Every December and January, I tack up long strands of clear packing tape (sticky side out) alongside the kitchen windows and entryways and then fill each strand with a vertical row of holiday cards. It spruces things up, since although we’ve lived in this house for ten years we have yet to put up curtains or blinds in the kitchen (oh well). The cards stay up well past the holiday season, and even when I take them down I leave a few special family ones up on the bulletin board.
A couple of weeks after my brother was killed in June, I happened to glance at his family’s holiday card, with its beautiful photos and cheerful words. My heart sank into my gut. An image flashed in my mind of all of the cards that I had strung up in the kitchen that past December, note after note filled with good wishes.
“All the best for a wonderful year.”
“Good things in 2014.”
“Joy and peace.”
“Wishing you all things HAPPY.”
“Peace, love, and JOY in 2014.”
I wondered how is it possible, after all these kind people have wished us a fantastic year filled with every good thing, that we are now living through the worst nightmare we’ve ever known? It made no sense at all at that time, when I was living in a haze of disbelief, still hanging on to a ragged corner of the idea that good wishes, from good people, for other good people, should and must come true.
Looking to make sense of what is, in that way that so many of us humans are compelled to do, I have shifted my idea of what good wishes are. Because I can’t possibly judge all these good wishes and their wishers as failing to deliver, I have decided that no matter the verbiage on the card, each and every wish translates to the same thing: Love.
“All the best for love this year.”
“Love to you in 2014.”
“We love you.”
“Giving you love.”
“Love, love, and love in 2014.”
Love is the only thing that I can think of that was not diminished by my cancer diagnosis and treatment or by losing my brother. To be honest, for me joy and peace were diminished, both. Not completely, and not every day, and not equally, and not consistently, but adversely affected all the same. Whereas love increased, if anything, and came from both expected places and people as well as unexpected sources.
I have wishes for you in 2015, but they are different than any I’ve wished before. In fact I think I need to call them hopes instead. The word “wish” for me has acquired a veneer of wistful sadness, a sense of “I wish this, but I wish in vain, knowing it’s not possible,” rather than the more positive “I wish this because I believe wishing will make it so.” I think this change has come about because so many people have said things like this to me: “I wish this had not happened.” “I wish I could endure chemo for you.” “I wish I could turn back the clock.” Well, friends, I wish it too. But these particular wishes can’t come true. So I will set the “wish” word aside and let you know what I hope, because “hope” to me carries more of a sense of possibility.
In the New Year, here is what I hope for you: That you are able to meet each day where it is and take away something useful from it, whether significant or small. That you welcome and engage the larger visions that come to you, and if your path seems to veer away from these visions, that you don’t give up or judge yourself – instead, hold the idea that the visions and the path may merge somewhere down the road, perhaps farther down than you can see right now. That you are able to notice and honor any small gift you encounter along the way – an unexpected connection with a friend, a day when the logistics actually work out, a five-dollar bill in the pocket of the pants you happened to put on, a sunset, a few minutes of peace and quiet, an authentic belly laugh from a child, a song on the radio that grabs you, anything that keeps you going. That you are able to, in fact, keep going. That you can reach beyond your needs and do something for someone else, knowing that the tiniest difference you make in one person’s life makes the whole world a better place. That you can understand how much you matter.