This is the time of year - with all its emptying and waiting - for looking back, for considering the months past, for taking the cycle of seasons as a whole instead of as a series of consecutive, but otherwise mostly unrelated events.
‘How was 2016 for you?’ we ask ourselves, in so many words.
For those so-inclined,this is a time for journalling, a time for sharing highlights from the year, or bemoaning the challenges it brought, the regrets we still hold. Tim and I like to slip away for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year, if for nothing more than to take a moment to feel some sense of readiness for the beginning of the next 12 month stretch (before it slams into us like a high speed train).
‘What do we want this next year to look like?’ we wonder. ‘What have we received from the past year that we’re taking with us?’
I wonder what makes a successful year, really? If the Christmas newsletters we receive are to be believed, it’s about achievements; some evidence of one’s desired inexorable rise through life. ‘New Heights Gained’ and ‘The View From the Top,’ some of them cheer with an unintended smugness. Or perhaps success can be measured in terms of seeds sown, seeds that we hope may bear fruit in some future year, in some future season.
Somehow, this year, my heart resists the drive to distill my experiences into that so-called nectar of success, discarding all that appears less flavoursome. It’s not that this year was terrible - there has been much that was good - but I sense the invitation to learn to embrace all its ragged edges, as much as its warm centre.
I am reminded of the post I read about being kind, showing courage, and falling forward after failure. I wonder if these might be more helpful measures for my year?
To what extent have I taken opportunities to be kind this year?
I think of those we have included in our family life, those for whom I went the second mile, those who left lighter or stronger because of something I did, or said. Yet I wonder how many times I missed the chance to be kind? How many times I turned away from others in self-protection, or fear? How many times I was too busy or distracted to notice others’ needs? I am learning to embrace all these expressions of who I am, the kind and the not-to-kind; the self who is present to others, and the one who is intolerant or oblivious. Even as the little seedlings of good in me bend towards the light, that which is in shadow is still part of me.
In what ways have I shown courage this year, I wonder?
It would be nice to show-and-tell all my shiny pebbles of courage for your admiration, but the truth is that what might be courage for others may not be so for me. It has taken more courage for me to be honest about my need for relationship, than it took for me to climb the highest peak in North Africa. I have to dig deeper into my reserves of bravery to admit both my desire for and my resistance to intimacy, than to travel alone to faraway places, or to run solo in the hills. I hope this year I have dug a little deeper. What is certain is that there is more courage still to be found.
Have I failed this year? Of course. But in what ways have I failed well?
If all my sorries were signs of failing well, then perhaps I have indeed mostly fallen forward. Sorry to my kids when I reacted immaturely, though there were reasons for such reactions; sorry to my husband when I wished, with good cause, that he would be the sorry one; sorry to a team-mate for a misunderstanding that seemed so unnecessary. A heartfelt sorry - taking responsibility for my own junk - is always a fall forward. Then I think of those times when self-awareness mercifully tugged at the hem of the self-righteous judgement, or the self-protective withdrawal with which I shrouded myself. When I found the other-worldly resolve to lay aside these well-worn garments and step into relationships with a more naked honesty, it was failure turned on its head, and I’m grateful. Some of my failures have been things I longed for that never materialised. Then, to stand up for the purity and goodness of that longing, whilst holding lightly the thing itself; that can be a sort of forward-moving failure.
So, my friend. What does success mean to you? To what extent has your year been marked by kindness and courage? When you have failed, what have you learned from your failing?
Are you ready to fall with me into 2017?