A few weeks ago, I dragged out the holiday decor. I hung my Joy plaque on the wreath which my sister Joyce made 35 years ago from my mother’s grapevine. Angels hang from every curtain rod and dangle from pins tacked into the stairwell and the loft rails. Lights twinkle at the windows. A half-dozen cards from around the country swing from a red ribbon.
Now the New Year hovers a few hours away on the other side of midnight. My work day came to a quiet close. I ate a simple meal, exchanged texts with my siblings, and vaguely browsed through the news. One or two emails demanded modest attention. Nothing remains but a quiet evening with the latest Kjell Eriksson novel, on loan from the Sacramento County digital library.
I usually make a short list of New Year’s resolutions. At the end of 2013, I resolved to go an entire year without complaining in honor of my recently passed and beloved mother-in-law. The first quarter of 2014 brought shattering challenges to my endeavor, so I’ve renewed that pledge on December 31st of each successive year.
Most of my friends warned me that my quest had no chance of succeeding. Perhaps they knew my nature better than I did. Colleagues reminded me that defending our clients required us to voice objection on a regular basis. My puzzling health issues cry for self-advocacy.
But I vowed to keep trying. I re-read Marshall Rosenberg as often as necessary. Counting to ten has never sufficed. I’ve gotten to a hundred sometimes; I’ll drone to a thousand if need be to hold my tongue. Mantras circle in my head, chief among them one which my son learned in elementary school: You can’t have “listen” without “silent”. Indeed.
Each New Year’s Eve, I find myself including mundane pledges intermixed with more glorious ambitions. Drink more water, cut down spending, smile more, do some secret good turn every day, learn to floss at long last, stop eating chocolate and sneaking fish tacos into my plant-based diet. Call each of my siblings in turn. Volunteer. Clean the curbsides around the park. Donate serviceable clothing to a shelter.
The list can be summarized with a single goal: Put your best foot forward.
Nana, my maternal grandmother, would be proud of me for remembering her instruction.
Tomorrow the Christmas decorations will come down and I’ll move my driftwood wreath to the front door. With Hope becoming paramount, I’ll find another spot for Joy. I’ll sweep the floors, wipe down the counters, and sort through my little closet. Cobwebs will fly beneath my duster. Pillows, sheets, blankets, and shawls will smooth themselves across the bed and unfurl from the coat rack.
I’ll take a break to walk along the road, waving at neighbors. A cup of tea will sit beside me on the porch. If the wind blows, I’ll raise the lights as I wipe the kitchen fixtures and tidy the towels on the shelf above the washer. The shoes beneath the stairs will practically straighten themselves, eager to please me. By the end of New Year’s Day, my tiny house will have been made clean and pretty again.
When all is said, and done, and said again, I count myself one of the amazingly lucky ones as 2020 comes to its wretched close. I did not lose my job. I have not, as of yet, caught this devastating virus. Though I’ve lost friends and acquaintances to the illness, no one close and no family. We have been spared. Thousands upon thousands have been dragged through misery, while my son, my siblings, and those for whom I care most deeply have largely been spared. For that, I give humble thanks to whatever divine force favored me and mine.
But I have confronted personal reckonings in 2020. As my third year in California draws to a close, every pretense I had for moving west has been stripped from me. The medical care which originally drew me to the Bay area proved false. The nonprofit job for which I yearned did not materialize at a time when I could accept an offer. When I could, none came. I’ve had to cobble together a life, just as I did when my marriage failed and my son — quite fittingly — embarked on his own path.
In some ways, this pandemic has offered me hours in which to reflect. Endeavors that I had been scheduled to orchestrate got cancelled or scaled to manageable size. I used the spare time to write and reflect. I dragged some rigid conceptions to the forefront and challenged their validity. My rummaging uncloaked anger which then raged in great claps of thunder. Sorrow swelled until my eyes drowned. Grief seeped from my heart and engulfed me.
I had let others carry my pain for a long time. Those brave souls call me sister, cousin, friend. One calls me “mother”. They eased a lifetime of burdens that I did not believe myself strong enough to shoulder. I might have been right; but rather than let these sweet people strain under its weight for another moment, I have decided that sorrow is too great a burden for any of us. Though the memories of everything and everyone whom I lost will remain, I no longer need the corrupt threads of loss to maintain the fibers of my being.
Joy will make a better winding cloth — lighter, softer, and cleaner. I will wrap myself in its splendor. I will pull its fragrance deep into my soul. I will let joy soothe me until, at long last, I heal.
Be it resolved.
It’s the thirty-first day of the eighty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.
For no particular reason, I’m linking a few of the galleries which I’ve created for this blog over the last year. The photos will load more slowly than I like, but might bring you a little pleasure if you, like me, enjoy the refreshing splendor of nature however inexpertly captured.
Happy New Year. May 2021 bring you peace, prosperity, and — yes — joy.