A new year has begun. “Happy New Year,” we wish one another. But what if we greeted each new morning (our own or someone else’s) with “Happy New Day”? What if we saw each day through new eyes, a succession of fresh moments? Imagine approaching life as the gradual unfolding it is, each moment brimming with possibility.
Why do we welcome the new year? We want to move on from the painful or disappointing past. We like to hope things will get better in the coming times. Some of us make resolutions; some lament that the promises made the year before never quite came to fruition.
Is there something that might be learned from this repeating cycle of hope and regret?
For heaven’s sake linger. Do not protect your heart. The cost is dear indeed.
Perhaps the annual tradition can be a kindly reminder that all we ever truly have is this lived moment. It’s in the now that we sense our aliveness. And yes, it is also in the living moment that we can entertain fresh possibility: the prospect of turning a corner that has long wanted turning. Who knows what holding still and quiet might put us in touch with? Being really here, in the present, is a wide-open door to discovery. To the realization that this thing really matters to me, whatever it may be. Maybe in a lingering moment of stillness, there can come the deep recognition that I could actually do this. We see that a thing long wanted deserves to stop being put off.
Why do you suppose twelve-step recovery programs insist that confronting addiction means one day at a time? Every scrap of life (whether you’re an addict or not) is just that: it’s what’s happening now. Not tomorrow; not next year.
Right now: this very day.
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In the last couple of days I have been taking down my Christmas tree, sweeping the fragrant pine needles from the floor, lingering to smell them as they collect in my dust pan. I’ve been putting away beloved ornaments, like the foil-covered cardboard star fashioned in my youth. That star has crowned my grown-up Christmas trees for decades.
The holiday season is my favorite time of year. I love going out to get a Christmas tree, driving it home, putting it up, hanging the ornaments. I delight in thinking up presents for loved ones. Maybe above everything else, I revel in the music of the season, joyfully singing along with recordings, joining in with the annual community Messiah sing.
I’m well aware that for some of us, the season is a time of acute stress and dashed expectations. But for me, at least in recent years, it’s pure joy. I linger over each ornament dangled from a tree limb, revisiting its history, delighting in the memory of all it summons.
There is the leather ornament made by my father when he was dying of cancer. Yes, it stirs the memory of his painful death, of his last Christmas, when I was eighteen. All the more reason to cherish the ornament: for it reminds me of when he was here, a living presence in my young life. This is all “contained” in the round leather disc that graces my tree each year.
Because I so enjoy the holiday season, it is inevitable that when the time comes to say goodbye to it till next year (should next year come, for I cannot be certain of that), I will be sad to let it all go.
And here is where we come to the business of not-having-time-to-hurry.
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Anything cherished that is brief (for all things are fleeting) deserves to not be hurried past. Oh, but what does it mean to linger over a thing being let go? It means allowing myself — your self — to dwell there as long as the savoring heart desires. So for me just now, putting away the things of Christmas, I take my time. I give each thing its due. I let my heart dwell awhile in the joy of it all, not wishing to protect myself even a little from the sorrow of the ending.
You may say — oh, this is silly, all of this attention to putting away seasonal ornaments. Oh dear heart, this is not about what might appear to be trivial. For sometimes what we are saying goodbye to is a loved one in hospice care, or a job we’ve enjoyed for years and are now letting go. Perhaps a dear friend is moving away. Whatever it is, we owe it to ourselves to not protect our hearts from the ache of loss. For love — which is all this is about — inevitably entails change, some of it painful.
What if I hadn’t allowed myself to feel the deep cherishing for my father, when he was still here to love? I knew his diagnosis was terminal. Something in my youthful self also knew I didn’t have forever to love him. That after was going to be much longer than the years I had gotten to spend time with him. Nor did any of this quiet knowing protect me from protracted and terrible grief, once the box cradling his body had been lowered into the earth.
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We perennially protect ourselves from sorrow, supposing that “if I hurry on to what’s next, I can avoid the hurt.” If, say, you’ve been disappointed (yet again) by the holidays, or by the relationship you thought might be “the one,” the tendency may well be to get on with the next thing, or to try to forget the past, pretending it didn’t really matter.
All our lives we labor to avoid pain, above all the pain the heart is subject to. But to protect ourselves this way is to live a muted life. For cherishing carries a risk: we might lose the person, the job, the time of year. Our own lives. Over time the heart shrinks, with less capacity to love in an unbounded way.
Yes, each thing is brief. I can’t know if I’ll have another Christmas. The awareness of that truth could lead to my hurriedly putting away ornaments, to discarding fragrant needles without pausing to drink in their scent one last time. We turn our backs all our lives on the painful prospect of loss, of brevity. No, I tell myself (as I urge you, dear heart) to sit down on the floor and lift the dust pan to my nose and smell the residue of the beloved tree. It’s a crime to let the prospect of a breaking heart cause you to hurry on to what’s next.
You don’t have time for that. Let yourself know this, at long last. What a gift to yourself! And it didn’t cost a nickel or need wrapping. For heaven’s sake linger. Do not protect your heart. The cost is dear indeed.
I wish you a blessed new day, a moment at a time. So much love to you.