22 December 2013

Light and Darkness on the Solstice

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  – John Lennon

The past couple weeks I’ve been receiving mail, not the electronic kind, which is great in its own way, but real mail.  There is something so lovely about finding an envelope in my mailbox, addressed by a familiar hand, and posted with an actual stamp.  I’ve been welcoming some of these each day lately, with stories and photographs of people I love tucked inside.  I treasure each and every one of them, but  I wanted to share a couple of them with you.

There’s one letter each year that Dan and I especially anticipate.  It’s written by a woman who was in the hydrology program with Dan at U of A.  She’s smart as a whip and definitely one of the funniest holiday letter authors in North America – quite possibly the world, as I assume that the holiday form letter is a distinctively American tradition.

In these letters, she relates the same family news and events as most of us are likely to share, but the way she approaches even the most mundane of life’s events (like potty training) and household disasters (flooded basement followed by ice storm) seem like sitcom fodder.  Really, really good sitcom fodder.  What a gift it is to receive letter laughter each year from across the country.  It always makes me reframe how I might view similar events in my life with a more humorous perspective.

This year we received one Christmas letter in particular that was so courageous in its honesty.  One of my dear relatives has vascular dementia, which has caused her to lose much memory and language.  I haven’t seen her in several years, but I remember her as a vibrant, intelligent woman and a great storyteller with an infectious laugh.  Trained as a nurse, she worked for decades in orthopedic medicine. 

Like most holiday letters, this one from her spouse relayed the goings-on of the past twelve months and the accomplishments of their children and grandchildren.  It was also upfront about the challenges they now face on a daily basis.  But there wasn’t a shred of self-pity or woe.  The letter closed with beautiful words that brilliantly reflect the essence of my grandmother’s maxim:  bloom where you are planted.  In spite of unforeseen health issues (and honestly, how many health issues are foreseen?), they have changed their outlook to consider the realities of their lives, adjusting their expectations to mirror a much different retirement than originally anticipated.  


There are no guarantees in this life.  Each of our lives is marked by minor and major tragedies as unique, and yet as ordinary, as each of us.  We can choose to wallow in the injustice, and indeed, many do.  Or we can shine.  As MLK put it, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”  It is up to each of us how we choose to react.  In fact, our reaction is perhaps the only thing we can truly control in this life.    May the coming year fill you with light and love and laughter, and a desire to savor each day’s abundance.  Carpe diem, just like the old poets said.

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