A second cup of coffee with smooth, fresh almond milk. Two sleeping kids: the littlest wrapped snugly to my chest. A clean, well-organized house. A novel I hold myself back from out of anticipatory sorrow that it will one day soon end. Two novels at the ready for when that day comes. A new Sufjan Stevens record. A peaceful and intimate marriage. A generous, patient, and kind family of origin (and of marriage). Great good friends. A soft bamboo sweater and a gram of saffron. A cold Michigan day. These are the things of my new year, and friends, that is sweet. If there’s a sweeter moment to be had, I’m not sure my heart could stand knowing about it.
In eighteen days, Bram will be three whole years. We’ll have a snow-creature party: outside if there’s snow and with paper and cotton if there’s not. And just a blink of the eye after that, this sleeping Bluebird will be one. This past year has been a challenging one. As I’ve said here before, the infant years ask things of me that I have to search deeply to find. I have withdrawn, feeling possessed only of enough to care for these children. Withholding. At a remove from the world outside. But I catch glimpses these days of a new lightness, a new willingness on the part of my soul to come forth. It is of Easter, of spring, more than it is of winter. But when met with the quiet, and the darkness, and the cold – as it is now – it leaves me feeling reverential and sacred and honored to be here. Honored to live.
I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions. Though of course I fail, I work all the time to uphold the values I have come to believe in. I am devoted to continual work. But this year, I find myself drawn to the new year not for the chance to resolve to be something better – some more disciplined version of myself – but out of a sense of newness and curiosity and abiding awe.
I want this year to understand grace. To take the Christian idea of God’s love and practice it myself. In Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s John Ames tells his son, “your mother could not love you more or take greater pride in you. She has watched every moment of your life, almost, and she loves you as God does, to the marrow of your bones. So that is the honoring of the child. You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone.” This is what I like, what I find so nurturing right now about Christianity. Not the notion of eternal life (to which I give absolutely no thought), nor the (unanswerable and therefore, to me, uninteresting) question of God’s existence or absence, but the lived salvation of love. Of grace. Of having an image after which to try to fashion oneself. To be “godlike” in loving my children. Myself. All of us. Life.
There have been times when I resented this small, old house, the broken door handle on my van, my old clothes. When my life looked shabby: shabby couch, shabby house, shabby marriage. There is a lens through which it still appears as such. But there is another lens through which all of this shines. Through which tattered is loved and loved is glorious. Through which every imperfection comes with a story and those stories come together as a kind of life and shabby is a thing of glory. That’s how it appears to me now.
So my intentions as I slip quietly and faithfully into this new year are all born of curiosity.
To understand the food I make as spiritual and not just bodily nourishment. To understand paella. To understand Harira.
To understand prayer. To understand grace.
To be God-like in loving the being of others.
To serve. To listen so that I might know how best to serve.
To be like the kitten in Margaret Wise Brown’s The Little Island, whose eyes, upon learning “how all land is one land under the seas,” are “shining with the secret of it.”
The jar on the left is filled with scraps of paper, little good things written down throughout the year just past. That jar is closed now, untouchable, gone in its way. The jar on the right is new. It bears only the heart we bring from year to year. In one year’s time, it will be full and gone and untouchable, but we’ll have lived it. That in itself is miraculous to me, the jar at one moment empty, and at the next full and gone. I most of all want, this year, to just sit with that. The passage of time and its swiftness and the impossible sweetness of that. The jar once empty and then forever full.