious that Fern had options both before and during her Nomad journey to live a more “normal” life. But she chooses not to. She seems to be finding little bits of healing here and there, throughout the 2 hours we spend with her. And for those of us that have experienced loss, we know that she will never be completely whole again.

So, I imagine her journey continuing, long after the closing credits.

Current Events, Reflections

Making room

Learning to share is one of the first moral lessons we try to teach our children.

Most religious and non-religious parents alike teach this concept at an early age. Perhaps because we know, deep down, that it’s just the right thing to do. To treat others with kindness, generosity. To make room for them.

In the last year, for obvious reasons, there has been near-constant emphasis on “distance”. Social distance. Isolating oneself. Not sharing either affectionate embraces or plates of food or the physical touch of a fellow human being.

This practice was necessary. Is often necessary still. As we await the day this pandemic retreats into existence only in memory, and history.

And the practice is practical. Because of what we know about the spread of these types of diseases, it was only common sense to follow the protocol.

We have to be taught to share. And we had to be taught to distance. Mostly.

For some, distance comes easily. For the loners of the world, isolation has been their way of life for as long as they can remember.

But for others, the concept of separation has been new, and frightening. And lonely.

But my hope is that we can see beyond this moment in time and move into a place where making room for others is a standard practice. Because it isn’t standard now, and, honestly, it never has been.

We still have to be taught to share.

As we grow up, as the innocence of childhood fades, we often find ourselves struggling with sharing again.

Every person I know has had a different experience over the last year.

Some have thought the protocols were controlling, unnecessary.

Some have been so devastatingly affected by this disease in their personal lives that they will carry the scars forever.

And I’m reminded, almost daily, that these two polar opposite experiences exist. In the pandemic situation, and many, many others.

My experience has not been yours. Yours has not been mine.

But can we make room, eventually, for one another?

Because in isolation there is protection, both physically and emotionally.

But in sharing, in togetherness, and in making room for others there is healing.

After a year of putting ourselves and our own loved ones first, I worry that thinking of others may be a harder and harder concept to incorporate into our daily lives.

I worry that our ability to make room for the experiences of others is falling more and more on selectively deaf ears. That this period of isolation and separation has protected our bodies but permanently damaged our compassion and the fraying threads of empathy that were already deteriorating before COVID was even in the picture.

As we get closer to a place where the world can begin to open up again, I wonder if our hearts could lead the way.

If, in addition to making room at our tables, in our living rooms, in our businesses, if we might re-learn the lesson of our early childhood of making room in our hearts for the lives and experiences of others, even if they look nothing like our own.

Personal, Reflections

Do you see me?

One of my employees is the creative type. A gifted artist. I look at the things she can make with raw materials, her hands, and unlimited imagination and just marvel at her abilities.

She told me yesterday about a gift she made for someone who has a child with special needs, and how she just wanted this person to know that she sees her. Sees the seemingly unlimited supply of energy she pours into being a mom, the sacrifice it requires, and the work it takes.

I was so moved by this gesture and her desire to let this woman know that she was valued.

As she spoke, I was reminded of how important it is that people know that we see them.

I recently started a project on my Facebook page.

Several weeks ago, a close friend of mine chastised me for words I shared there. Nearly ended our friendship over them. And I have struggled with my writing ever since.

I’ve been critiqued and debated because of my words before, but never quite this way. And I was rattled.

What I shared was from the heart, but it came across as condescending and judgmental to my friend who said I had a gift with words, but those words hurt sometimes.

I know this. I have been on both the giving and receiving end of hurtful words.

I told her I could not control how my words were received, but I would try even harder than I already do to measure them carefully. Thoughtfully. Prayerfully.

So I looked at my friends list on Facebook. Small, by most measures. 234.

Some of these people I’ve known literally all of my life. Some, I’ve never met in person. All are special to me in some way.

And though our philosophies, politics, and spiritual beliefs run the gamut, each individual is a precious soul to me. None that I would ever wish to wound with my words, however well intentioned I might think they are.

Our society is so divided. Has been for years now. Generations.

I am only one person, but I know I have to do my part to bridge that gap. And the only way I know to do it is with love.

And I best express that through my writing.

So I am taking a friend a day, sharing how I know them, what I like about them, what they mean to me. Seeing them.

It is an exercise in reflection. But it is an opportunity in remembering our common humanity. Something that is all too often not happening in the world today.

We make our living different ways. We vote for different people. We have differing views on the government, the church and their roles in the world. We have had different experiences and heartbreaks and joys, highs and lows.

But we are all human beings. And we all need to be seen. Known. Loved. Appreciated. Forgiven when we are wrong and praised when we succeed. And patience….oh we all need patience for the times in between.

It is easy on some days. Some people are so well known to me and so endeared to my heart, the words flow easily.

Some days, I have to look deeper if for no other reason than we are simply not as close. And some days, I just have to sit and think about the person and what I do know and spend some time reflecting on what originally connected us.

It is good to be reminded of those connections.

I deeply believe that some people are meant to be in our lives always, others for only a season, but they all have a purpose for being there.

In the tapestry of our lives, some colors will make up large portions, others only serve as accents. But they all contribute to the end result.

They all deserve to be seen.

So that is my focus for the next 200+ days.

Facebook is the place it is often hardest for me to see the humanity in others. But this project forces me to step back and find each color in the tapestry. Appreciate it. See it up close, and then slowly zoom back out, holding on to the gratitude for what it brings to the overall landscape of my personal tapestry and those of others.

I haven’t spoken to my friend since that painful conversation. We ended it on a conciliatory note, but I feel a bit lost these days.

I only know that I can’t not write. And so I plod ahead.

Making room for the humanity in others in greater ways than before. Perhaps hoping, along the way, they will also make room for mine.

Nature, Personal, Reflections

Risking the elements

“But in late April, only the spring bulbs dared to bloom….and look what happened to them.”

Louise Penny (The Cruelest Month)

 

Sometimes when I’m reading or listening to an audiobook, certain phrases jump out at me. I often wonder if the author means for this to happen, if they had underlying meanings in the particular ways they craft parts of their narrative.

I think that, oftentimes, perhaps they do. That the more poignant idea behind an ordinary exchange of words between two characters may be meant to have metaphorical symbolism.

Or maybe they don’t intend that at all, and I am just the kind of person that sees metaphors easily, can find hidden analogies without trying very hard.

Either way, the quote above stuck with me this morning.

The passage refers to daffodils that had just been blown about by severe spring weather the night before, and how, as warm weather progresses, so does the blooming of various flowers and plants. But the later bloomers have less to worry about in certain climates and can go through most if not all of their active season without much weather interference.

Spring bulbs are the risk takers. As soon as they believe the coast is clear, they rise up and as the quote says, “dare to bloom”, though the possibility of a hard frost or heavy thunderstorm is never too far in the distance.

Have you ever noticed how much people are like the differences in spring bulbs and summer blossoms?

There are those that play it safe, stick to their same routines, and don’t really venture beyond their comfort zone.

And there are those that dare to bloom, dare to dream, dare to be something different, even when they have to do it alone.

They risk things for the chance at being the first to greet the spring’s warm sunshine and earth’s transformation from death and dormancy to life and abundance.

They both have their place. Both have their beauty – spring bulbs and summer blossoms – and neither last forever. So often though, the bulbs have a chance to try again, even when an early frost cuts their season short or a harsh wind breaks their stem. Summer blossoms, on the others hand, often live one season and while it may be long and productive, it has but a single life, while the spring bulbs come back, year after year.

Not only that, but the bulbs themselves multiply and spread and overtake the earth with their beauty.

And they last.

Long after old homesteads are abandoned, erased, forgotten, plots of daffodils will spring up. Leading me to believe that someone, at some long ago point in time, was so moved by their beauty that they wanted to see them return every year.

Wanted to make their little corner of the earth more lovely and special and bright.

And, maybe, saw the symbolism of risking the frost and the storms to become the life it was created to be.

Nature, Personal, Reflections

The Space Between

Binary ways of thinking have all but destroyed our society.

The inability to hold more than one truth at a time, I’m convinced, is both destructive and unChristlike.

When we are little, before we can form logical thought, we are told “The stove is hot! Don’t touch!”

We teach our babies that concept so, while they are too young to understand logic, they won’t touch the stove in case it is, in fact, hot.

We meet them where they are in their cognitive development for their own protection.

As we mature, we begin to understand that the stove isn’t always hot. And that it isn’t something to be feared. In fact, it graces our tables with warm food, heats the house when it is cold, and kills bacteria so bacteria doesn’t kill us.

We can hold that concept in our minds as adults with a fully developed frontal lobe. The stove is hot. But not always. And the heat is a good thing, we simply must not burn ourselves when we are close to it while it is in use.

Someone told me recently, “There is right and there is wrong and there is no grey area.”

But how is that possible when the space between opposing ideas is filled with exceptions?

Even nature itself shows us otherwise.

The sky is blue this morning, and yet there are clouds. The sun shining, and yet it is cold. I slept last night, and yet I am tired. I have joy in my heart, while still bearing scars of sorrow and loss.

We live in a complex world where nothing, nothing, as much as we would sometimes like, and as profoundly easier as it would make our lives, is without something in the space between.

Every single human being struggles with navigating this space, with some refusing to acknowledge its existence, even while practicing the concept on a daily basis without even realizing it.

Exploring the space between is a bit scary. We don’t know for sure what we will find in it.

This sacred space is where we learn to approach the darkest parts of ourselves with curiosity and compassion, where we learn to see humanity in those we would rather dismiss, and where we often depart without having any concrete answers other than, “I don’t know.”

It’s a humbling and often lonely journey. But the end result is both deeper empathy for ourselves and others and stronger faith in a Divinity that holds all the complexities together.

Including human beings.

For we are a walking bunch of complexities. Made up of our own individual experiences, fears, triumphs, and struggles.

Resistance to recognize and understand the things to be found in the gray areas of life leave us stuck in patterns of thought that keep us from greater understanding, richer experiences, deeper love for others and for the One that holds the prism of all the colors we don’t want to see.

Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians:

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

The only way to mature both cognitively and spiritually is to open ourselves to the contradictions that exist, and explore the space between them.

And give grace to others that are on the journey as well.

Nature, Personal, Reflections

The Necessity of Winter

After weeks of nature changing her colors and shedding the growth of last spring and summer, Mississippi is now in full winter mode.

Where there were vibrant oranges, yellows and reds, now there is brown. Gray. Or nothing.

Perennials lay dormant, while annuals have given up the ghost, their days of glory but a memory.

Human beings hibernate. Waiting for sunshine and warmth to greet them once again at their doorsteps.

In Mississippi, we don’t have to wait long. Throughout the cold weeks, there is often a reprieve of sunshine and fair temperatures to take the sting out of winter and keep us optimistic until spring arrives.

I enjoy cold weather. I always have. One of my best friends? Not so much. Warmth is her thing. I’ve often joked that she is part reptile, needing a rock somewhere in the blazing sunshine to be happy.

I enjoy warmth as well. But winter has its place, and, despite it’s harsh realities, there are things about this season that, without it, would leave the earth wanting.

Would leave human beings wanting as well.

The skies are clearer during this season, opening the way for appreciation and study of the stars on a higher level.

Plants accumulate frost, signaling to them how much energy they will need to accumulate to put off new growth in the spring and summer months.

Ecosystems are quieter, easier to investigate and find lessons and species to study that can be hidden by overgrowth.

Winter is necessary.

It forces us inside. To retreat to shelter and warmth. To find ways to be creative and comforted and inspired and gives us time to rest. To eat earlier, sleep longer. And gives us the space for introspection and reflection, if we will take it.

It beckons us to slow down. Breathe deeper. In normal times, it invites us to draw closer to one another for warmth. Encouragement. Cheer.

Winter, despite its faults and bitterness, has its place.

If we had never seen a naked tree, or a brown plant, or a frozen landscape, would we fully appreciate the gifts of a Bradford Pear and its glowing white blossoms, or the rainbow of colors that spring forth from perennials in the spring and summer, or the lush green pastures that rise and fall like waves ebbing in the vast distance?

We like these things, certainly. But would we love them? Deeply and fully appreciating their transformation if we had not also held some respect and reverence for the process required for them to thrive?

Can we not find thankfulness and appreciation for all seasons, in all seasons?

Perhaps not. But we can always try.

Art and Media, Latest Picks

New Year, New Books

I have a habit.

Whenever I see people I know to be book lovers making recommendations on social media, I screenshot them.

When I stroll through bookstores, I take pictures on my phone of selections that speak to me from the shelves.

And then, I hoard these screenshots and photos until I need something new to read.

I was doing some media decluttering last week, and happened up some recommendations from a dear aunt that has never once steered me wrong with a book.

So, to start off 2021, I have returned to one of my book genre first loves: the whodunnit mystery.


Still Life is the first in a series that follows the adventures of Canadian detective, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.

When a beloved former schoolteacher and newly discovered artist, Jane Neal, is found dead in the woods of Three Pines, a picturesque, quiet, Canadian village, at first glance, the death is assumed to be the result of a tragic hunting accident. But it turns out, something much more sinister appears to be lurking in the midst of this cozy community.

From the townspeople to the detectives on the case, Still Life is anything but short of distinct and colorful characters that keep the reader invested until the very last page.

Louise Penny’s descriptions are vivid and rich. I could almost smell the Brioche, or feel the warmth of a hearth fire after a chilly stroll through the village green.

The relationships between Jane’s closest friends – an eclectic group of artists, writers, bakers, and downright eccentrics – make the story not only entertaining, but profound at times. One doesn’t often expect a simple mystery novel to offer poignant thoughts on love, grief, art, regret, but Still Life is not your ordinary mystery novel.

It is beautifully written, thoughtfully told, and makes one wish at once to have a circle of friends as those that surrounded Jane in her life, and mourned her in her death.

I look forward to reading more in this series and definitely recommend the Still Life to anyone in need of a lovely book to start the new year, and a series to escape to throughout all of 2021.

Favorite Excerpts

“The fault lies with us, and only us. It’s not fate, not genetics, not bad luck, and it’s definitely not Mom and Dad. Ultimately it’s us and our choices. But, but’ – now her eyes shone and she almost vibrated with excitement – ‘the most powerful, spectacular thing is that the solution rests with us as well. We’re the only ones who can change our lives, turn them around. So all those
years waiting for someone else to do it are wasted
.”

“Three Pines wasn’t on any tourist map, being too far off any main or even secondary road. Like Narnia, it was generally found unexpectedly and with a degree of surprise that such an elderly village should have been hiding in this valley all along. Anyone fortunate enough to find it once usually found their way back.

Life is choice. All day, everyday. Who we talk to, where we sit, what we say, how we say it. And our lives become defined by our choices. It’s as simple and as complex as that. And as powerful.

Current Events, Personal, Reflections

2020 Reflections

It is difficult to know where even to begin writing this morning.

I have my coffee on the front porch. I am sitting in my rocking chair – my writing spot of choice. I’ve had almost 8 hours of sleep. I’m off from work today.

All of these ingredients usually line up and bring together the creative space where I can reflect and ponder.

And I always take some time to do just that on New Year’s Eve.

But, ironically, in a year defined by the abnormal, this morning’s attempt to summarize my thoughts on the outgoing year isn’t going as planned.

“And yet, I smile.”

My daughter gave me a mug for Christmas with those words.

It’s a nod to one of our favorite shows to watch as a family: The Walking Dead.

It seems morbid to write it down in black and white. And, certainly, the show isn’t as good as it was in its prime. But in our current times, which have felt a bit apocalyptic this past year, the gift, and the words, seem appropriate.

2020 has been the kind of year where smiling, happiness – these seem indulgent, even insensitive, when the long months leading up to its end have been full of heartache and frustration and loss for so many.

As I looked back on photos this morning from previous NYE outings and experiences, my instinct was to feel disappointed that the husband and I wouldn’t be sipping a cheerful beverage, walking the streets of Mobile tonight, watching the Moonpie Drop with some of our favorite people.

When our daughter was little, it seemed she was sick every New Year’s Eve. The first decade of our marriage had us typically administering fever-reducing meds and getting naps between her coughing fits as the clock rolled over into a new year.

As she got older, grew out of her asthma, and was typically away for New Year’s, he and I made Mobile a destination for the last days of the year.

Last year, in the middle of construction on The Reverie, we opted to stay close to home, taking in a Burlesque show downtown. “There’s always next year to resume our excursions to Mobile.”

As I looked back on our optimistic faces from the photos taken a year ago, I smiled.

There was complete ignorance of the stress that lay just around the corner.

The pandemic was still just a far-away notion of an eventual possibility that we might one day experience on our shores.

Racism and political divides have always been present, but they seemed tucked into dark corners, at least to those of us who now realize how privileged we were to not see their very real prevalence in society, in our communities, in our closest circles, until 2020 brought all of the ugly into full view.

It has indeed been a year of loss. Loss of lives – over 300,000 of them, due to COVID-19.

Loss of experiences. From the graduate who didn’t get a senior prom or the opportunity to walk in a cap and gown to receive a hard-earned diploma, to the family that missed the trip they had planned and looked forward to for months. The family that couldn’t be present for the birth of a first grandchild to the Kindergarten student that will forever struggle with school now that this critical time in their education has been so marred and disrupted.

I could go on and on about what we’ve lost. Individually. As families. In society and communities.

And it is a right and necessary thing, I think, to reflect on loss. To examine it. Mourn it.

I’m a firm believer that there is no “normal” or “correct” way to grieve.

I only know that, as human beings, we were not designed to live in grief indefinitely.

As I said, so many of the things we now know exist, and the possibility of their recurrence is now a part of who we are as individuals and the world.

We cannot go back to a time before – an easier time for some of us – when we could live in ignorance of what we now know to be true. Even if these are uncomfortable, even inconvenient, truths.

But for all of the sorrow 2020 brought with it, there has been great resilience. Great joy. For both individuals and for society as a whole.

Nothing brings out a person’s true colors like refinement. And this has been a year of sifting for the whole planet, it would seem.

I would ask you, my dear readers, what is it that has risen to the surface in you?

Has it been empathy, love, and hope? Or has it been anger, defensiveness, and determination to never change.

If it is the latter, the losses of 2020 continue.

If it is the former, there is no reason at all to approach the birth of 2021 with trepidation. If we stop looking forward to better days, if we stop attempting to grow and become the people we should be, then we are allowing our losses to define us in ways they were not meant to do so.

Trials and changes and outright falls on our faces are not meant to defeat us. They are meant to strengthen and change us. To increase our capacity for joy and hope and empathy for our fellow man.

That is the ultimate test of our farewell to 2020.

Will we simply be relieved that it is no more, or will we carry the lessons of it forward, resolved not only to lose weight on our bodies, but the weight of pride and selfishness in our hearts?

There is still time to decide. To reflect. To resolve. The light is just over the horizon now.

May we all choose to walk in it.