2019, Upon Reflection

In this calendar year several, major, seemingly-unrelated events spurred me to action despite my fears. In the past I would have allowed these fears to paralyze and protect me, but this year was different somehow. Since this is my last reflection for 2019, it seems appropriate to contemplate these events and see if there is a lesson to be learned.

First, I was asked by my alma mater to do reflective practice work with a student who was, himself, learning reflective practices through their program. Then, within days, the 28-year-old son of our dear friends (so he was effectively our nephew) died tragically in their home. Still within the first month of the year, I registered for a summer writing workshop in Iowa, which I had been to only once — 18 years before. Then, feeling particularly bold, in early February I became a stylist for a sell-from-your-home company. And about the time I was feeling confident that I had kept my feet under me for this year of changes, having by then completed the summer writing workshop and resurrected this blog, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and another young man (this time a former classmate of one of my son’s) died suddenly, in his parents’ home, at 28-years-old.

I don’t list these things to say that I have suffered greatly, as it is clear that others have endured true tragedies. Looking back, though, I realize that the common denominator among these experiences is that the action I was called to was simply to be present, for each of these situations; when I know that in the past I would have actively resisted participating in any of them.

It had been a few years since I’d done reflective practice work, and I had to relearn to get out of my own way (in my anxiety) and focus on what was going on with the other person. I could feel my feelings, be aware of them, but then use them in service to the person I was working with. He (and I, because that’s how it works) made great progress this year. Not only does he want to continue meeting, to focus on his volunteer work in ministry rather than on his work as a student, but also the school has asked me to take on one or two new students for the program they’ll run during the coming calendar year.

As for accompanying our friends in their grief, there seemed nothing honest to do but to accept our helplessness and just be. with them. — or be willing to stay away with no hurt feelings when they need to be alone. It’s been nearly a year since their son died, and with all the time we’ve spent together, I’m embarrassed to say, I have still not put anything in writing for them. Of course everything I think of seems inadequate — and maybe that’s the continuing lesson of the year. I will write something for them and let the words be, inadequate and heartfelt, as they are.

It was a crash course in just letting the words be at the summer writing workshop. With multiple 5- to 15-minute writing exercises there was no time to pretty things up. It was an awkward, weekend-immersion in just putting it out there and letting it be what it was. There was no other option, and I survived.

And my foray into sales — I humbly acknowledge that I let my head (hey, this is a great deal!) lead my heart (it does not give me joy to track inventory and expenses) into the endeavor. Now the time has arrived to be where my heart is (reflective) and let go of where I envision an alternate version of myself might be (on a cruise I could win). Sometimes, in this practice of being where I am, I realize that I have let something outside of myself create a vision of who I think I should be — a salesperson, for instance, because I do love the product. Now, having taken the time for an honest check-in with my heart, I find that, virtuous as it is, this is not the place I am meant to be.

This past Fall when my mom was diagnosed with cancer, my head did not want to be there, but my heart could not do otherwise. Afraid as I was of what it might entail, I knew at the deepest level of who I am that I wanted to be with my parents as they navigated both the first and the second of my mom’s chemo appointments. All three of us were in the dark (willfully avoiding Internet research) and nervous about what was to come; but we all three showed up for these first steps toward her cure, because that’s all we could do. We were there to let happen what would, and we were there for each other in the days after, when Mom felt woozy but was glad to have the distraction of someone to do sewing projects, go shopping, or play games with.

It was after my mom’s diagnosis but before she started chemo that the other young man died. I hadn’t been close to his family since our kids were little and played together, but my husband works with his dad — and the families of both of these young men, who died too soon, had been friends over the years. It was tragedy upon tragedy. My heart broke that another family was living this nightmare, but it broke again that our close friends were having to relive their own nightmare. Again, there was a glaring lack of anything to do but to be with our friends as they were with their friends during their shared, surreal nightmare.

And this blog. Well, it, too, is still finding its way. I am practicing the discipline of letting it be what it is — not forcing it into some mold of what a successful blog might look like. My top priority is that it be an honest reflection, even if that means it’s messy at times. My hope is that you will relate here or there to something, and that these reflections may prompt you to spend some time getting honest with yourself about just being — who you are.

So the great lesson of 2019, for me, is that sometimes my very being is the best I can offer — imperfect, inadequate, and without answers or solutions — but willing to be present.

What has 2019 taught you?