Our family received so many lovely holiday greetings this year while ours never made it out. Such is life. We did manage to host our 2nd Annual New Year’s Day Open House, and a more wonderful way to mark the new year I couldn’t imagine.
Both the holiday greetings and many of the conversations we had with people at the Open House affirmed something I’ve been thinking about since the holiday season started and the “family and life update” letters began coming in. And that is that we are all so much the same. We mark our years by family milestones, the births of children, the losses of those we love, good health and bad, work struggles and successes, time spent doing what needs to be done. They all seem to send the same message: we are carrying on.
I’m struck by how hard we are all working at figuring out if we’re doing the right things, living the right ways, making the right choices. One car or two? Church or alternative spiritual practice? Giving material gifts or “experiences”? Are we doing right by our kids, by ourselves, by the world around us?
In Welcome to the World Baby Girl! A Novel by Fannie Flagg, there is a character named Aunt Elner. Aunt Elner is old, kooky, curious, and big-hearted. In one of my most favorite passages, she says, “…[P]oor little old human beings–they’re jerked into this world without having any idea where they came from or what it is they are supposed to do, or how long they have to do it in. Or where they are gonna wind up after that. But bless their hearts, most of them wake up every morning and keep on trying to make sense out of it. Why, you can’t help but love them, can you? I just wonder why more of them aren’t as crazy as betsy bugs” (Welcome to the World Baby Girl! A Novel, p. 448).
What I love about this passage is its big-picture compassion for what it feels like to be a human being trying to make your way in the world. The Aunt Elner view is that what makes us worth loving is not our achievements but our efforts, our clunky, cock-eyed, groping around in the dark efforts to figure it all out. To keep going despite bewilderment.
I think about this passage often, but most especially in the mornings. Sometimes it makes me smile, often it makes me wish I knew an Aunt Elner, and always it makes something in me relax.
Because I wasn’t able to write anything that came close to describing the year of betsy bug craziness that we had, I didn’t write anything at all, and that meant I was actually lucky enough to just sit back and read holiday letters from friends, study all of the beautiful photo-cards to see how kids have grown, and to just take it all in. Here’s something I want you all to know:
You’re doing a damn good job; your kids are lucky to have you, you are making a difference with your work, and by being yourself, you are doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
Aunt Elner’s niece Norma, a chronic worrier asks her, “‘What’s life about, Aunt Elner? Don’t you ever wonder what the point of the whole thing is?'” Aunt Elner says, “‘No, not really; it seems to me we only have only one big decision to make in this life, whether to be good or bad. That’s what I came up with a long time ago. Of course, I may be wrong, but I’m not going to spend any time worrying over it. I’m just going to have a good time while I’m here. Live and let live” (p. 449). Yes, it’s simplistic, but it’s also a useful touchstone for the times when it feels like we have a thousand decisions to make. Maybe we really do have only one big important one: to be good or bad. For me this means to be hopeful or despairing, to be loving or fearful. And when that’s what it’s all about, it is simple. Never easy, but simple.
Happy New Year friends! Be kind to yourselves and one another.
A man crosses the street in rain,
stepping gently, looking two times north and south,
because his son is asleep on his shoulder.
No car must splash him.
No car drive too near to his shadow.
This man carries the world’s most sensitive cargo
but he’s not marked.
Nowhere does his jacket say FRAGILE,
HANDLE WITH CARE.
His ear fills up with breathing.
He hears the hum of a boy’s dream
deep inside him.
We’re not going to be able
to live in this world
if we’re not willing to do what he’s doing
with one another.
The road will only be wide.
The rain will never stop falling.