Responding to

“Happiness is not the absence of problems,
it’s the ability to deal with them.”
 Steve Maraboli
At each year's end, I typically take some time to reflect on the past year and set some intentions for the year to come. Some years, I've written down my intentions so that I can occasionally remind myself of my hopes and goals during the year. While my practice won't change with the close of 2020, the intensity of the year has left me far more exhausted and a bit more rattled than previous years.

For one thing, how do I make sense of the year's events? When I stop to consider the magnitude of change that has occurred in my life and the lives of everyone around me, I'm overwhelmed. From the fear I felt in March, to the anxiety that gripped me on my first trip to the grocery store, to the sense of helplessness I experienced with increasing infections during the fall, I feel as if I've been on an unending rollercoaster ride. And I don't especially enjoy rollercoaster rides.

So, where to start?

I usually find that it helps if I focus on things I've learned (or re-learned) during the year so that I can ground my next year's intentions in something that feels relatively meaningful and on-point. And the first thing that comes to mind, something I've said many times, both in this weekly email and elsewhere, is take nothing for granted. Home, good health, family, friendships, food on my table, steady income . . . I've seen how quickly and easily they can slip away.

Something else I find myself reflecting on is the importance of relationships. This past year I've watched Bob as he's reconnected with cousins with whom he's had no contact in forty years. These are cousins who lived next door as he was growing up and, through a variety of circumstances, with whom he'd lost touch. They have children now, and some have grandchildren. They live everywhere from the east coast to the west coast. They get together each week and have a Zoom family conversation. It has brought him delight and a new level of connectedness. The lock-down has reminded me of the value of human connection not only for support, but also the laughter and sense of belonging that comes with it. If anything, the pandemic has reminded me to slow down, show gratitude, and cultivate the relationships in my life.

Small acts of kindness matter. Kitchen Angels volunteers know the value of giving freely of themselves. While some people have retreated into fear and anger, I've also noticed the kindnesses many people have shown. For example, small things like taking a moment to say thank you, or phoning someone just for a chat, or offering to buy groceries for a neighbor who's unable to get out, are extraordinarily important. I've also noticed that many people seem to have slowed down, with less rushed conversations and a bit more listening. I hope that this sense of coming together in adversity continues when life eventually gets a reboot.

Finally, I mentioned it before and I think it bears repeating - remember to express gratitude. In the rush of day-to-day living, we sometimes forget to say "thank you." It's easy to fall into the trap of spending much of our time and energy pursuing the stuff we don't have. Gratitude reverses our priorities and helps us appreciate the people in our lives, the things we have, and the activities we're fortunate enough to pursue.
Dennis Overbye put things into perspective for me in a recent opinion piece titled This Solstice, Solace for the Darkness. He writes, "In blithe disregard for the activities of the Electoral College and everything else that humans were engaged in, the sun and the moon last week lined up in a perfect cue-ball shot to produce a total solar eclipse. The moon’s shadow slid across Argentina and Chile, and the majestic but shy mandala known as the solar corona revealed itself to crowds who had braved rain and fog in anticipation of the sight." He also pointed out other celestial events such as the Geminid meteor shower and the grand conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.

The point of his piece is that any meaning we might search for in events (celestial or terrestrial) is essentially up to each of us to determine. The cosmos takes no notice of us or our planet. There is no universal meaning, just what we apply to help us make sense of things. In fact, the universe doesn't particularly care what we do.

He goes on to say, "In a few billion years the sun will engulf and destroy us. None of us will be remembered."

Some might find his view depressing. I don't. It's simply a reminder to stay present, pay attention to what's going on around us, and to act with as much integrity as we can muster. He concludes with, "Odds are, whoever or whatever lives out there will never know that we were here at all, nor will we know them. But we know who we are. We know that we are alive now. We know whom we loved and whom we lost. Maybe that’s enough to ask of any universe."

And so, I come back to my original thought about what I've (re)learned as a result of having lived through the events of this past year . . . take nothing for granted.

Things won't magically resolve once we flip the calendar to 2021. We still have a slow, steady slog through winter ahead of us and the anger, fear, and grief that many people experienced this year won't simply disappear. But I will feel a bit of relief once the new year arrives. January 1 is an annual opportunity to start anew and make better choices based on the wisdom acquired during the previous year.

I hope we decide to make the most of the opportunity.

Please, continue to do everything you can to keep yourself and others as safe and as healthy as possible. And of course, happy new year.

In gratitude,
Thank you for your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.