I’ve had a wonderful break with my family. We’ve eaten too much, watched lots of movies, and kept up our tradition of holiday jigsaw puzzles. On television and in the local newspaper a different kind of puzzle has been emerging: the year end reviews. These include lists of the most popular men and women, the year’s top news stories, the best and worst celebrities, and of course, the best ways to lose that weight gained over the holidays. By completing these reviews we somehow can try to make sense of where we’ve been this past year and perhaps figure out where the new year will take us. It is difficult not to give in and to get a bit nostalgic in trying to put the personal pieces of the year end puzzle together.
My experiences in 2009 were like those of many people: life was somewhat difficult. I say somewhat because I know there are those whose life circumstances make my life look like a fairy tale. Self pity cannot last long when reading about Darfur, or about the almost 300,000 homeless children in California, or about the soldiers killed today in Afghanistan. It is hard to maintain a singular selfish focus when my dear friend tells me her sister’s cancer has spread, or the work associate who thought she was cancer free, finds a new cancer has taken root and that she will again need the wig stashed in the back of the closet.
This comparison doesn’t deny my pain but instead puts it into a perspective. In January of 2009 my father died. This Christmas has been my first without him. PZ Myers (no relation) posts a touching column this week about his father’s death that rings true with me. He writes: “One of the lies we always tell ourselves is that the pain will go away with time, that we'll get over it, that time heals all wounds, and it's not true. Every loss is forever raw, and we can feel it all again with just a thought or a reminder, like a Christmas phone call to the family. The older you get, the more of these moments of grief you accumulate, and they never leave you”. Myers also states that while it is true that grief persists and even accumulates, joy and happiness also persist and accumulate. This leads me to Viktor Frankl’s words “When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves”. This is a needed reminder that I can, and will experience pain and loss, and I can, and will also experience happiness and joy and, most importantly, I have the power to choose my response to both circumstances.
Gerda Weissmann Klein, a Holocaust survivor and amazing woman, puts it this way: "When you go to your home, look not at what is missing, but what is there." So I continue my year end pondering realizing the pieces of the puzzle that I have forgotten to include are two of the most powerful. The first is how I will choose to respond as I face whatever 2010 has in store and the second is to take joy and be thankful now for everything with which I have been so richly blessed. I think I’m ready for the new year now.
Patricia Myers is a counselor, an associate professor of counselor education, and doctoral student.