Sunday in the Park
January 6, 2007
The New Year began as the old one had been, a bit out of order. Not bad, but odd, and no miraculous relief from that feeling of being very, very tired, which seems to be in near epidemic form around town right now.
The moon was nearly full and the firework displays all over town were free for the watching. Unlike last year’s New Year’s Eve whiteout blizzard, the day switched over to a midnight clear. And morning dawned with one of those fiery red orange sunrises that make even me sit right up in bed and honor the day, which was bluebird perfect. It insisted I bundle up and walk my favorite path down by Kid’s Creek, which I know for years now has formally been called McLeod Creek, but I like the old name. When I moved here in the late ’70s, kids really did fish there all the time and the livin’ was easy. On this New Year’s day, I passed cross-country skiers, joggers and dog walkers along the way. A cacophony of wildlife serenaded me, of sorts, and the bright, bright sun reflected off the snow with the promise of new beginnings.
Once home I stuck the traditional ham in the oven, built a roaring fire and curled up with a book I was halfway through. When my friend stopped by after her duties as a ski host before she headed home to her family duties, we shared a glass of holiday cheer and our hopes for the New Year. It is an old tradition we have. When she left, twilight had fallen so I drew a bath and returned to reading my book. Then I crawled into bed and finally finished that book and I cried. And cried. And cried some more. The book, "Annie Freeman’s Traveling Funeral," by Kris Radish, despite its title, isn’t sad, really. It is a celebration of life and friendships and love that isn’t easily defined in Hallmark cards. It is about the enduring power of friendship and the measure of a life. And it is all about seizing the day. I cried because I was going to miss those characters. I cried because too many friends died this year. I cried because I was tired and it felt cathartic.
My days have felt anything but free and open and clean slates to write upon. My existence has often felt like I am the steel ball inside the pinball game, waiting for the next set of flippers to propel me against something else that will ring and light up when I hit it. And I’m not alone. I’ve listened this season to the stories of the overworked and under-rested. And when a colleague explained her theory to me I quite agreed. Humans were meant to have down time. The world is now operating 24 hours a day. (Or if you work in different times zones internationally maybe 30 hours a day or more.) The computer is always on, ditto the cell phone and television programming. When we grew up, such things didn’t exist. There were no answer machines for phones, no computers and when the television test pattern came on, it was a definite signal you had stayed up too late. We have become a culture that pays tribute to the hyper-caffeinated workaholic. And it is so very easy to see that haggard face reflected in the morning mirror.
On Jan. 2, I was driving to an appointment and talking on my cell phone to a dear friend. She was telling me how simple her New Year’s Day had been. She had done a similar fire/book/cooked ham thing. Oh my, I confessed at once to her, I still have my ham in the oven. I turned the car around and drove straight home to discover I had turned the oven off at some point, probably when my friend stopped by, but I had left the ham in the orange honey glaze inside. I had forgotten to eat dinner and I had forgotten the ham.
The next day at work, the phone calls had returned with a vengeance, ditto the e-mails. I had to repair a few bridges that had been lightly toasted during the holiday melee and then I had a late afternoon meeting that lasted into the early evening. I had yet another dinner of cheese and crackers and a long soak in lavender-scented bath salts.
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The snow, the following day, appeared quickly and fell all day. And soon everything that had looked a bit tired was covered anew in a blanket of white. All the hurried people who were in cars were forced to crawl along the roads at day’s end. Forced to listen to music or traffic reports and watch the snow keep falling. It was beautiful. And the moon, still full-ish, reflected on the nighttime snow, lit up my neighborhood in a magical way. Without thinking, I found myself repeating that little phrase from some children’s book that I always sang to my children. "I see the moon and the moon sees me. God bless the moon and God bless me." It may sound a little self-centered to ask for a blessing but I’ve learned the hard way. If we don’t start by taking care of ourselves we have nothing to offer those we love. And those aren’t the kind of leftovers anybody finds appealing.
I started a new book last night, non-fiction this time. It is Barack Obama’s work called, "The Audacity of Hope." This Illinois senator may or may not be a presidential hopeful, but he is currently, at least, a person of interest on the national political scene. That, and I love the title. Audacity, how dare we, hope. And just in the first few chapters I have discovered his discussions with folks from all walks of life reflect one thing: At the end of the day we want simple things, and remarkably the same things — good education, health care, retirement, equality. No one has yet suggested more minutes on their cell phone plan will bring them happiness or peace of mind but maybe that will come in later chapters.
Quality of life, which can sound so ad copy-ish anymore, really is the unifying principal of our town. There is no factory that brings folks here. No widgets manufactured. No captains of industry to impress. We are here because we choose to be here. To live in a place where the physical beauty is a gift equally on display for us all. Yes, we entertain a lot. The visiting friends and family and the new visitors we welcome We cook and clean and transport them and show them a good time. And that can often be exhausting. Ah, but there are worse places to start a New Year. Worse places to be employed in service to others. Much worse places to drive home to.
So for now, I have the audacity to expect that I can start with just me and refresh my own attitude of gratitude. I will try to honor my environment and honor the good life I am a living part of. It is a celebration I can create any day and every day, starting this very Sunday in the Park