A year is long, and a year is no time at all—just a series of weeks, really, and those are just a series of days when it comes right down to it. And in the blink of an eye, the utterance of one sentence, the course of a day, a moment of insight, everything can change. The year and our lives turn on the smallest moments, singular points in time that may or may not be visible to us after the fact. They’re little cliffs, and we’re constantly leaping.
Leaping off of cliffs this year left me, as it always does, with work to do. There are always cliffs, and there’s always work to be done—but this year, the work in front of me is clearer than usual.
You know how some people choose a word for their year? Something they’d like to focus on, a concept or attitude they’d like to incorporate more fully into their lives. I imagine that when you make such a choice, you see your word everywhere, in everything; every moment becomes an opportunity to practice your word in some way, to draw your focus gently back to the growth you’d like to see in yourself, the work you’d like to be doing.
I’ve never done this. There are so many possible words to work with—which one to choose? Do I have to choose just one? The trick, of course, is to find the word that best works as an umbrella for all the things I’m feeling and thinking about.
There’s an Adrienne Rich poem called “This is My Third and Last Address to You,” and it’s quite long, but really, what I’ve always loved most in it are five stanzas somewhere in the middle. And if you are facing any sort of change or growth—especially if it’s the kind that makes you uncomfortable or impatient, this particular stanza may speak to you as it always does to me:
force nothing, be unforced
accept no giant miracles of growth
by counterfeit light
Is there a word that will stand in for that stanza, that will serve as the umbrella word for my year? Patience is part of it, but I’m reaching for something deeper. A sort of quiet understanding and compassion for myself and others: We all take the time we take to get where we’re going, and we can’t be hurried along. Nor can we be stopped or slowed when movement and growth are really happening—and movement and growth are usually happening, right under the surface, even when we feel as if we’re slow as molasses. Slow is not stagnant.
There’s never any time to waste, and simultaneously, there’s always all the time in the world. A new year comes, just as they always do, right when it’s meant to. We may think we’re not ready, but we are. We may think we know what this new year will hold, but we never do. All we can do is adjust our focus once again, resolve to force nothing, and know that as long as we aren’t letting ourselves stagnate in fear or resistance, then we’re growing, moving forward, making progress. The work we each have to do, when we take the time to know what it is and learn how we might go about it, can be joyful and fulfilling—even in the moments when it’s hard or painful. Because deep work, the work of growth and change, is always as complicated and nuanced as an entire year.
And somewhere in this year, as in every other year, there will be those moments when the world shifts, and everything changes, and we leap off our little cliffs, and that joyful, painful work we’ve been doing (slowly, so slowly) lands us somewhere we really never expected.
(Not a small stone. [Uh, clearly.] This is actually the column I wrote for this month's issue of the newsletter I edit. I felt the need to put it here too, but I needed to wait for the newsletter to be published and distributed. It's been a week, so I've decided the rights revert to me...now! And as careful readers will already know, the lovely Peaceful Peacock, Julie, read this a few weeks back and basically said, "Your word is right there: Miracles." And so it was.)