Light Wins by Shining

 

 

dscf3123We’ve been healing from the daily news explosions by taking long walks in the snow and listening for what is needed that we can offer our family, community, and world.

The Lord of Misrule used to be a peasant appointed to “rule” over the manor’s Christmas revelries, a kind of topsy-turvy silliness enjoyed for a few hours every year.dscf3218For us, the Lord of Misrule and his minions will begin their reign on January 20th, and the Feast of Fools will last four years. Maybe. The world is in a dangerous mood and silliness is not the proper response, so the feeling that anything could happen is more pronounced than when educated and sensible minds are at the helm.dscf3220So we lie awake and worry, or enjoy a few hours of denial here and there, or divert our attention to complete the tasks before us, or…well, you get the idea.dscf3162Walking in the snow, especially if it’s falling while we walk, calms the heart like nothing else. The world, so far as we experience it, is stilled, hushed, and peaceful. The expansive white engenders a quiet hopefulness, and if a full moon is rising, our spirits can’t help but rise as well.dscf3114dscf3018Last weekend, we went out to gather a few gifts. On the way home, Phillip dropped me off at the state park near our home. The snow was falling and I was alone, walking around acres that supported a thriving community 1,000 years ago. I walked through the spirits of babies, mothers, fathers, athletes, leaders, gossips, and artists. Most, I expect, were what we’d call “good” people; I imagine there were also a few who upset others routinely, and perversely pursued ego gratification, just like people in our culture do.dscf3066dscf3060dscf3047The only signs they were here at all are several mounds and reconstructed “forts” marking where theirs existed, because scholars and scientists cared to do this and, at the time, our state supported them. The ancient community seemed to end rather abruptly, after thriving for 300 years, and archaeologists are still trying to figure out what happened. I wonder if they elected a Lord of Misrule.dscf3086dscf3076dscf3032I walked home musing about all those who walked this land for centuries, over a thousand years ago, and what it all meant. We have no records of them as individual personalities, just tools, jewelry, artifacts, and suppositions, but they were real; they lived and breathed and laughed, and worked, and played, and maybe walked in the snow when worry overtook them.dscf3077dscf3058dscf3095dscf3112Phillip and the pups met me, and we walked along the trail and over the river where the Aztalan people hunted and fished. We enjoyed Micky’s navigation of his first snowfall, and then the sweet grace of just being here and now and present to small joys lifted my heart.dscf2930dscf2993dscf2979Life is a flicker of light and then we’re a long time dead, and possibly, in a thousand years, forgotten altogether. The miracle of being here at all is far too precious to waste on worry, I know, especially when the possible nightmares that are keeping me awake are utterly out of my control to prevent.dscf2951What I can do is find my peace, speak my peace, and be my peace. What I can do is be present to all the beauty, and the joy, and the great love that lights my life, and not avert my eyes or attention from it to fret about bogus and hollow men in power. When their madness affects me, I’d rather meet it as one practiced in love, peace, joy, and presence, then as the Mistress of Worry and Fear.dscf3217Dying and being forgotten isn’t a problem; not having infused every day I lived with as much love, peace, and joy, as I believe we all should—now that’s sad. Light doesn’t win by cowering and hiding; light wins by shining.dscf3168

Bless your gatherings and partings during this season of hope.

Bless your giving and receiving, your traveling and nesting.

Bless your heart and its tender yearning,

Bless your mind: May it be free of worry,

And deeply nourished by cheerful thoughts and merry company.

Bless your actions and their congruence to your words;

Bless your words and their congruence to your heart.

May you be the Light you’re here to be, and shine in the darkness

So others may see.

Joy to you,

And to the world.

Love to you,

And to the world.

Peace to you,

And to the world.

Bon Hiver, We Greet the First Snow

dscf2860One of my favorite episodes of one of my favorite TV programs, Northern Exposure, unites all the episode’s sub-plots beautifully when the townsfolk of Cicely, Alaska, step outside on the night of the season’s first snow and greet it, and one another, with the cry, “Bon Hiver!” (“Good Winter!”)dscf2863The episode, like the others, deals with longing, loss, guilt, memory, wisdom, peace, and a deep appreciation for life and its co-creator, death…and always, with gentle humor and love for humans and our charming follies. Never preaching, the scripts always honor the characters’—and our—desire for sacred meaning to attach itself to our brief moments and so guide us toward making sense of our lives, and living peacefully with unresolved mystery. I’ve always found the program profound in its simplicity and deeply endearing.dscf2673dscf2747dscf2765dscf2755
Here at Full Moon, the past few weeks have been filled with long days featuring the meteorology beloved by the Brontë Girls. The pups and I expected to encounter Heathcliff on our daily walks, but only discovered a variety of interesting fungi, and an elusive blue jay (who would be offered in better focus had I not been entangled by the leashes of two leaping, pulling puppies).

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As a friend pointed out, the season’s absence of leaves very cleanly reveals the glacial land formations: eskers, kames, kettles, and drumlins abound in our neck of the woods. But the unrelenting dreariness of sunless days began to wear on my spirit.

The only way to counter it has been to get rather over-sparkly indoors.
Micky, after his initial surprise, seemed to enjoy the holiday music, decorations, and merriment; Malarky affected a subdued air, as if to show-off his worldliness. After all, it’s his second Christmas season. Sigh.

The cats, as always, have just enjoyed having their annual bit of fun with shiny globes and sartorial correctness. dscf2889dscf3216
Today, though, we received our first snow, and the magic inside now plays second fiddle to the glory of snow-gowned trees and grasses. The world looks so enchanting…a perfect setting to wander in wonder and bid others a most tender, “Bon Hiver!”
We admired the snowfall from inside, beside the fire, and then outside, walking, running, looking, and being amazed, an altogether perfect day.dscf2883dscf2870dscf2830dscf2874dscf2827Here is a blessing, perfectly pure and floating down softly, right into your hand: Let us decorate our hearts with gratitude and forgiveness, with sweet acceptance of the meanings we’ve made and been given, and those we’re reaching for, and those we’ll never have, for the stunning miracle of a snow-frosted world reminds us that mystery, too, is a treasured facet of all that shines in our most beautiful lives, in this most beautiful world.
Bon Hiver, my friends! May all the gifts of the season be yours, those lovely surprises that are both simple and profound, given and received in love, from heart to heart, in reverence for who we are and who we are becoming.dscf2886dscf2835

Naming Blessings

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While I am not sad to see the backside of 2015 (“Too much loss; too many lessons,” as I told a dear friend), I am overfilled with gratitude heading into the new year, due to the way the old year and I parted company…Malarky’s arrival in October changed the energy in our hearts and home, and we’ve continued to be inundated with blessings, simple and surprising, the way we love them.

We spent a quiet, peaceful Christmas, enjoying old movies, good meals, hikes and—hooray!—a snowstorm.

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Friends visited, called, e-mailed, and texted, blessing us with their presence, their conversation, and their good wishes, reminding us that relationship is where our real wealth begins and ends.

We gave and received gifts, small tokens of love and gratitude for these precious connections in our lives. So many lovely surprises and thoughtful presents came our way and decorated our past few weeks with joy: a sister’s chocolate-filled Advent Calendar; a neighbor’s tray of elegant sweets; delicious, authentic Milwaukee-Polish pierogi; a magic wand for cooling wine; cozy quilted pet blankets (love these!); nostalgic, retro Chritsmas light covers (pine cones! my favorite!); unexpected gifts for the 4-leggeds; and surprising gifts from afar. We never knew what the day’s mail, or UPS, would be delighting us with next: books, artwork, flower seeds, many tokens of a generous friend’s dedication to this animal rescue. (I mention this, too, if you are seeking an organization worthy of your own donations, because they would be so welcome and your gift would help so many.)

There must have been quite a star shining over Full Moon Cottage, because so much love gathered here, offering joy and contentment.

 My own true love gave me a fused-glass plate with poppies (another favorite!) that I’d wanted for a long time, and he received paintings I made for him.

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 There are many things I’m looking forward to in the New Year:

*Making art in the new room Phillip is building for us:

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*Continued détente between the cats and Malarky, perhaps even deepening to true companionship. Here, he’s trying to mimic their relaxed poses on the back of the couch, and, despite Mulligan’s withering critique of these efforts, we live in hope:

 *Travels and visits; the changing seasons; new gardens; hiking; biking; paddling; dog-walking and cat-cuddling.

*Reading new and old-favorite books

*Baking and cooking with new recipes. (I’m going to try pierogis, for starters!)

*Full moons and quiet retreats

The list goes on and on, and—of course—remains open to wonder, mystery, and surprise, as always.

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I know the phrase commonly used is “counting our blessings,” and it’s meant to reinforce the notion that we’re far more blessed than we realize, but counting seems tinged with both ownership and a competitive stance that I loathe. (“I’m more blessed than s/he is!”)

I’d rather name my blessings, for the unique gifts they are and the gratitude they engender, and I hope to continue being mindful about sharing these with you in the blog posts ahead.

Our attitudes and the ways we use our gifts and our energy create our lives and contribute to the lives others are creating…I hope this year will be one of joy, for us, and for you. I wrote a friend that I want to look back on 2016 saying, “I laughed more than ever this year!”

May I make it so. And may I live so that others name me as a blessing in their lives. 🙂

Joy to you, and gentle peace.

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Christmas Presence

 

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It seems I fall more deeply in love with Malarky, as I do with each of my four-leggeds, every day. These tiny pulses of warm fur come into your life, and you feed them, and tend them, and hold them close, and then one day, mysteriously, you discover you are forever connected—rooms, or fields, or worlds apart.

Of course, love and laxity, tempting travel companions that they are, won’t help Malarky integrate peacefully into the family of people and cats he’s joined, so we continue (trying to) devote conscious time to his training, especially now that we’ve entered his, “No, I’m the boss” adolescence.  

He’s doing well-ish. 

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Yesterday, Malarky and I went on our first trip to the wonderful local dogpark complex. 60 acres have been subdivided and intentionally created for our 4-legged companions’ pleasure and learning, so I took him to one of the areas designated as a playspace for small dogs.

He tentatively explored this new world, looking to me for assurance that he truly could run free. We had the park to ourselves, cold and windy as the day was, and that seemed a good thing for his first adventure.

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Then, a very large woman entered the same playspace with her older schnauzer-terrier. The woman was bundled in a quilted down coat, gloves, scarf, and knit hat. All I could see of the person so thoroughly winter-wrapped were her smile and twinkling eyes behind shining glasses. She carried a book, so I greeted her and met “Dungee,” and then, sensing the woman’s desire for solitude, I turned my attention back to Mr. Malarky’s anxious attempts to befriend 12-year-old Dungee.

The older, bigger dog pursued his own interests, allowing Malarky to chase and sniff and run beside him. I watched and then relaxed as they played together.

My mistake.

A large-dog acreage runs adjacent to one side of the area where Malarky was playing, and it was beside this fence that Dungee’s Mom had chosen to sit at a picnic table, engrossed in her paperback. A huge hound walking with his person passed on the other side of the fence. He howled and bayed at Malarky and Dungee, who—of course—were between him and the reading woman. (I—of course—was a few acres away staring at a plant or who-knows what, pretending to be a photographer.)

The wailing dog and its proximity alarmed Malarky. I heard his little bark and turned to see him leap to the picnic table’s bench, then tabletop, then up the woman’s quilted down-swaddled shoulders, and, within seconds, to the crown of her wool-capped head, where he perched, clinging like a circus dog atop a rolling ball.

The woman was trying to reach him, wildly swinging her cushioned arms overhead, but Malarky dodged and clung, steadfast, as she flailed and twisted. I admit, I really wanted to take a picture, but propriety won out and I dashed across the field to retrieve my boy, apologizing profusely, and expecting outrage and a well-deserved dressing down for my negligence.

 But she just laughed and laughed.

Dogs’ companions are so often the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

After I’d detached Malarky from her skull and he’d run off with Dungee, we conversed for a while. She told me about her recent job loss, worries regarding employment, the apartment complex where she and Dungee live…her life sounded to be on the brink of imminent upheaval, but there she was, taking time to exercise her dog, sit and read, and laugh at the unexpected intrusions and circus acts life throws at us with regularity.

I drove home wiser and more chastened than any angry reprimand might have left me. Four-leggeds and their people have been some of my best teachers. What a blessing they have been to me, especially as I seem to need to relearn the most basic of life lessons over and over…

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I’ve been doing some spring winter housecleaning, I suppose because there are dandelions blooming, woolly caterpillars crawling, mosquitoes buzzing, and my lilacs are budding. We’ve had so much rain that the river’s overrun its banks, so it even looks like late April. My daily round is seasonally-confused.

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Anyway, sorting through china and glassware, family hand-me-downs, books, old craft tools, or works-in-progress that seem to be in eternal unfinished states…it’s hard to sever the memories and dreams with which these things are encrusted and infused, from the lifeless objects they actually are. Am I giving away my family and personal treasures, or can I keep the treasure in my heart and give away the things?

Letting go of things is easier, I find, if I take the time to hold each item or box that presents a struggle, and allow it to conjure the times and places it evokes. Just to sit with the images and the feelings, set the objects down, and realize the images and feelings are still “there,” within, is helpful. Then, I imagine a new family enjoying these things, creating their own happy memories. It’s a tiny ritual of farewell that tangibly and emotionally reorders my sense of ownership. The memories are always mine; the object needn’t be.

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I’ve also been baking, and cooking, and candy-making, as though I were expecting a family that could populate a small country for the holidays, when really, a few friends and family members are passing through. Examining what’s fueling this bustle, I discovered I’m again trying to conjure the people and feelings of 1950-or-60-something, because everything precious that Christmas has come to mean for me involves those people and those memories.

On our way to the dogpark, an old Christmas song and the gray, cold day so vividly brought my childhood winters to mind that I could feel my parents and brothers beside me and almost had to pull the car over to let the sweet yearning and memories settle.

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So, I was blessed to meet the down-coated woman and Dungee. (It’s interesting how we dogpark people know each other’s 4-leggeds’ names, but rarely each other’s.)

The encounter was pure gift, reminding me that attentive presence to the moment I’m in is where the magic and joy of life generate. If you consider the creation of your life an art and yourself its artist (as I do), then what is there but the present and what we make of it? Love only happens, only comes alive, in the present, which seems the elemental lesson of Christmas. Love this moment for the gift it is.

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And then set it down and create the best of the next. Now, now, and now. There’s the treasure of life, right there, right here.

I wish you Christmas presence and—if you’re lucky—the four-leggeds (and their people) to keep you in it, always.

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 Many of us, at least internally, do not live in the here-and-now. We are consumed with what was or with what might be. A great deal of the spiritual anguish we experience is because we are not content to be, to live in the present. We are of the present, but not in it. It is by attentiveness in the present moment that we encounter God. ~ Bonnie Thurston, To Everything a Season: A Spirituality of Time

I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.   ~ Abraham Maslow

Not the attendance of stones, nor the applauding wind, shall let you know you have arrived. Nor the sea that celebrates only departures, nor the mountains, nor the dying cities. Nothing will tell you where you are. Each moment is a place you’ve never been. You can walk believing you cast a light around you. But how will you know? The present is always dark. Its maps are black, rising from nothing, describing, in their slow ascent into themselves, their own voyage, its emptiness, the bleak temperate necessity of its completion. As they rise into being they are like breath. And if they are studied at all it is only to find, too late, what you thought were concerns of yours do not exist. Your house is not marked on any of them, nor are your friends, waiting for you to appear, nor are your enemies, listing your faults. Only you are there, saying hello to what you will be, and the black grass is holding up the black stars. ~  Mark Strand, Black Maps (adapted from the blank-verse original)

Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.  ~Peace Pilgrim

Welcome the present moment as if you had invited it. Why? Because it is all we ever have.  ~ Pema Chödrön

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.  ~Thomas Merton

The slow life allows for the release of anxiety, to better focus on the gifts this fantastical moment offers. Choosing to go with mystery’s flow makes the present our continual destination. ETA: Now. No point in resisting what is. Gardening—and life—are always co-created with the surprises Spirit and nature offer; the best we can do is bring attitudes of joy and gratitude to the journey. Hospitality isn’t just something we offer guests; we can offer it to every moment of our lives. Hello! What have you come to teach me?  ~ Catherine O’Meara

All is Bright

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It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is St. Nicholas Day. As kids, we’d make cookies for Santa and hang our Christmas stockings on the night of December 5th. We’d hear a story from Daddy and go to bed excited about the enchantment imminently expected to overtake our home: a visit from St. Nick! (Technically, Santa Claus, but we didn’t question magic. Why question anything that brings chocolate and gifts? Just be grateful!)

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The stockings held our precious letters for Santa that outlined our Christmas wishes and promises of continued good behavior. The next morning, we’d discover an empty cookie tray, small treats in our stockings, and an elegantly-scripted note from Santa. These memories always conflate with images of snowfalls, sledding, skating, snowmen, and icicles…

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This year, my poppies are leafing out in spring viridity and the lawn is ready for the Easter bunny to come hopping along. Chickadees are singing spring songs and, although our mornings can be frosty, our afternoon temperatures have been climbing to 50° F/10° C.

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We had a beautiful snowfall just before Thanksgiving, and Malarky’s excitement and wonder as he explored this new phenomena made it almost as magical for me.

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We even enjoyed our November full moon midnight-potty-excursions (his, not mine). Somehow, being roused from sleep isn’t so bad when the outside world is sparkling with snow and stars.

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So the current experience of climate change is odd, but not without its blessings. Although I’m not transplanting anything in the garden, I can remove the dandelions and other weeds that are taking advantage of the warmth. Getting my hands muddy in December is an adventure. I received this link from a friend last week, and better understand why mucking around in soil is good for the spirit. Much better than a bout of winter-induced seasonal affective disorder!

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Our home is decorated for the season, too, so indoors, it looks like Christmas, even if outside, it looks like we’ve moved to the South.

The 4-leggeds are blissfully content, another reminder that letting go of expectations for how things should be, or hanging the joy of now upon its conformity to memories, even happy ones, is pointless. I’m grateful for a happy childhood, but I’m happy for now, too.

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All is bright.

I hope it’s the same for you this lovely, wonderful holiday season. Happy St. Nick’s!

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Green Christmas

 

 DSCF1625It’s been an unusual sort of year’s end. Inside, it looked a lot like Christmas.

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DSCF1617We watched several incarnations of Ebenezer Scrooge’s resurrection to a life of hope and compassion, and caught up on rest and reading, and finished remodeling the guest room. Friends visited and festivities ensued. But outside, the world remained in perpetual autumn. On Christmas Day, after our long walk with the pups, we stayed outside to weed the riverside gardens. An utterly new experience for Christmas Day.

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DSCF1730It was lovely and warm, but we both enjoy winter and missed her coming. I worried about my bulbs and perennials, who depend upon the blanket of snow and the frozen earth; the cold triggers the biochemical process they need to flower in spring. Birds were singing spring songs and everything seemed a bit fantastical. Confused. Out-of-the-norm. I missed the patterns I love and have come to honor: the four-season journey of life into death into life. Then it rained again, and we battled the incessant mud tracks our walks produced, another winter anomaly. But it was our valued vacation time, so…we relaxed, indulged in treats, and watched Harry Potter choose between the light and dark, enter suffering and loss, and live into the new world he’d help create.

DSCF1816A few days later, the temperatures lowered considerably, seizing rain puddles, however slight and visible, and freezing them enough so that my car’s brakes locked and slid through an intersection on a busy county highway. I almost “carked it,” as I heard someone say in an English movie, although at the time and for a few days afterwards, I wasn’t able to laugh about the adventure. I was glad I’d said, “I love you” to a friend before I left home that day, but I was disappointed by the fear I’d felt in the endless seconds it took to be missed by the immense SUV barreling towards my tiny VW Bug. I was bothered by the tears that followed the incident: I’d like to meet death with more equanimity.

Another friend visited that night and we talked about many things, as we always do. She mentioned a wise old nun she knows, who recently remarked on the current death throes of so many of our institutions: healthcare, education, political, economic…all seem to be undergoing the stages of dying, “…and it’s right that they should,” said the woman. Everything dies, including human-designed systems, when they no longer serve the welfare of humans.

DSCF1896And I’ve been pondering these ideas, wondering how to best serve the process of change in my small life/world with the little time left to me…When I helped midwife my dying patients, it felt as though I’d made a tacit engagement with mystery. Beyond faith, there is no tangible proof of what came next for my companions’ spirits. I ushered them to the doorway and remained present while they passed through. More than a witness, less than a dance partner…what a midwife is, I expect.

Sometimes they responded like I did, in the car: not yet ready. Like the weather this Christmas: clinging to autumn. Like the institutions, clinging to their power and its threatened transformation. Fear is natural, even, I suppose, a healthy response to the unknown, but I feel it can’t be the last response.

DSCF1484In all the experiences I’ve been graced to share and engage with death, I can only remember one time that a woman resisted her dying all the way through, and it was the hardest, most wretched death I’ve encountered.

Thankfully, most of the spirits I’ve accompanied to death– my loved ones, patients, animal companions, my trees and gardens–eventually, they breathed into acceptance of their dying, even perceptibly entering a deep peace as it came nearer.

DSCF1630I hope I can help midwife the coming changes, in whatever small ways expected of me, and again trust mystery, the pattern of life into death into life, and have faith that spring will bring flowers. I’m grateful for my many wise-women friends; I’m certain they’ll be beside me, in discernment and in bringing new life to birth.

DSCF1975This weekend, the weather turned cold once more.

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DSCF1989Next breath.

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Holy Night

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Last June I celebrated my 59th birthday and, as I began my 60th turn around the sun, I felt a need to be present to my life in ways that wouldn’t have made for interesting blog posts, or at least not in ways I wanted to explore in public.

I could say 60 is “just a number,” but I think it’s a number that represents a life shift and certainly signals a new decade is beginning, a kind of chronological beacon reminding me of life’s finitude.

I wanted to assess and set my course into “elderhood” with deliberate and authentic thought, rather than just allow my energy to drift into life’s next stage without purpose or clear intent.

I’ve made some decisions, set some demons running and made peace with others. I’ve gathered in joys, winnowed through relationships and sorted through possessions…I’m feeling lighter and clearer, but am mindful there are six months left to prepare for inaugurating my next decade, and whatever years I have left to “still become.” So, I continue to listen, sift, question, name and chart…

But it’s time for me to re-engage with sharing ideas and unveiling feelings and thoughts in my writing. I enjoy it and am ready to renew my practice.

The daily round has unfolded in darkness and light this past year, as it does every year; perhaps the darkness seems stronger and the blessings more precious because of the scrutiny I’ve brought to bear upon them, but I’m choosing to end the year on this, its holy and longest night, in gratitude and joy.

Despite the anger and violence that swirls through this old world and receives perhaps too much of our attention, I believe there so many, so very many reasons to be hopeful, to celebrate light and to share it, especially with the children inheriting what comes of our choices.

So on this Solstice Night leading to our great celebrations of Love’s rebirth, I choose to honor the light that has shone in my life and throughout the world this year, and pray that the New Year will be even brighter. How else can love set the world on fire but through our choices to share its light, moment by moment, day by day?

I’m grateful for those I love and with whom I celebrated some of my life’s milestones this past year.

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I’m grateful for friends who share their arts with the world and surprise me with gifts.

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I’m grateful for companions who share my days and illuminate even the smallest moments with their spirits.

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I’m grateful for my home and the gardens we’ve tended and the harvests we’ve enjoyed.

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I’m grateful for the wild things who bless my life and teach me deep lessons about presence, coexistence, conservation and compassion.

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I’m grateful for former students who check in and let me know how hard they’re working to tend their many gifts and keep the light shining.

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I’m grateful for the many, many people I know or know about, who share their gifts, their energy, their arts, and their wealth with others, who speak truth to the cruel, the wasteful, the fearful, and the angry and so diminish their power.

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I’m grateful for the children with whom I’m able to spend my days. They keep me young in spirit, creative, joyful, and ever hopeful.

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And I am most grateful for a partner determined to be as honest and intentional on his path as he is in supporting my own journey. I’m especially grateful for the laughter we co-create.

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May we light the fires of joy around us in the coming year; may we love wildly and laugh often; may we be quick to forgive, and to feed upon hope.

And may we be kind.

Blessings upon your gatherings, your partings, your celebrations, your prayers, and the creative use of your energy. And may your New Year be light-filled, delightful and joyful.

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