We are over a week into the new year now, and these past several days I have found myself participating in one of my favorite yearly rituals.
Ideally, before I fully dive into the New Year I like to say a formal goodbye to the old one.
Usually, this includes thinking back over the major moments, both good and bad. If you are like me, one of these categories is much easier to reflect on than the other. We love to think about the good things: the fun vacations, the successes in our professional life, and the major family milestones.
When I was looking at the little year-end video Facebook made for me, it hit all the highlights. There were smiling pictures of my family enjoying Harry Potter world, pictures of our extended family celebrating my mom’s eightieth birthday, nervous but happy pictures of my daughter’s first day of high school. Good times.
But what Facebook didn’t capture and what I often want to brush past also are the hard moments. The dreams that were not fulfilled, the illnesses, the people who left my life through death or estrangement. These moments are much harder to sit with and digest.
These moments hurt. They feel like Failure. Disappointment. Grief.
But sitting with the hard memories is as important and even more so than the good ones. Because we have to make peace with the hard parts of the last year before we can truly move on and embrace a new one.
One of the thoughts that comforts me most when I sit with these hard moments is this truth from the great scientist, Antoine Lavoisier,
Nothing Is Lost, Everything is Transformed.
Several people that I love died last year. When I looked around our church sanctuary on Christmas Eve, I couldn’t help thinking about the people that were no longer there in the pews with us. The grief washed over me like a wave.
But then I remembered that these ones we’ve loved are never truly lost from us. The love we have for them and the love they have for us lives on. The impact they had on our life lives on. And because I believe in the great cloud of witnesses and the heavenly banquet, I know that when I knelt at the altar rail to receive communion on Christmas Eve, in some way I cannot see or completely understand, they were right there with me. In that moment of past, present, and future we all feast together.
Not only have people I love died (which is by far the hardest thing), so have some of my dreams. For twenty years I practiced yoga. For ten years I taught this beautiful practice. Yoga became a huge part of my identity. I honestly thought I would both practice and teach yoga forever.
And then I got injured. Actually, I hurt myself one day and stubbornly pressed on then I got injured even worse. Yoga became painful. I tried to alter my practice to account for the injury. I tried to just teach and not practice. Finally, the pain was so bad I knew I had to quit.
For a while, I thought my leave would be temporary and that one day I would practice and teach yoga again. For the whole year of 2017, I took only one yoga class and taught none. The one class I took was an exercise in pain and frustration.
I had to face the truth that this part of my life could be gone forever.
But when I really sat with this loss I realized, the practice that I loved for 20 years and shared for ten would always be a part of me. Even if I never did another downward facing dog I would always have the gifts my practice taught me. How to use my breath, how to be in and aware of my body, and how to love and be kind to my body no matter its state on even given day.
Which brings me to the hardest loss of all:
Each year as I look back I have to come to terms that I have lost a part of my self. Not just my dreams or my actions, me.
This January as I approach the midpoint of my forties, I have to acknowledge I will never be young again. I will from this point on always have gray hair, wrinkles, and a certain amount of strange, saggy, flappy skin.
Moreover, I will never have another child. Nor will I have young children again. And in just a few years the children I have will fly the nest. The mother in me is waning. And that is a loss that is much harder to manage than accepting my wrinkly, saggy skin.
And in the end, I have to acknowledge that I am waning. It is most likely true that I have fewer years to live on this earth than I have here to fore lived. It is entirely possible that I many fewer years than that. As I watch people my age struggle with life-threatening illnesses, I know there is no guarantee I will live to see another year.
It makes me ask, once my body is gone from this earth, what part of me will be lost and what will remain?
This acknowledgment of my mortality makes me come to grips with who I have been and who I am right now and what I want to be left of me once I die.
In the end, I don’t care that my once perfect skin will be gone. But I do care about what the legacy I leave my children will be. I want them to be left not with grief, but an overwhelming sense of being loved. I want them to be able to choose hope and perseverance and have a knowledge of what is good and right and beautiful in the world.
And I care about the legacy I leave the larger world.
And that, my friends, brings me back to welcoming 2018. In this upcoming year,
- How will I honor the people in my life who are now gone?
- How will I integrate my past?
- How will I live in such a way that I build a legacy of love for my children and a legacy of hope and beauty for the rest of the world?
As you move into 2018 I hope you will be able to take some time to reflect on the past year, in all its pain and glory. As you sit with the good and bad of the past, I hope you can find a way to allow both of them to bless you as you move into the future.
As a new year’s present, I offer you this blessing we use in my church:
Life is short.
And we do not have much time to gladden the heart of those who walk this way with us.
So be swift to love
And make haste to be kind.