I feel off balance at the beginning of this new year. Maybe I was assuming that the beginning of a new year would result in the obliteration of the old year and a fresh start without any garbage from the past year. But I’ve been around the block enough times to know that this isn’t the way it works.
We had brutal cold and snowy, icy roads during the last couple weeks of December that disrupted our Christmas celebrations so the wrapped presents were still under the tree Christmas night and the ham was still in the three season room waiting to be carved. Now January has been almost balmy, feeling more like late November weather. And we have been in Florida during the first weeks of January for most of the past 35 years, but not this year.
The past year was a very stressful year for us, a year of sadness, a year of “missings.” Yesterday Jim went into our travel trailer to check things out and came back saying he really likes our camper. We didn’t use it at all last summer – it was jacked up without wheels. We both miss the summer road trips pulling our summer home behind us and he is wondering whether we will use it this next summer. I told him that last summer we didn’t go out because he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to do the heavy work that is required of him. This year he is doing better with medications and I said that we wouldn’t know if he could do it unless he tried. He was happy with this answer.
I have been working on being patient this past year as Jim is struggling with coming to terms with the impact that Myasthenia Graves is having on his life – the weakened and cramping muscles, decreased energy, and sometimes slow mental processing. Watching him struggle to find meaning for his life has triggered the memories of my struggles adjusting to living with fibromyalgia. I remember so well the pain of loosing my sense of self and fearing that I no longer had value, that I had no purpose for living. I am remembering the scene of Jim telling me, with tears, that he missed me – and I, with tears, saying I missed me too. I don’t feel like I have lost him although I struggle to be patient when he gets stuck thinking things through when solving problems with me. Yes, I remember my own mental fog that used to sometimes be like pea soup.
In January, after the tree is taken down but the manger scene is still on the table in the middle of my living room, I am reflecting on how the birth of Jesus should impact on who I am and what I do within the social context of 2023. What difference does it make in how I live my life that Jesus was born 2023 years ago? What do I need to do as a 78 year old woman who deeply loves a man who is struggling with health issues; a woman who has needed to take on the work of negotiating with people and making hundreds of decisions in our rebuild project after Hurricane Ian flooded our condo in Florida; a woman who is fearful for democracy here in the U.S. and around the world, who fears for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren and those in underdeveloped nations who will hurt because those before them have destroyed the environment? I know what I would like to do as I ponder the teachings of Jesus, but I also know I have limitations due to age and decreased physical functioning. I would love to get involved, to work for justice, but the fatigue that forced me to retired from paid work also makes it impossible to volunteer in the world of work. I have been working on patience for a long, long time but now I need something different – I am feeling called to practice gentleness.
As I wrote that last phrase, I feel this calling deeply and intensely within my soul – I need to become a gentlewoman if I am going to successfully deal with life, that messy life that is following me from 2022 to 2023. I will start by being gentle with myself as I define what it would be like to be a gentlewoman. And my knowledge of how people change tells me that I will need to start practicing personal gentleness until it becomes a part of who I am. At the same time I will practice gentleness (along with honesty, firmness and grace) with those people that I live with. This is consistent with the research (Harvard Longitudinal Longevity Study) that has found that as we age social relationships are very important for our mental and physical well-being.
Have you thought about what the start of a new year means for you? What guiding principles do you draw on when thinking about who you are and how you want to be? I think the process of maturing/aging is the same for everyone – we just go about it differently.