Year Anew

Some folks have been complaining about 2013, bidding it good riddance, speaking of it with various expletives and such. My first response is to think something like ‘damn right, this was a painful and terrible year, hell with it’…. but then I realize, bad things happen every year. Good things too, and if I take the glass half-full attitude, I realize that the old year wasn’t, in my own personal world, half bad. That my father died in 2013 doesn’t make it a bad year. It makes it a precious year. One in which I enjoyed all my final moments with him, one in which I had the honor of witnessing his death. That is no small gift. Yeah, the past year has been rich, full and good. (That being said, I’m still ready for a new one.)

It’s the weight loss season again, and so I begin to do a little review of 2013 and my advances – and retreats – on that front. I’d started last year on the crazy Atkins diet, and while it was successful, and I ended up looking pretty good for my 50th birthday and subsequent trip ‘back home’ to Chicago, by the time fall came, and with it home-made apple pies and fresh home-baked bread, I let it all go. I knew I was begging trouble, but it was a quality of life thing for me. I’d had it with eating nothing but meat, cheese and vegetables for the past six months and I meant to enjoy all I’d missed now. I realized I may have gone too far in ‘catching up’, but some little voice told me ‘screw it, you made your goal, now live’. And really, in that time and place I wanted to be there. Joining my son every night, sharing the same menu and this time having home-made dessert. I’d never baked bread before in my life, so the discovery in fall of 2013 that I could do so – and easily – without even so much as a loaf pan – that kinda blew my mind. And once you’ve made it, you feel you gotta eat it. There’s only so much that two people can eat though, and it’s hard to enforce portion control when there’s always more on hand. And so I ate. And then with the stress of a bigger work load, plus my dad’s decline and death, I ate to soothe myself. And while that tiny voice told me I needn’t eat quite so much to make myself feel better, I did. I knew full well it would come to this, and it has. I am back to exactly the same weight as I was one year ago today. Almost twenty pounds are back. Which means that I saw my body change by forty pounds. Yeeks. If I think too long about it, or catch a glance of my pudgy jaw line in a mirror, I want to weep, to sink into despair. Cuz I was there, goddamit, and now I’m back. But that’s ok. That is what New Years are for. Starting over.

Over the past year I’d been very intrigued with death and dying, too. Scared shitless of losing my father, and wondering what exactly it was that a person’s natural death looked like, I’d gone on YouTube binges that would freak many people out. I watched embalmings, assisted suicides, cremations, interviews with people who knew they were dying. Anything and everything so that I might better get what it was to witness a loved one die, and then make those after-life decisions none of us ever really talks about. I meant to demystify death. I’d read my share of Elizabeth Kubler Ross years ago, but never did click with her old-school language. ‘Yack, yack, yack’, I remember thinking. Let’s get down to it, lady! So in 2013 I began to read more on near death experiences – something I’d known about for years, but had begun to read now from a new perspective. And when my own father began to point towards the corner of the room, asking me who all those people were, and when he told me he saw my cousin, and that he missed his mommy, I was glad I’d re-read the literature on this experience. I do get that many folks think these end-of-life occurrences are merely the brain playing tricks on itself in the final moments of life, however I certainly do not. Me, I know that a soul is what animates a body, and quite simply, it has a separation process to undergo at the end. And while I would never had dared to speak my opinion on this subject so candidly in the past, now I feel I can. I’m off that hook – I’ve experienced it myself, I know. And I’m not quite as afraid of death as I was. The loss is still so very sad, and I can see it will continue on…. But having been with my beloved father during his transition has helped confirm for me what I already believed. So now I go into my own future, and move closer to my own death, with some important questions resolved.

My son’s now approaching an age in which his entire outlook on the world will change and mature. Ten now, eleven in a few months, 2014 will likely be the year in which the true magic of childhood ends. Santa, the birthday angel and the Easter Bunny won’t be visiting after long. Even in the cocoon of Waldorf, he will soon know for sure. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I’ve savored his small years, even documented a few of them here on this blog, so I can’t feel that I wasn’t present for them, or appreciative. I was. As I write this, he’s sleeping in, catching up after a whirlwind visit to Chicago and dramatic return. Over his visit, and while I was sitting vigil with dad, Elihu was going through a pretty big health scare, having visited the emergency room for knees that had blown up so they’d awoken him in the night – he said it felt like knives – and being told it might possibly be juvenile onset arthritis. Or Lyme disease. And in that I myself had fretted all fall over the Lyme v. growing pains debate – only to be told by nurses and moms alike not to worry (!!) – I kinda knew. And what relief that it was Lyme and not arthritis. So we’re dealing now with that, and the stock regimin of antibiotics to follow. (I am just kicking myself because I really did suspect it but caved to everyone else’s opinion.) Mom, Andrew, Elihu and I went out to dinner late last night (he had his favorite escargot and frogs’ legs) and we were very late to bed. Now he’s sleeping like a teenager, and deservedly so. But what he doesn’t know is that Santa made one final visit to us here at the Hillhouse last night. He even knocked some of the ashes out of the fireplace as he’s done before. Santa knows that it’s the eighth day of Christmas. He knows Elihu is back home. As I sit here and write, I’m keeping an ear out for his bedroom door, for the footsteps, that momentary pause…. He’ll run in to get me, and I’ll be sitting here in my chair, unawares, and then he’ll tell me, with a look of amazement on his face, that Santa has come! Yesterday, when Elihu asked me if I though Santa might come here, I took on a somber tone and cautioned him not to be disappointed, after all Santa had already been to Illinois. But look! He made it here after all! This is a Christmas I will savor, because by next year it will be brand new territory.

Ah, such ambivalence I feel for brand new territory. I listened as my elderly father expressed his longing to be back in his childhood home and wondered to myself, where exactly, do our hearts consider to be true home? Is it the home and hearth of our tender years – or the home we made as young parents to our own tiny ones? I suppose there’s no one answer. But there is one truth for us here on earth; time continues to move forward, and our situations, though they may appear to pause in time at different stages of our life, continue to evolve and change. A sorrow and a blessing. A missed memory and the happy anticipation of a new experience. They exist so closely, these disparate conditions, and they tug our hearts in such different directions. I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the march of time, but I also can’t say that I don’t want to watch my son grow up and one day create a family of his own. I admit it, at my age, and having seen what the end of life looks like and knowing I’m closer to it than I am to my youth, I’m not moving into the future with the zeal that I once did. I’m moving toward it with a more measured approach. It’s coming no matter what, but I’m not running to meet it anymore. It’ll be here – and gone – soon enough.

Twelve Days

In my home, as a child, there was always talk of the twelve days of Christmas. Sometimes, on one of the twelve days, there might be another present or two for us – usually under Frank and Martha Carver’s tree, the two other older people in the lives of me and my brother, Andrew. They lived on a farm with a Franklin stove that was always warm and a house that smelled wonderfully of the country. We Conants and Carvers all knew that Christmas was about a journey. Not that our family felt any affinity towards the religious aspect of the holiday, in fact I’d say they were solidly secular about it – but in spite of that, my parents delighted in singing the old religious hymns and recounting the historically accurate account of Christmas which our commercial world seemed to ignore completely. Making the season even more personally meaningful to us all was that Andrew’s birthday was on New Year’s Eve, and my parents – though seven years apart in age – were both born on January 6th, Epiphany. (The day most of the Christian world is busy celebrating Christmas and giving each other gifts as the wise men themselves did two thousand years ago.)

I too, have stressed to my own child that this season is about a beginning, a journey, and finally the culmination of that journey on Epiphany. My son is himself easily able to see metaphors in life and can see the season for what it offers. He may still believe in Santa, and we may not be a household dedicated only to the teachings of Jesus, but he can still understand how holy a time this is in our yearly calendar and how this time is a good one for self-reflection and renewal. I myself, however, in spite of my lifelong efforts to remind my peers that the true celebration of Christmas only just begins on the 25th, have just finally gotten one thing straight. The twenty-fifth is not the first day of the twelve as I’d always thought (I’d been counting Epiphany as a stand-alone day after the conclusion of the twelve days) but rather the first of the twelve days of Christmas begins on the twenty-sixth.

Today I also learned that there is a correlation between the signs of the zodiac and these twelve days. I realize this may be dangerous territory for some; to mix the Christian teachings with the Zodiac (the study of the Zodiac being something which seems either too ridiculously ancient, esoteric or just plain bullshit to many) may seem a stretch, or perhaps wrong, blasphemous. But I am at once impressed at the way in which these different templates match up, how magnificently it all seems to work. (There are also 12 tones in our western chromatic scale!) I realize that to some the relationship between the Zodiac and the days of Christmas may be no new information, but for me it was. I also just learned that many folks are under the impression that Christmas day marks the end – or the culmination of the twelve days. Big world. Lots of stories. The journey to the truth takes time and discretion.

We’d had our holiday party last Friday on the Solstice, the longest night of winter, a landmark on the holy calendar in its own right. While I invited my friends and neighbors, with whom I have never had conversations of a religious, spiritual or metaphysical nature, under the auspices of a general open-house among friends, I secretly held the intention that Elihu and I mark the night in camaraderie and love, that we might mark the occasion rightly and set a happy and bright tone for the future to come. I noticed that there was no talk of the date, no mention of its rumored significance (save my humorous toast to the ‘end of the world’ as I thanked my guests for attending) and I found that interesting. Also made me wonder once again, where were all those other folks who, like me, believed in pausing for just a moment to acknowledge this special day?

I may feel alone in my desire to live more connected to the ancient traditions, it may seem as though I’m alone as I concentrate on my connection to Spirit, to God, to the rest of the world and all its inhabitants… but my Yahoo inbox tells me otherwise. I know there are others out there. But these ‘other’ people live far and wide, and I know none of them personally. I did see a neighbor on Facebook who, although she purported to be hosting a ‘cookie party’ on the 21st, called it a ‘celebration of Solstice’ on her farm’s page. (Her lack of the article ‘the’ before ‘Solstice’ made her true intention seem even more apparent to me.) So I know there are others whose attention is not entirely in this modern, me-first world. And we’ll come to know each other someday. Not worried. Things seem to happen as they should.

Surrounded by the woods and fields with birds always at my window feeder, I’m in a perfect spot to contemplate my connection with all that is. Yeah, I’m feeling the need to remain at home, to remain quiet, to go about my chores and to live in gratitude as best I can. Some days I really miss people, but so far I just haven’t found a need to be with them. Somehow, after four years here in relative social isolation, I still feel the need to be alone. So I’m going to use these next twelve days to contemplate things as I wish them to be, to contemplate also the strengths and lessons of those twelve signs…

There is a meditation for today on the sign of Taurus – the second of the twelve Holy days – and also coincidentally both my and my son’s birth sign – which ends with these words:

Now I choose
to shape my future
in a balanced dance
between comfort and challenge

The original text is much longer and is more specifically related to the sign of the bull, but for me, these final lines seem to sum things up very nicely. I’ve spent the past four years learning how to live on my own. From here forward I need to expand, to grow my endeavors, learn how to thrive on my own. And right now, it looks daunting to me. I’ll probably need to keep an eye on that balance thing.

Not sure what messages await in the next ten days, but I’m interested and curious. So much to do, so much to know in this world. For the short stretch of days ahead I’ll try to live as mindfully as I can. I might not be able to live in such a state of concentration the remaining days of the year, but I’ll do my very best for the next ten.