By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
For the first time in many years, I am without resolve as January begins. It’s not that I have no goals. It’s just that I am still completely absorbed in trying to survive the changes that 2013 brought.
Though we all toy with the notion of the new as old years shut down and fresh ones open, the reality is that by the time we’re firmly settled into adulthood, most of us don’t want change. In fact, we’ve become experts at avoiding it. If you don’t think this is true, try a short hospital stay, where individual control of everything except, maybe, blinking, is removed as easily as one of those tie-on gowns. Or, if you’re more ambitious, have a baby. That will teach you about the illusion of control.
Fortunately for me and for babies everywhere, 2013 did not include either of these extreme exercises in loss of control. However, I did experience so much topsy-turvy rearrangement of daily life routines that I’m still in shock. The child who came home from college missed most of the changes and it’s glaringly obvious to her.
“You’re still in transition,” she told me as I sat teary-eyed at the dining room table one night last week. “You’re doing great, but everything is different than it used to be.”
Boy, is it ever. Once a diehard organic-everything, make-it-from-scratch or make-do-without person, I compromised early and often as the year gained momentum. I occasionally purchase Pop Tarts, and I briefly owned a microwave oven last fall (it was a bargain-price appliance, and it lasted just over 90 days before it beeped its way to the dumpster). The absolute lowest point of my food year was the day my husband and I drove to the dairy farmer’s home to find the yards lifeless, crowded with rusting equipment in the drizzle.
Our milkman had sold his herd and retired, the wife tersely related. No more fresh milk. I cried all the way home. My children arrived home from school and went straight to the refrigerator, anticipating 14 gallons of the good stuff. We’re out of luck, I told them. The same teens who once wrinkled their noses at non-supermarket milk slumped in disappointment.
“What are we going to do?” they asked.
“We’ll figure it out,” I said.
Figuring it out was the year’s motto. We figured out how to enroll in and attend public school. We’re still figuring out how to get the hang of that. I find it comforting to remember that I am catching up on a decade’s worth of annual conditioning: other families have had practice at this stuff from kindergarten till now, and our family just got in the game as the youngest began high school. It’s not surprising, then, that I sometimes don’t know what to wear, say or offer when new situations arise.
I’ve concluded this sense of not knowing what’s appropriate is actually healthy, though I find it slightly terrifying. For years, I operated with complete confidence, sure that the educational and household choices I’d made were inevitable and unquestionably right. I think they were good choices. Heck, how would I have ever gotten familiar with the classical canon of Great Books if I hadn’t decided to educate my children with them? I would never have known about the long black ships of Ithaka, headed to the stubborn city of Troy. Or the flying snakes and the gold-mining ants recorded by the first historian, Herodotus. Or the meditations of Athanasius, my favorite church father ever. I miss homeschooling as much as I miss farm-fresh milk.
Even as I toy with the thought of schooling myself through another round of great literature, I am grateful life challenged me to change. I am grateful I accepted the challenge, uncomfortable as it has sometimes been. I am grateful for the company I’ve had along the way.
Along with the people who’ve counseled, listened to, debated with and loved me along the way, I’ve relied upon the comfort of the one who does not change, the decidedly Christian Holy Spirit who bears witness to every moment of our lives. Religious talk has become distasteful to me in recent years, as I have realized that a lot of us, a lot of the time, don’t really know what we’re talking about or who we’re saying it to. The stark extremes of argument about the nation’s political state, the moral confusion of pop culture, the desire by many groups to insist they own the high ground and the rest of you/us all are headed to destruction on account of our dress code or lack of proper terminology or insistence on loving people regardless — all of it leaves me tired. I’m just trying to figure out how to pack a healthy school lunch teens will eat, for Pete’s sake.
It’s comforting to hear, at times, that still, small voice that never changes and never leaves. It relays the same message the angels delivered to the shepherds millennia ago, the same message Moses heard in the burning bush thousands of years before that, the words the first people knew in the garden when the world was new: I am here. I am with you. Don’t be afraid. I bring you news of great joy.
Anxiety about 2014? You’ve got to be kidding. We made it through 2013 — just as the world made it through some 2,000-odd years before that, and the uncountable eons I still insist on calling “B.C.”
What’s another 12 months? We’ll take it, as humanity always has, one day at a time. Head up, heart open, hope intact. Happy New Year.