annual life lessons

As an observer and documenter of this world, I am often challenged with contradiction: do I pause the moment, to note its details or do I carry on with my experience and rely on my ever-failing memory? I don’t have a practiced response to this challenge, so this morning I paused to record my experience and reflect, as the documenting seemed more valuable than finishing the experience, which I can pick up later.

Emotions have been screaming since I woke on New Year’s Day. I honestly hold no significance for that day and date. I get more excited over a full moon than I do over the swapping of the calendar. It’s funny that I don’t even use a January to December planner, opting for the one that begins in July. There’s significance in that choice methinks.

I feel things. The massive passion of many occupants of this planet is powerful and when the masses decide that something is important it resonates in my soul. Therefore, my emotions have been disconnected but powerful.

The disconnection stems from not everyone “feeling” the same about the impending new year. Many are celebratory and full of vision and belief in their new 365 daily opportunities to drive change and propel their lives forward. Others are caught up in sadness, disappointment or grief over losses or failures and these feelings are as heavy as chains around their neck, and they aren’t sure what the new year will bring beyond misery. Many lie in the middle of these two extremes, but everyone experienced this date change in their own way. Yet not everyone recognizes this!

“Happy New Year!” is shouted and texted for 24 hours, sometimes more. What does one do with that greeting if one feels “meh” about it? Is it a reciprocal exclamation or rhetorical? I feel it’s the latter and handle it as such. There’s something freeing in that. Let me explain.

About a year ago, Ian and I set out to explore a small part of our island home. A prohibited location called Sea Island. It’s a gated community of which we are not residents and we were on bikes, so we decided that we’d just follow the bike trail in and act like we belonged there, riding as far as we could, either petering out due to energy or because someone stopped us. We practiced our “Oh, we didn’t see the sign.” claim and decided that Ian would be the one to respond, not me, as he is much better at verbal poker face. I drag him into a lot of situations in which we push boundaries, but he is the anchor that is poised to rescue us if needed.

We encountered no guards, no protectors of the resort, but were rather turned back by a tall’ish hill that we weren’t interested in cresting. I won’t say we were tired, but we were definitely underwhelmed and didn’t feel the effort was worth it, at that point in our journey. If I’m reflecting properly as I type this, I recognize that I was compelled to turn back. Drawn to the moment I’m about to recall, which in and of itself is not astonishing, but isn’t that the point of life, to learn to be mesmerized by the ordinary like an infant?

We turned our bikes and gracefully navigated maintaining our sidewalk position to avoid cars. A few minutes in we approached a walking man. He stepped to the road to allow us to pass, and I called out “Thank you! Good morning!” He didn’t reply and I internally took offense, and then led a debate with Ian about the strong reciprocity expectation I’d held for that salutation! I was shocked by how much entitlement I had for his reply and how much drama I brought to the next few minutes of the bike ride as I reacted with ridiculous vehement upset to his lack of reply !

I verbally process much in my life, either out loud or via writing, which is honestly often like a rhetorical conversation. I also spend a lot of time reflecting on Whys and Hows to achieve better understanding of my life perspective. In the next few minutes, I came to the realization that the salutation (in my case) is a rhetorical greeting of well wishing, not required to be volleyed back to me in return. The call out of appreciation is similar, in that I am acknowledging his kind effort to clear the path for us, but I didn’t expect him to say “You’re welcome.” 

A massive life event occurred for me in these next moments along with a perspective shift. How much have I invested in the past in others’ replies or comments? How much weight have I allocated to when others don’t engage? Why couldn’t I simply shift to always sharing joy without expecting my joyous cup to be refilled by others? Why not just focus on replenishing my own discard, like I do when I’m actively growing my sourdough starter? Could I just maintain my cup in a “runneth over” state, so that sharing would barely dent my contents?

Yes, yes I could.

I engage with the world differently since that bike ride. I take less offense to unreturned texts, smiles that are ignored in the grocery store or social media posts that receive little to no engagement. I’ve been empowered by eliminating my expectations. I’ve also reduced the imaginary burden that exists for replying to things.

Yesterday I received several well wishing texts of HAPPY NEW YEAR! I didn’t feel like replying. I perceive them to be rhetorical anyway, but I also wasn’t feeling “happy”. I was sick in bed, after two weeks of pain, illness and sadness My misery and upset was thick. I’d only seen doctors, my immediate family and neighbors for weeks, so many others were unaware of my challenges. But wishes of HAPPY NEW YEAR! aren’t subjective to your personal circumstances, so I received them with the joy in which they were sent.

With one friend, I was hardcore honest. I replied to her “Happy New Year!” text with “It’s def a new year, but not much happy yet today…” and she and I engaged back and forth for an hour. Her admitting that she was just buying into the human expectation of sending that greeting on that day, and me sharing my physical and emotional challenges. Her gaining personal insight from what I was going through and also providing warmth and encouragement which felt like the virtual hugs I’d needed. It was a beautiful moment and I’m glad I was transparent with her. We are both better for it. Being transparent and open with select people is a skill I learned many years ago. I broadcast my joy far and wide, but hold my challenges close to my heart & head, sharing selectively with those who may comfort me or help me find my way. Not all friends and contacts are created equally. That’s the true Life Lesson there.

After this reflection today, I’m eager to know what my annual Life Lesson will be? Truth be told, I won’t know it till I’ve experienced it and then recapped it, but I know there’s some massive greatness lurking out there. Usually it’s disguised, till The Big Reveal when I realize how I positively navigated A Big Thing in a beautiful way and therefore learned The Life Lesson that I didn’t know was in store for me! These lessons aIways find me and never vice versa. I began acknowledging and honoring them a decade or so ago, but not necessarily in a list, as they’ve become part of my lifestyle now and have polished the way I interact with this world: Enough. Accept either outcome. Rhetorically share joy. Reduce expectations. These words are my garden of lessons that I cultivate and grow. A gardener of my life. I like that vision.

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