2017 was characterized by challenges, failure, and misery. My husband and I, individually and together, have felt like Sisyphus — waging successful assaults on the problems of the month only to discover a new challenge that pushes us back down the hill, just to start over again. These weren’t little challenges; major health problems (first him, then me, then him again), huge financial woes that seemingly dropped out of the sky (thanks taxes), critical family issues across the board, and deep personal heartbreak Then there was the constant thunder of lesser stuff: endless car breakdowns, constant tenant landord issues, pet problems and never ending construction chaos on all our properties. This was all aggravated by our transition to the mountain top along with the isolation and loneliness that our move created. We both had envisioned that we would be serenely spending our time writing and hiking, we never counted on how hard us city folk would have deep in the rural Northeast.
Add to this mix of challenges, there were the personal failures. With every challenge there was mounting self-reflection to see our part, individually and collectively. We had to look in our mirrors and see how we had gotten into each mess. Sometimes the reflection was pretty ugly. I mean really, why did two very active, social, travelers think that a home far away from everything, especially airports, would work? What self-delusion did two people who love their families beyond anything, have to move far away?
Last spring I felt too small and weak to roll that boulder up the hill. The unforgiving darkness of winter took my soul.
This was the year that my faith was stretched and strengthened.
When I felt too small and weak, it was because I am. I needed to reach up and toss my cares to something great and powerful. It was the only thing I could do.
Then there was gratitude.
In the midst of this year, the sun would rise over the valley, the thunderstorms would flash with majesty, and the night sky lit up the dark. How could I ignore the beauty that surrounded us. What a gift, especially when so many wake up to rubble, poverty, and grime. So often in the midst of my poor me’s, I would just look out and think of the glory that I witnessed everyday.
At the center of my loneliness, there were people to reach out to and be able to give back too— on the internet. Man, how lucky I am to live in an age where physical isolation does not mean a bottomless silence. Just a click and I was making new friends or chatting with family. I can keep in constant contact with the grands by text or facetime. Too great a miracle to ignore. Every morning, every day provided many, many gifts if I just looked for them.
Speaking of miracles, my health, despite warnings, scares, and a quick trip to the hospital, my health is sound and sure. After so many years of struggle, the battle is over. This is something that isn’t afforded to many. It is a something that can’t be ignored has happenstance and I try to celebrate it always — especially when my aging body can hammer frozen wood out of the wood pile and carry in load after load to keep us warm.
As this crummy year ends I realize how often I felt it was surrounded by Grace. Not that I feel it all the time, I’m a very flawed woman. I often besieged family and friends with my whining. I am blessed to have those people. Despite my flaws, I do feel Grace much of the time. The awesomeness of this life, even with the woes and heartache of this year, is always just below the surface, easy to touch.
And there is the greatest lesson – take action.
Faith and gratitude don’t just happen. I never encountered a burning bush as I hiked the mountain. I had to work for both, each time I encountered a struggle. In the same way my heart won’t strengthen without consistent cardio -which I hate – my spiritual heart won’t grow without regular and consistent effort. I pray. I meditate. I look up and record the beauty. I work for my relationship with God. I reach out to the less fortunate and I watch my speech.
I try not to let myself whine and complain. I noticed the more I complained the worse I felt. The more I complimented my husband, my neighbor, the shopkeepers, the better I felt.
I won’t say that this was a year of lessons, that’s too trite. That belittles all the wonderfulness and blessings I got all the time. My problems are minor in comparison with so many and I can only see that when I’m willing to do the work to reach up for faith and out for gratitude. But it takes so little work to get sooo much back.
I am still on an adventure, crossing the ice mountains of Everest, exhausted and oxygen starved but I am moving upward. My age has not defeated me.
The effort may get harder. Maybe it won’t. Whether is does or doesn’t I have the Faith, the Gratitude, and willingness to keep moving that will give me a thrilling chapter of success.