Ringing in the New Year with my Aunt Kaki

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I love the beginning of the year. There’s the newness and hopefulness of all the good intentions, goals and aspirations. You can see your life spread out in front of you, full of possibility. It’s a marker in time that reminds us to look backwards and reflect on the past, what went well and what maybe didn’t.

In 2001, I started a habit of writing an end-of-year summary about my past year. The habit started after my sister told me how our great-aunt, Kaki, did the same thing every year. We have a stack of Kaki’s writing, spanning from the year she got married in 1936 until the year she died in 1988.

I try to set aside a little time around the New Year to sit down and browse through them. It’s so comforting to have this piece of her. I can see what her life was like, long before I knew her, and it’s all in her own voice. I know some of the people she writes about, but most I never met. Her husband, Horace, died before I was born, but I feel close to them, and get a glimpse of what our family was like then.

photo 2It spans from the excitement of the first few years of their marriage, to the heartbreak of losing babies, and Horace’s time in the military during World War II. She details the many community, church and civic involvements she had, her travels, and family events. My sisters and I make appearances in later years. Like a little kid, I love flipping to 1979 and re-reading what she says about when I was born, the Christmases she spent with us and other events that included her great-nieces.

I like reading it from my perspective now as an adult compared to how I saw her when I was younger and remember her now. I can appreciate how involved she was in service to her community, and seeing that dedication is such an inspiration for me. That is why I like to read through these pages each year. When I read the stories of her life, I’m reminded of how I’m writing my own right now.

So I write about this past year and we all look ahead to the next, I try to remember how many stories have been written before us and how many stories will be written after us.  There are stories of hope and inspiration, of loss and sadness, of family and gratitude.  They are all splendid in their own right, but our own story – that is one we get to create.

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Thanksgiving Resolution

iPhone 009I’ve officially declared Thanksgiving as my favorite holiday.  You get to eat good food and hang out with your family and focus on what you’re grateful for.  I mean, what’s not to love about that?   I was able to spend my Thanksgiving doing just those things and it was great.

Like a lot of families, we go around before dinner and say what we are thankful for and this is what I shared this year:

“There are a lot of things I’m thankful for, but when I think about what I am most grateful for, it’s the people around me.  You always hear the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, which is true…but I think that you also need a  village to sustain us as adults too.  I’m so thankful for the group of people around me that have seen me at my worst but still believe in my best.  It’s been a rough year for a lot of us, but through the loss and the struggle, we’ve had our village.  We’ve had each other, and for that my heart is completely overwhelmed with gratitude.”

Maybe instead of a New Year’s resolution, I’ll make a Thanksgiving resolution instead.  Through the upcoming year, I resolve to pause for quiet moments and express gratitude for that which sustains me.  It shouldn’t be hard, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Lessons from Loss

Nick & Brayden

Last Monday would have been my brother-in-law’s 34th birthday.  The day before, my sister followed the voice in her heart telling her to travel to Scotland for the summer and she took off on a brave adventure with the two boys and our Mom.   Saying goodbye to them for the next few months (I hope to meet up with them in July for a few weeks) and then thinking about Nick’s birthday has naturally put me in a reflective mood this week and I have been looking back over the past 6 months to see how losing him has shaped our new lives and affected us all.

Lesson #1:  Any sense of true control we have over our lives is an illusion

It’s a necessary part of our human nature to plan and steer our lives down the path we want.  If we didn’t have that drive, where would the fulfillment in hard work and creating things be?  It’s important to dream and work toward something meaningful, but there is still an undeniable fact that we are all one phone call away, one instant of distraction that could send our lives on a trajectory nothing like we planned or wanted.

Give ThanksWe all know this on an intellectual level.  I mean, in my job, I’ve even had to be the person making that phone call to deliver bad news.    I had to tell someone just yesterday about a new tumor in her lung that is likely cancer.   But I’ve never had to really wrap my mind and heart around this profound thought until 6 months ago.  When you truly come face to face with this…man, it can rock your world.

Sometimes I marvel at how amazing humans are and sometimes I marvel at how dumb we can be.  We can watch Dead Poet’s Society a hundred times, and never really get the message to Carpe diem.  We can intellectually understand this concept, but only experience teaches us the lessons we so dearly need.  No one is immune to loss or tragedy, it is universal.  Sometimes the life you lead is just plain luck.

So I’m taking this thought, and I’m holding it uncomfortably close to my heart.  I can’t afford to forget this feeling, this lesson.  And it inspires me to be a better person and fit more joy into my life.  I don’t need to fear that lack of control, I just need to practice the gratitude of what I have right now.

The luck that is life right now, it’s an obligation to keep dreaming and keep working hard, to keep connecting with and helping others, and to keep moving toward the next adventure.