Sunday, December 28, 2014

On Newness

At this time, in the darkest days of winter, when the year turns, we think about what to do new, what to do different, in the coming year. I had a conversation with Sudi this past week that bears repeating. Telling me about the film “Boyhood,” he said he thinks I will like it but he thinks it will make me sad. “Why is that?” I asked. “Because it’s about children growing up and leaving home and then they’re gone and the parents are wistful and nostalgic for the days gone.” I replied that I am not sad that my children grew up and left home. I miss them, of course, and I also miss the babies, children, and teenagers they once were. But I love having adult children. They change my life all the time. They introduce me to new things and inspire me to be different, to do things differently. For instance, while Sudi was home, he spent an evening with me and Ron in Ron’s newly created office in the back bedroom listening to vinyl record albums on Ron’s turntable. Sudi took a journey in Ron’s record collection and pulled LPs at random to listen to various tracks that interested him. He and Ron talked music. I listened. I had forgotten how fat and juicy the sound is on an album played on a turntable. How many years has it been since I have spent an entire evening simply listening to albums, without doing anything else at the same time? It took me back to my college days. I even had a cat sitting on me and purring (then snoring).

My adult children introduce me to films, food, wine, information, books, ideas, current events, people, places, and more and more. They stretch my horizons, my thinking, my perceptions. While I’m a creature of habit in significant ways; at the same time I am a bit of a change junkie. I need that mental stimulation. Hence my enrollment in my holistic nutrition program, which I love. One of my inspirations for going back to college at the age of 59 to earn my nutritionist certification is my friend Carey Weng, who enrolled in Harvard Divinity School at the age of 60. (The father of our friend Gayla, Carey passed away in 2010.) I have dreamed of being a nutritionist, and in February I will officially become one. I don’t have to stop being a writer or stop doing the other things I already do, professionally or otherwise. I will just add nutritionist to the mix. I’m “setting out in the evening” with this new direction.

It takes little to shake things up, gain new perspectives, and grow in good ways. For all the years we have lived in our house, I have never quite landed here, never felt at home. But oddly, after moving back in, rearranging the furniture, and repurposing the rooms, I feel more comfortable here. This house feels more like mine. I have made it more my own with some of the smallest new and different things; such as moving all my books into my study and dissolving the library (turned it back into a formal dining room as it was meant to be).

Newness is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be, of course. Although it’s good to keep ourselves thinking, changing, growing; on the other hand, something different is not always a good thing. I have two dear friends who have been widowed this past year. Learning to make a life again without their husbands is not the kind of difference that provides benefit. At the Jewish new year (Rosh Hashanah), we say to one another, “May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year, a sweet year,” and we eat honey to invite in the sweetness. We never know from one year to the next who will be with us still, who will be gone, and what changes will transpire. When we put our house on the market last winter, our neighbors across the street were unhappy at the thought of losing us. They have two young boys with whom Ron and I would often converse in the course of our daily doings. But by the time Ron and I took our house off the market and decided to stay, these lovely neighbors had put their house on the market. The husband took a terrific job in another town, a job too good to pass up, and they moved. Now their house is for sale and ours is not.

While many things beyond our control may buffet us this way and that, we choose where these things will take us. We steer in and out and around. We choose to change course. We choose the lessons to take away and the lessons to leave on the table. We choose how to do it different, what new things to embrace, and the ways in which we wish to change ourselves and our lives. We also choose what to keep, what to do in the old way, what not to change at all. Ron sent Christmas cards through the mail the old-fashioned way this year and he still gets a newspaper delivered to our mailbox every morning, while I emailed a holiday letter (as usual) and I read the online news from a variety of media outlets every morning. On the other hand, Ron has a Smartphone that does lots of tricks and I hardly ever use my cell phone, which is an antique flip-phone that lives in my car in the garage. Seriously, the Smithsonian wants my phone when I’m done with it. Some things are worth keeping and some worth changing – it’s all in making the conscious choice rather than being carried in the current without thinking about where we wind up.

Starting new can happen at any time, on any day, in any moment. Starting new does not belong exclusively to New Year’s Eve. Any day we can wake up in the morning and decide that we will change the pattern. While life throws bunches of unexpected events at us, to a great extent we have the ability to create our days, our years, and our lives. So instead of wishing you a happy new year, I think I will wish you a new year. Straight up. Good new.

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