Poet and essayist Jane Hirshfield suggests that “our human task” is to acknowledge “the fullness of things.”
Kathryn Schulz delves into this mystery by observing that the world “is full of beauty and grandeur and also wretchedness and suffering; we know that people are kind and funny and brilliant and brave and also petty and irritating and horrifically cruel. We live remarkable lives,” she writes, “because life itself is remarkable.” She counts her days as exceptional even when they are ordinary.
Philip Roth describes it as “Life is and.”
Acknowledgment of the fullness of life has been on my mind as we enter 2023.
The New Year is a time when many begin thinking of resolutions, perhaps focused on personal ways to respond to our current reality. Since 2013, I have taken a different route. That year I established several rules of how I want to live day-to-day. Rules for the road of life, if you will.
They came as the result of a more intentional focus on life’s journey rather than relying on a changing list of resolutions to respond to the challenges of the moment. These personal guidelines are not quite principles but rather serve as reminders of how I want to live over time.
Here are eight stories from the last twelve months of More to Come that acknowledge the fullness of life in the context of my personal rules. They are given to provide hope in the remarkable nature of life, even in the midst of trying, liminal times.
Rule #1. Be grateful. Be thankful. Be compassionate. Every day.
Rule #1 is first for a reason. Gratitude requires intentionality and it encourages everyday action, not just when things are going well.
In An attitude of gratitude (November 24th), Richard Rohr suggests that a pre-existent attitude of gratitude is necessary in order to be thankful in difficult times. It takes a deliberate choice of love over fear, a desire to be positive instead of negative. If we are not “radically grateful” every day, Rohr writes, resentment always takes over. Fighting the impulse to see the world in the worst way takes effort. Every single day.
Rule #2. Exercise six days a week for the rest of your life.
My main form of exercise is daily walking, and I’m trying to walk “at the speed of life,” as noted in The mindfulness of breath and steps (January 24th). When we run, it is easy to stay hidden. Walking at the speed of life helps us know ourselves, know others, and be known by others.
Rule #3. Listen more than you talk.
This is a rule I break frequently. When that happens, I am poorer for the experience.
One way I have listened this year is in reading books from writers with very different perspectives than mine. Listening to new voices (October 5th) captures one of the ways I was opened to new ways of thinking.
Rule #4. Spend less than you make.
I am coming to understand the varied roles money plays in our lives. In We have nothing to lose but our illusions (June 4th), I came face-to-face with the compelling arguments of philosopher and historian Matthew Stewart. Many of us who comprise the top 9.9% of the population in terms of wealth are doing many things to entrench inequality in our system. Instead of government by oligarchs, collective action through a democratically elected government has been and must remain an indispensable tool in advancing the cause of equal justice.
Rule #5. Quit eating crap! Eat less of everything else.
I like food. Not in the way that Justice Brett “I like beer” Kavanaugh likes his drink of choice, but I do have a challenge with occasionally eating too much.
However, this rule has come to mean more to me than just “watch your calories.” Thanks to Christopher Carter‘s book that I reviewed in Race, faith, and food justice (November 16th), I’ve begun thinking about this life rule in terms of our broken food production system. Until now, my thinking has only touched the surface of the problem, and seldom in ways that reach across racial and class lines to address systemic issues.
Rule #6. Play music.
The Fretboard Journal has been a part of my life since 2005. In those 17 years I’ve come to appreciate that when that simple white protective mailer shows up in the mailbox, it opens up my musical world. I celebrated the 50th issue of this gem of a magazine in Our little universe (July 2nd) in part because every time an issue arrives, I’m inspired to pick up one of my instruments and play.
Rule #7. Connect and commit.
Every morning I walk by one of our community’s strangest memorials: a bust of a street-dependent person, Norman Lane, who lived from 1911 to 1987 and spent the last 25 years of his life in downtown Silver Spring. The plaque below the bust is entitled Remember the loving kindhearted forbearance of the people of Silver Spring. I used a phrase from that remembrance — An odd-shaped piece that never quite fit into society’s jigsaw puzzle (September 12th) — to consider the nature of connection, commitment, and forbearance.
Rule #8. Don’t be a grumpy old man. Enjoy life!
Our year in photos — 2022 (November 21st) hopefully conveys the joy and wonderment I’m experiencing at this stage of life. I am working to live into Kathryn Schulz’s admonition that each day is exceptional. We truly live remarkable lives … because life itself is remarkable.
Best wishes for a wonder-filled and remarkable 2023. As you welcome the New Year, please be grateful, thankful, and compassionate every day.
More to come…
Image of rainbow by Cindy Lever from Pixabay
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I captured several comments about this essay in the my “Love letter to readers” post. But after that went up, I received the following from a SHPO and former colleague, and it was so moving I wanted to capture it here:
“This was the first year since I can remember that I have not made New Years Resolutions, I think mainly because I felt disingenuous engaging in a task that I knew held very little currency for me by the end of each year. As I enter my 50th year of existence, what a great endeavor it would be to come up with my own rules or “principles” for life. In doing so, I could maybe abandon the performative resolution process and instead strive to more meaningfully apply or recommit myself to my values. You have inspired me!“ KL
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