“A King is dead; long live the King!”

The final week of any year contains many retrospectives.  Top Ten lists, persons of the year, 50 Greatest Country Music videos (as if).  Over the years, you will find many such entries in my journals, waxing eloquent…or dramatic at least…about the past twelve months as if they can be viewed as discrete, a block of time encapsulated unto itself.

Not this year.

Which is actually kind of funny, since I can easily say 2010 has been the best year of my adult life.  For this reason, anyone would forgive me for indulging in a little rearview gazing.  Perhaps the greatest boon of 2010, though, has been that I am reminded each day of the gift that is the present.  As one year ends, and a new one begins, I feel a seamless joy radiating from my heart.  Dramatic?  Probably.  But true nonetheless.

A few years ago, my sister Gwen started me on a tradition of making a vision (or dream) board for the coming year.  If you have never made one, the idea is to create a collage of all the things you hope to accomplish or receive in the coming year…as a means of setting your intent, of putting out into the world your wishes and desires. No matter whether you believe in the power of intention, there is something to be said for “going public” with what you want — it makes it concrete in a way that thinking alone does not.  As I sat to create my vision board for 2011, I realized that this year it might be difficult to do — very few magazine photos (used to create the collage) capture what my heart currently desires.  A few of these items:

  • To be brave enough to keep feeling, to be open (and yes, vulnerable) even though it hurts sometimes;
  • To be unashamed of tears;
  • A truly heavenly breakfast sandwich;
  • That the people I love find their paths converging on inner peace and true happiness;
  • Lots of time holding babies;
  • That those I love who are “remaining fluid” (you know who you are) find or rediscover a few things in their lives that are stable and solid and worthy of trust (fluid is good, but you deserve steadfast too);
  • Enough music, poetry, and laughter to make each day resonate;
  • That I remember to be grateful for the ordinary, as well as the extraordinary; for the sorrows as well as the joys; for trials as well as abundance.

2010, with all the beauty and wonder it brought to my life, is at an end.  It would be ok to feel a pang at its passing, but I can’t seem to feel anything but excitement to keep moving forward.  So, with a nod to the British tradition of seamless succession (at least that’s how they do it in movies!), I say:  one year is gone, and a new begins.  Rejoice!  Amen.

Christmas Memories

My first memory of Christmas must have taken place when I was around three years old. We were living in a duplex on Lincoln Street in Dubuque, Iowa.  It was Christmas Eve, and my sister Chris, my Dad and I were lying on a bed and Dad said, “What was that?”  I will never forget hearing the pawing of reindeer feet on our roof that night — never mind that we lived in the downstairs half of the duplex…our neighbors lived upstairs and we could not have distinguished a roof noise from their footsteps over our heads.

And so it is with the magic of Christmas.  We believe in things that would not make sense at other times.  We hold moments in our hearts and our imaginations with a tenacity unseen in other life experiences.  I can barely remember what I did on my birthday this year, but I will always remember the thrill of receiving the Hanson Kids Puppet Theater one Christmas morning when I was perhaps 8 or 9.

In my family, we ritualized every little activity which occurred on Christmas Eve or Day, until we could barely function normally — from noon on the 24th every moment was spoken for by one “tradition” or another.  Eventually, this collapsed under its own weight, not without a lot of tears and angst.

Now, we celebrate in warm ways that hearken to the old traditions, but are no longer bound by them.  This year, I will marvel at my grown up nieces and nephews, coo at my first great-niece, try to maintain some control over my food choices.  I will hold my parents and siblings close, filled with wonder at the grace that has allowed us all to still be here on the this earth together.  And while I will be grateful for the 49 years of Christmas memories, the ones I will hold most dear are the ones we will be making together at that moment.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

–Christina Rossetti

Love, Magic and Being Grown Up

Many things about my childhood predisposed me to believe in magic.  The mighty Mississippi, limestone bluffs riddled with old lead mines, our proximity to the library which had an amazing children’s room.  Five siblings with creative imaginations, and parents who encouraged the use of them, also helped.  So I grew up believing in many kinds of magic.  Supernatural magic, such as Santa Claus, elves and pixies, wishing on stars.  Religious magic, like patron saints or my very own guardian angel.  And there was everyday magic: the longing induced by a lone barge whistle, snow falling softly through lamplight, the profusion of lilac blossoms in spring.

For most of my adult life, I’ve tried to hold onto the magic.  The tension between being a grown up (making decisions, earning a living, surviving the hard parts like illness and despair) AND a believer in magic is oftentimes difficult to resolve such that you can successfully be both.  I frequently get it wrong, and discover that I have ventured into territory in which one or the other is lost, to the detriment of my ability to function well.  If I am overbalanced on the side of “magic”, I stray into magical thinking and dreaming and lose the present moment in which to create my life.  If I stand too deep in the land of grown ups, I forget how to be touched by beauty and wonder, how to welcome grace when it enters my life.

Love can be an instructive example of what I mean.  In the grown up world, we learn to love in spite of weaknesses, human foibles, habits that we don’t care for (both in ourselves and in those we love).  Love is about learning where people are in life, then accepting ourselves and others exactly there.  In the world of magic, love is about soul mates who just get us, moments that propel us into a feeling of flow, our perfect selves connecting with another perfect self who dreams with us about all the perfect possibilities out there.  This is true for all kinds of love, not just romantic love.  Too far to the “grown up” side, and we lose the childlike joy that relationship brings; we leave out the “…and all” part of the phrase, leaving us with just the “warts…” part.  Too far on the magic side, and we end up in a lovely castle made of air, which may blow away at the first puff of rough weather.  Love needs both our grown up selves and our magic-believer selves.

Love has taught me a lot this year, both about being a grown up and about believing in magic.  It turns out that the magic of love happens in ways and places we don’t expect.  Sometimes we get one thing when we were hoping for something else.  The grown up in us needs to learn to be content that this is so.   Because every bit of it is miraculous, every incarnation of love is magic.

I was thinking about this at my friend Ryan’s birthday party last weekend.  He was a 19-year-old college student and I was a 36-year-old administrator when we met.  An unlikely pair.  Yet, words cannot express the depth of feeling I have for him — brother, colleague, co-conspirator all wrapped up in one big ball of love.  You will never convince me that is anything but magic!

So, I try to hold that old tension.  Try to be both grown up and believe in magic.  And really, now that I think about it, love in all its forms is the perfect melding of the two.

Taboo No More

Sunday night, my friend Wendy and I went on a whirlwind Christmas shopping expedition.  As we finished two intense hours and were heading home, Wendy asked if I would mind stopping briefly at K-Mart.  She said she gets many stocking stuffers and gag gifts there each year, but often forgets to go there until she’s been everywhere else first. I don’t frequent K-Mart regularly myself, but I didn’t mind stopping.

As we wandered down one of the wide “center” aisles, filled with special gift items, I happened to see a gift box of Tabu — the scent I wore and loved throughout college.  The gift box came with a spray bottle of cologne, a small purse-sized bottle and a tube of scented lotion for the amazing price tag of…wait for it…$9.90.

Me:  I didn’t even know they still made this stuff!  I wore this all the way through college.  I used to love it!

Wendy:  Then you have to buy it, an early Christmas present for yourself!  Come on, you can’t beat the price!

Me:  It probably stinks.  I would guess that what I liked at 19 isn’t the same as what I like thirty years later!

Wendy:  No, you’ll probably still love it!  Come one, you have to get it.

And so I left K-Mart, the proud owner of the Tabu gift set.  And guess what?  I have been wearing it ever since, and…I smell goooood.  I smell like carnations, and spice, and a little powder in addition to young, hopeful, and idealistic.  I thought my tastes had taken me into more sophisticated sensory territory back in graduate school when I discovered Perry Ellis perfume.  But I guess I have always been a Tabu girl masquerading as a designer scent profile!

This has led me to wonder what other “childish” likes or pursuits I’ve given up in the name of maturity but should reconsider now.  As you know, I’ve already gone back to biking as a favorite pastime, and a couple of years ago I discovered that I still enjoy roller skating.  But what else did I decide, prematurely, I was too sophisticated, too sua-vee, too plain OLD for?  Here is a partial list I’d like to check out now, and see how they fare:

  • Strawberry soda pop.  Sickeningly sweet or deliciously decadent?
  • Yarn crafts: macrame, God’s-eyes, crochet squares that somehow never got sewn into an afghan.
  • Cheesy made-for-television Christmas movies.  OK, who am I kidding, I never gave these up!  ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas and FaLaLaLa Lifetime fight for my viewership nightly every December.
  • Driving around the countryside on hot summer nights, windows down, music blaring (will it be the same if the music isn’t playing on an 8-track tape?).
  • “Russian” Tea.  An instant tea and Tang concoction.  Hmmmm…
  • Bonfire, guitars and folk singing on the “beach” (using the term loosely for a sandbar along the Mississippi River).

As is the case for most people, I think, I was in a hurry to grow up — or at least to appear grown up to the rest of the world.  “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 childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians) was a credo I took seriously.  I never wanted people to think of me as childish, so I was quick to monitor my choices for what they communicated about my level of maturity.  This bible verse talks about taking up adult responsibilities and mature thought processes, definitely important for all.  However, as in all things, a balance is called for.   “And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’ ” says Matthew 18:3.  The balance between these two good admonitions is what I am seeking in my life now.

When I was in college, there were numerous silly things we did to amuse ourselves.  Last summer, I had a small reunion with several friends, and we resurrected our “snapping turtle” skills (see photo, below).  I can’t tell you (because I’ve never known) how this started or why, but we laughed so hard attempting the snapping turtle faces, 25+ years out of practice, that I realized it is time to stop worrying about appearing childish or foolish – and to start reveling in it!  Sincere enjoyment in the moment is childlike, not childish, and hits that lovely balance I’m seeking.

Now, how about it?  Anyone for a strawberry soda – my treat!

The Myth of “Timing”

I have often been asked, “How did you know that this time would be different?  That you would be able to make changes and they would stick?  It must have been the right time!”  Or, people have told me, “I know I need to (insert a change) but this isn’t a good time for me.”  I’ve been thinking about this, and I’ve decided that I have a strong opinion about this whole topic of looking for the right time.

The only time I have FOR SURE is this moment.  Next month, next year, three years from now when I am “ready”…those are times that may or may not ever arrive.  This moment, right now, is what I have to work with.

I am learning to let the future take care of itself, and to focus my energy on this moment.  That doesn’t mean I’ve given up the idea of planning, setting goals, or having things that I aspire to.  It just means that these goals and aspirations don’t bring themselves into being.   The whole, honest, and hard to grasp truth is that the timing may never be “right” because I decide the time.  If  I wait patiently or passively for conditions to turn favorable, I lose the gift of this moment – and the window of opportunity to create the life I want.

Thinking about this, the past sometimes threatens to emotionally overwhelm me.  It hits me anew just how much of my life has been lost to thinking the future would magically change me or the conditions in which I lived.  When I was unhappy in high school, I told myself I just needed to hang on till college, then things would somehow become the way I wanted them to be.  In college, graduation would take care of it…in my 30s I was waiting to establish a stronger professional persona…in my 40s I was waiting to be more financially secure.  I waited for the “right time” or for “the timing to feel right” for a lot of things I hoped to have and do in my life.  Consequently, all I managed to actually accomplish was…waiting.  Waiting is passive and reactive, not the words I want in my epitaph!

In the past couple of years, I have lost more than 130 pounds.  The day I lost my first pound was a day that I decided to make a healthy choice.  Each pound lost (or, sigh, gained) since has been an aggregation of singular, in-the-moment choices.  My relationships have deepened and grown as well.  I believe this is the result of repeatedly choosing people right now over other options for spending my time.  As the speed of my days accelerates with age, I am consciously aware that the people I love are also only promised this moment.  I don’t want to regret squandered opportunities later.

I don’t remember this every minute of every day.  And I am not always happy, in hindsight, with the choices I make. I can still fall prey to the allure of waiting for the propitious time, especially if what I want/need to do takes me outside my comfort zone.  I want to put off difficult conversations or procrastinate the mundane tasks that lead me in the direction of my dreams (I mean, who wants to keep their resume up-to-date?  But what if just the perfect opportunity comes along and you need to act swiftly to snag it?)   However, there is a direct and very real correlation between the fullness of my life and how well I maintain this orientation to the present.

For me, learning to live consciously in the moment has been a life-altering experience of magnitude.  So to those of you who are contemplating real change in your lives, I offer this perspective — “timing” is a myth.  Make an active choice to live fully right now, and you may find that NOW is the PERFECT time, after all!