The Beginning of a New Year
Unlike the exuberant celebrators of New Year’s Eve, I am often in the throes of taking stock at the start of the new year: What could I have done better in my life, what do I continue to leave unsaid and undone, what am I most afraid of leaving behind in my life? (A lot of things truthfully). These feelings are the inevitable and unenviable product of an over determined super ego (thanks, Ma and Dad) and living eight years with the vagaries of incurable, Stage 4 breast cancer. You’d think my longevity in the face of my cancer would make me see life in the most positive of terms. After all, I have been one of the lucky ones, my body outwitting this disease up until now. Yet, it’s a strange burden to be on the front curl of the statistical curve. Being reflective, philosophical, and a realist by nature, I wait for the other shoe to fall at any time, knowing it will, and wondering how I will handle it when it does. Sadness and wistfulness accompany the happiest of events and realities--two sons’ weddings this summer, the announcement by our third son and his wife of a new baby due at the end of April, the deep and abiding love my grandson and I share, a kind and loving husband who is more than I could have asked for. When, I ask myself, will I lose all this and they lose me in the equation of our blessed life? How will I handle that exact moment of knowing it will be over soon?
Those of us who live in that strange limbo between life and death find ourselves pondering chronically the strange paradox of the transience and transcendence of life. I now can claim to cry easily and often over the simplest of life’s gifts. Here at Fenn they include singing in community during All School Meeting; watching over and over again with a full heart the joyous and raucous way the boys sing the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”; feeling an overwhelming pride and love for and protectiveness of each ninth grader as he delivers his senior reflection in front of four hundred people, including often his parents. For as the one who helps prepare them for their reflections, I experience first-hand the nerves, the fears, the deep desire to do well and to offer something meaningful that accompany that journey to speak in front of one’s beloved community. Sometimes we adults are surprised by the depth and maturity with which a senior delivers his reflections. Sometimes we hope for more than he in the moment could give. Yet, for me as mentor and friendly” great aunt” in this process of preparation and delivery, I remain in awe of all of them--fourteen and fifteen-year-old boys who get up without notes in front of the meeting hall filled with teachers and fellow students and attempt to deliver a meaningful message from their life stories. I admit to having developed defensive, protective, and tender feelings about them. When a colleague offers friendly, “if only” advice or critique about what a boy could have done better after a reflection, I find myself reminding them pointedly, “It’s a wonder any of them do it as well as they do. It’s their chance to say what they wanted to say, not what we wanted ideally.”What we want ideally, of course, is the best and the most accomplished version of a senior reflection or a life they and we can muster. But, of course, life teaches us (as cancer has taught me) how fragmented, temporary, and beyond our control much of life is. It is an imperfect journey, at best, especially when it comes to raising children. It also, however, gives us glimpses into the transcendence that seems lurking behind much of what we do when we love freely and deeply and do good work, making it possible to claim for ourselves moments of pure joy. It is these moments of pure joy, most especially with our children, that we live for. It is these moments of experiencing transcendence that I live for, whether it is when boys sing “The Yellow Submarine” freely and with unabashed happiness, when a senior who sits quietly shaking beside me at the front of Ward Hall rises and delivers a heartfelt reflection before the community, when my grandson wrote in kindergarten that “My Nana is my hero ces chee love me.” These moments point me in the right direction—to embrace the simple, wondrous, generative moments as they come my way daily and to know, in the end, that it is all a mystery.
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