2021 was so, so long. In this last week I have little interest in reviewing this past year. The fact that I, that we, got through it is good enough for me.
The good news is that not looking back, at least for now, keeps me in the moment. My quandary is whether I‘ve chosen mindfulness or denial. If I choose mindfulness, then there’s space for my denial. If I go with a state of denial, then who cares? I will not decide. I will opt for a “both/and” rather than an “either/or” scenario.
The effort that goes into a binary dilemma is too great. We spend so much attention making an argument for our point of view. The more I defend a specific position I take, the less likely I am to learn something new.
So long, 2021. I will not miss you. I appreciate much from this past year. Larry and I moved to a nicer home. We didn’t know we could do it, yet here we are. I continue to enjoy a hybrid private practice, in-person and virtually. 365 sunrises and sunsets made for beautiful light. Being in touch with friends and family, when possible, brought love and laughter. Reading new essays, books, and articles enriched me. Not finishing books, no matter how highly praised by critics, was pure relief. And daily walks always expanded my vision. For those and many other gifts I am grateful.
However, having to reach to our depths to get through a full year of the pandemic unnerved most of us. Our tempers were shorter, our patience wanting. We are at the final stretch. It’s less than a week until we ring in the new year. For me it will be less of a new beginning than it will be a step forward. Another step into the unknown.
Take the pressure off New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. If you have plans have fun and stay safe. If you don’t have plans, enjoy the simplicity of staying in.
Rather than making New Year’s resolutions, think of what you might like to let go of.
Regift. If what you received isn’t for you for any reason, find those around you who would appreciate it. Or donate. Either way, it’s a win-win.
I always thought I was a generous person. Then I got married and I came to realize that I was only generous in certain circumstances. If something was my idea, great, I was happy to offer services, a gift, or lend an ear. However, if asked, I found I could be withholding. Somehow I felt being asked for something implied I was stingy. And I was. Sometimes I still am. Apparently a generous heart is not a one way endeavor.
I started to notice that “no” was my immediate response when asked for something. I had to learn to pause to see why. I didn’t like this stingy quality and wanted to do better. What I found was that I had often volunteered or ignored my needs to give in ways that more often than not were a sacrifice. I ignored my own needs to unconsciously gain acceptance from others. Once I stopped giving in those instances I had more room to give of myself at other times. I felt less resentful, less parsimonious.
Holidays often highlight our generosity or lack thereof. If we’re motivated by a giving heart, we will feel the joy of the season. If we receive with a generous spirit, we take in so much more than the gift at hand. And, yet we’ve been through a lot. Having foregone so much, with more closures happening at present, we might feel particularly challenged to access our generous spirit.
As we traverse the Omicron variant surge, let’s do our best to open our hearts to one another. We’re in for a bumpy ride. I’m going to do my best in finding the humanity for those who make me bristle. I will be testing myself. Do I have the grace to live and let live? Or will I be judging others? Seething through a tight jaw.
I don’t know what will show up when I’m stressed or down. But I’ll use my reactions as measures of what I might need in terms of grace. And, then I’ll do what I can to have patience as I move through the end of this difficult year into a new year in which living in the spirit of generosity will serve me more than holding on.
As we open ourselves up to the many gifts in life, may we all benefit from the act of giving and receiving.
Send thank you notes. It means so much to those who give to us to know that the gift was received in the spirit of generosity
Stay within your budget. It can feel challenging to not overspend. Remember that an act of love can mean so much more than a boxed gift paid on credit.
Regift to places that accept new items for those who might have lost so much. Some places you might consider are domestic abuse shelters, tornado victims, emergency immigrant centers.
I’m finding this holiday season to be quite odd. On the one hand, many of us are able to travel, visit with friends and family, and celebrate the holidays in person rather than on Zoom. On the other hand, our nervous systems have been taxed beyond what we thought possible as we forge ahead.
I so appreciate the invitations I’ve received for in-person celebrations. And, yet, I just don’t feel up to it. I am less inclined to have small talk. I like to see people, but not much is new in terms of life changes, and I don’t have the wherewithal to listen even though I’m interested. So I sit out the parties. Parties I yearned to attend in my 20s and 30s. Parties I will forego in my 60s while we still cope with a pandemic.
When we ask, “how much more can we endure?”, we’re simply given more. Plodding ahead, a bit slower than before. Sometimes I can delight in a small moment. Such as walking with a friend or enjoying a chance meeting in Central Park. Other times I am enraged by what would seem an insignificant event.
Today my face burned as I attempted to walk around a family who abruptly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to adjust something in their stroller. It wasn’t an emergency and they had plenty of room had they cared to walk a couple of steps moving closer to the curb. I have little patience for those who are not considerate of others. Simple kindnesses go a long way. I soften when someone is gentle or thoughtful. Later in the day a neighbor helped me with a package, and I could have cried from gratitude. Ambivalence and a general malaise have ruled these last months. It’s kind of like a throwback to my adolescence, or maybe even menopause. Two stages I would have preferred to leave in the past. Yet here I am, moody and grateful.
Smile to a stranger. Know that they, too, are going through a lot
Allow yourself to slow down. It’s easier to make room for your feelings, your process, or anything you’re experiencing when you slow down, take a breath, and say, “In this moment this is where I am.”
Take a bath. If you can, find some bath soap paint that washes away. Create art on your body, in the tub, then wash it away. It’s fun and it will be a reminder of the impermanence of our situation.
It’s foggy this morning. How apropos for these times. Our minds are foggy. Well, mine is. By the end of any given day I have limited access to names and words. If I want to relax in the evening, I’m challenged to remember one of a number of shows I enjoy watching.
It also seems foggy when we think of moving forward. We are slowly making our way back to a life previously known. I’d love to travel, dine out, enjoy theater. Yet, I am more cautious now, valuing health and safety over social luxuries. Presently, travel consists of walking to Central Park. Though today I moved through the fog to Randall’s Island where I soon got lost. It was a bit of a challenge not being able to find my bearings since distance visibility was obliterated by low clouds.
In general, this morning’s walk is very much how I’m getting through these days in the time of Coronavirus. I can’t see anything in the distance so I’m reliant on what is right in front of me. What’s right in front of me is quite simple. I work. I write. I prepare simple meals. I eat. Larry and I laugh, when I’m not being defensive or critical. I walk. If I’m feeling really adventurous, I take out my bike. Every morning I meditate. Every night I sleep, lucky if I do it well enough. Of course, there are other things that fill in my days, but my brain is foggy, and I can’t think of much more now.
As the haze of the pandemic continues to blanket our days, we will take one step at a time to find our way to safer ground. Are we there yet? No. But we’re steps closer. Given all we’ve been through, we can trust our ability to persist through the mist.
Nostalgia! Throwback to another time.
Listen to music you enjoyed at a younger age
Play a game that used to be fun for you.
Find scents that elicit positive memories, whether it’s from a bakery, a freshly mowed lawn, or from a family member’s fragrance tray.
I had some ideas about what I’d be addressing for this blog post, but when I looked at my calendar, I saw that it’s been four years since my mother died. We had a complicated relationship. Yet, in the last year of her life as her health declined, we found common ground with a deep and enduring love. A time I will always treasure. Most people don’t get that opportunity. Understanding that death is inevitable, her dying days were filled with peace and love.
In the ensuing years I have come to appreciate the many things I learned from her. Good manners matter. Respect privacy, one’s own and others’ need for discretion. Appreciating those who share kindness in the world. A love of tennis and figure skating. A love of salads. And an understating that we do not really know what others are going through, so perhaps we can give them the benefit of the doubt.
In the song from Mack & Mable, time heals everything. I am grateful for all I learned in that relationship, and how it translates time and again in my life. Sadly, this week I found out a friend younger than me died. He was such a giving and caring man. I am so grateful for his support and care for almost 40 years. I will take those experiences, too, into my future.
As we come to the final weeks of 2021, let’s reflect on the ups and downs of a pandemic year and what lessons can be culled from this time. Who are no longer in our lives? What did we learn from them? In what ways have we let go? How have we changed? How have we endured?
I’m not sure I’m any stronger than before. But I do have a recognition of my strengths that were unacknowledged before the pandemic, and certainly before my mother’s death. What I know now is that this is my life, my journey, no matter what others think. Partly it’s a realization born out of getting older. Partly it’s a gift provided by witnessing my courageous clients and how uniquely each of us finds our way back to ourselves.
Wishing you peace and love as we see the end of this complicated year.
Make a list of the ways you’ve grown this past year. Acknowledge yourself for that growth.
Think of those who are no longer in your life, whether by death, other circumstances, or by choice, and make note of how you’re changed because of those relationships.
Think of what you will let go of before 2022 arrives. Write it down, and then burn the list, rip it up or find your own way of releasing it.
I was working at Strawbridge and Clothier in the Men’s shoe department. This was a branch in the Echelon Mall in Voorhees, NJ, a short commute to Philadelphia. I was a student at Rutger’s University in Camden, still a theater major, though I would finish with a degree in English. Paul Puccio, an English major at another college, who worked in Men’s Furnishings, introduced me to the music of Stephen Sondheim. I was 18 years old. He was enamored with Follies and Alexis Smith. He invited me over to his home where I listened to his original Broadway cast album with Paul narrating to a neophyte. I was changed for life.
The year was 1978. I had never heard anything like it. My New Jersey suburb was not void of art, but I hadn’t been privy to the musical stylings of Stephen Sondheim until then. The next year I would take a Trailways bus to New York City to see Sweeney Todd. I was enthralled. The double entandras, the dark humor, the rhythmic patter, and the soulful harmonies. I would finish out my college years living in Philadelphia listening again and again to a turntable set on one Sondheim musical or another.
Part of my impetus for moving to Manhattan post-graduation was to be able to attend any, and all, Sondheim shows. I sang his songs with great longing in the shower or at a voice lesson. I did not possess the vocal quality to perform his songs in public. Yet, I happily enjoyed being an audience member for many shows, including the 1995 revival of Company in which the versatile Debra Monk gives her powerful rendition of The Ladies Who Lunch. More recently I thoroughly enjoyed the stellar cast of the current production of Assassins off-Broadway.
Stephen Sondheim died Friday at the venerable age of 91. I am grateful for his provocative musicals. Every revival has allowed me to learn something new from his intricate music and lyrics. I am one of so many who repeatedly metabolized the Sondheim oeuvre. Students, audience members, theater professionals, and fans from around the world have their own poignant Sondheim connections. He was a legend. We were fortunate enough to live in a world in which his work could touch our souls. Thank you for Being Alive, Mr. Sondheim.
Go to YouTube and enjoy the many stars who interpret Sondheim songs. Some suggestions are Raul Esperanza, Debra Monk, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Cook.
If you’re able, get tickets to see Assassins at The Classic Stage Company, and/or Company on Broadway. If not, find out when there is a local or college production of a Sondheim musical near you.
Croon in the shower or anywhere else where you can sing from your heart.