My 2019 Word of the Year

§  My intentions were laudable. (And, yes, I am very familiar with that saying about just what the road to Hell is paved with!) §

Several years ago I began foregoing New Year’s Resolutions in favor of a “Word of the Year”. Having tried and failed at many a resolution, I saw no point in setting myself up for certain failure; it was simply depressing, and merely reinforced my bad opinion of myself. (I feel the same way about goals.  Goals are something I set simply to prove to myself that I am a failure.  I don’t set goals anymore, either.)

So, casting about for some way to create some type of resolution-that-wasn’t, I’d been struck by an idea: I could forego a resolution, yet choose a focus: a character-building, life changing focus for the coming year.  Not a goal, I decided; a focus.  (God is in the semantics, I told myself.)  I could chose just one meaningful word, and I need not attempt to accomplish it so much as to merely keep it at the forefront of my mind, making it active in my life.

I found creative ways to bring my attention to bear upon my Focus Word. That first year, I hid post-it notes and scraps of paper throughout my home in places where I knew they would not be easily found, yet were sure, sooner or later, to be discovered.  Since it was unlikely I would turn the heavy mattress on the bed more than once during the year, a note emblazoned “My Focus This Year Is” was pushed into the thin hollow between the mattress and box springs.  Another went under the couch cushions—I had been known, from time to time, to actually lift them up and vacuum beneath them (or at least search for loose change). I wrote my word on random pages of my blank diary.  I secreted one beneath a throw rug. And, yes, one note, slipped into a plastic bag, went into the bottom of the vegetable bin in the frig!

Amazingly, it worked. I came across those notes again and again throughout that first year, forcing me to keep my attention centered on my Focus Word, and gauge how well it was working.

I’ve used many Focus Words in the intervening years, and I’ve learned to choose them with immense care. The Universe, I’ve learned to my great dismay, will cooperate with me—oh, yes, will it ever!  Choose Peace as a focus word, and every possible non-peaceful situation imaginable will be tossed at me like errant baseballs.  And, for the love of heaven, never, ever, choose Patience !

So one would think that, at the start of 2019, I would have displayed better sense. I would never have chosen to focus on the word Restful.

Uh….

My intentions were laudable. (Stop right here! Yes, I am very familiar with that saying about precisely what the road to Hell is paved with!) Nevertheless, I felt I was doing the right thing. As an apprehensive person, easily anxious, often subject to panic attacks, I could learn to be Restful at the core and center of my being, no matter what the Universe happened to toss my way on any given day.

Yeah, sure. And the sun will begin rising in the west; the earth stop spinning on its axis. President Trump will stop tweeting, and my cats will never again wake me for breakfast long before I want to roll my butt out of bed.

I will say only that having chosen Restful as my 2019 Focus Word has been, ummm, interesting. (And, yes, I am also well acquainted with that other saying, the one about the Chinese curse!) I was certainly not aware that so many simple, everyday situations could roll themselves like a snowball heading down the Matterhorn, cascading into an avalanche and scattering destruction in its wake.

Did I, as planned, learn to find ways to feel Restful despite the chaos stirring all about me? Not so much. But I can say unequivocally that my success lay in realizing how often I compound that same chaos, frothing it like foam overflowing the top of the coffee mug. I was startled to discover just how little I rely on the tools available to me: deep breathing,  positive self-talk, meditation, or even just using the word “No” when needed to protect myself. Slowly, ever so slowly, I have discovered that I am sometimes capable of reaching a state of calm; that serenity is available to me, despite the fact that everything about me is overflowing with frenzied motion, with fear, or with stress.

In the end, I think that the gift of this year’s Focus Word was awareness. I am, as never before, aware of, cognizant of, the ways in which I contribute to the disorder of my own life. I am aware of the ways, also, in which I can mend that situation.

I wouldn’t ever again willingly choose Restful as my Word of the Year! But perhaps having done so once wasn’t such a mistake, after all.

In The Moment

Hoding newborn Amanda

After my daughter’s visit to her obstetrician, I hurried over to see the pictures from the sonogram of my first grandchild. As she and her husband, John, told me about the wonder of hearing the baby’s heartbeat, I exclaimed, “Oh!  You ought to have recorded it.”

“I should have thought of that!” John responded. “But I was totally caught up in the moment.”

And that, as I assured him, was perfectly okay. In fact, it was exactly as it ought to be.

There have been too few times in my life when I was totally “in” the moment, totally present for exactly what was happening, but I treasure those memories. One of those moments was the day that my own daughter was born.  In that less-empathetic era, the nurses attendant at her birth began rushing through their own procedures without first handing my newly-born daughter to me.   I could see my child on a gurney to my side, but could not touch her until her father, saying, “I think Mommy  wants to touch her baby!”  yanked my own gurney over that precious extra inch so that I could reach her. Never, never in my lifetime will I forget that moment–electrifying, incredible, impossible–of touching just the tip of my finger to the tiny body of my newborn daughter.  Never, never more than in that moment have I felt completely cognizant of what was happening, yet, conversely, more totally part of the universe, and of the heart of God.

And that is what “being in the moment” does for us. It reconciles our humanness with our divine being.  For one incredible second, we are at one with all that we truly are.  We are, for that moment, not merely spiritual beings having a human experience: we are expanded, total, whole.

I would like to say that I have had other such moments, too numerous to count, in the passage of 64 years walking this planet. I would like to say that, but I can’t.  Like the fictional inhabitants of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, few of us truly understand the value of life while we are living it. Those rare moments of communion with all that life is are infrequent, at best.  But the fleeting seconds of recognition should be recalled and celebrated.

I’m truly glad that my son-in-law was so caught up in the moment of first hearing his child’s heartbeat that he forgot to record it. No recording could ever take the place of his wonder and awe at that moment.

Sometimes, though, it is something far more insignificant and seemingly less earth-shattering that, for one brief second, brings us to recognition of the miracle of life. I recall one such moment as an adolescent,  when, having gone for a walk in the cool weather of late fall, I arrived back home just as the sun began to set.  The sky was a maze of varied electric and shining colors.  I stood transfixed in wonder at the beauty of it, all awareness of my surroundings forgotten, elated and exalted.  For just that one, mere second, I found myself totally at peace; completely at one with the world.

Also while still young, I used to lie on the cool grass, wet with dew, on late summer nights, and stare upward at the stars lighting the sky. That sense of peace, of oneness, totally enveloped me, as I lay there on the ground, running my hands over the dew-wet grass and gazing at the heavens, feeling the inescapable, undeniable knowledge that, “I came from there.”

In fact, I found a faint memory of those nights triggered in me one dark morning in early spring as I waited for my bus. I looked down at the dewy grass next to the sidewalk, seeing the crystalline sparkle of every jewel-like dewdrop sparkling beneath the rising sun.  I reached down to the glimmering beauty, glittering there in the crepuscular light of the barely-begun morning, and knelt to run my fingertips over the blades of grass.  Feeling the cold, wet dew upon my fingers, I completely lost track of time and place until the bus pulled up, startling me out of my concentration.

I gathered up my purse and boarded, slipping my fare into the waiting maw of the cash box, and my regular driver asked me why I had been kneeling. Had I dropped something there on the grass? Did I need to go back and look for it?

“No,” I told him, smiling. “I was just admiring the beauty of the dewdrops there on the grass.”

He shook his head at me and started up the bus.

“You,” he said, rolling his eyes, “really need a vacation.”

Happy Birthday, Amanda Desireé.