There’s a liminal quality to that week between Christmas and New Year’s, one that I’ve loved for as long as I can remember. I would spend quiet evenings by lamplight, writing in the new journal that would have been waiting under the tree, wondering what new shape my life should take. These days though, I go home for the holidays and have to compress a year’s worth of hugs and games and inside jokes with my family into a mere fortnight or so. Such full days don’t leave a lot of time for quiet introspection, and so I’ve created a new ritual, making the week after I return to my little studio my contemplative time instead. This brings the added advantage of softening the blow of leaving my family behind, a moment which usually makes me question why I decided that trees and winter and a place of my own were worth more than seeing my loved ones every day.
I arrived back home last night, and this morning I went back to those trees to remind myself of how easily my soul expands in this landscape. I’m learning; going on that walk first thing was a marvelous idea. As soon as I saw the treeline ahead of me, I felt once again in my bones why I moved here, and why I hope to stay, and any self reproaches were immediately stifled. After I got home, in between the mundane realities of getting home from a trip, especially one filled with gifts, and the sweeter realities of settling back in with Moth and Thistle, my mind wandered among possibilities for the coming year. Being on that threshold always fills me with hope and wonder; anything at all could happen in the next twelve months, and for these few days I find it easy to trust that whatever comes, it shall be good.
This year, I’d like to hold on to that feeling of trust. For a very long time now, I have felt myself to be at the mercy of fate, with good things arriving because I happen to have the most incredible people in my life and bad things arriving because I can’t be lucky all of the time. I’ve actually found a great deal of relief in this feeling, because it is exhausting to have chronic illnesses in a culture that encourages one to pull oneself up by the bootstraps and fight the good fight and conquer life with positive thinking. However, I’ve realised lately that this philosophy comes with a downside; I hold back a little piece of myself, so that if things ever go wrong, my heart won’t be irreparably broken. For instance, I love it here in New York, but I am afraid to become too attached, in case my circumstances change and I need to move back to Texas. I can’t quite believe the good fortune that’s given me this place, and this life, so I’ve barely put out the tiniest of new roots, only the ones that will be easiest to transplant should the worst happen. I tell myself that this is sensible, but my heart of hearts believes it’s also a bit cowardly. I look back on most of my twenties, and see that while I was growing up, and changing in all kinds of good ways, I was also surrounding myself with layer upon layer of detachment and self-containment and caution. I am grateful to those layers for protecting me through challenging times; yet, I stare wistfully at the open-faced college girl that I was, who knew that whatever the future held it would be bright and beautiful. One of the best things I’ve done since then has been to adopt my pets; first Thistle and more recently Moth. Bringing these incredible, lovable, adorable animals into my life has probably been my most open act; after all, they do not have a life span anywhere near mine. I know that one day I will have to say goodbye to them, and that it will be terrible, and yet each day I love them fully, because to do less would be to rob us all. Mary Oliver puts it beautifully in her poem “In Blackwater Woods”:
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
I read the poem for the first time in December of 2012, and that passage has echoed within me ever since. I’ve only just now come to see that everything is mortal, not only beloved people and pets. This kind of trust and openness comes easily to me when I travel, and it leads to rich experiences, but I spend most of my life at home. I want it to be just as rich.
Thus, after this pondering, I have decided that my word for the year shall be welcoming. This does not mean that I want to transform all of my introverted qualities into an extrovert extraordinaire. I love being thoughtful and bookish and able to keep myself company. It does mean, though, that I will try to hold myself open, with my tender parts in full view, in the hopes that the joys will outnumber the heartbreaks. After all, I can always curl back up if I find that life is better that way. Or perhaps I’ll find that holding myself open doesn’t change what happens in my life one way or another. I suspect, though, that it will change me. And as this year will also bring my thirtieth birthday, that possibility feels right.
Welcome, 2016. Come on in. I’m terribly curious to find out what you will bring.