This year has been difficult for me and so many I love (as you can see from my last post "The Difficult Gifts"), so it's not surprising that RESILIENT was the word that introduced itself for 2018 one morning in early December when I was showering.
Resilient seemed fitting, a continuation of my desire to remain open and graceful in the midst of life's challenges, most especially my mother-in-law’s illness and death in 2017, and the continual changing of our deadline to finish and sell our house—our main source of livelihood.
The resilience I seek to emulate isn’t just mine, it’s something I witnessed (and still witness) day in and day out as those I love coped (and continue to cope) with job loss and changes, moving, lack of housing, family strife, illness, death, and all the self-doubt and challenges to faith these circumstances stir up in us.
I participated in Abbey of the Arts’ free online “Give Me a Word 2018” mini-retreat and nothing rose to replace resilient, though I got clarity on the type of resilience calling to me. I’ve seen my share of resilient flooring at Home Depot, and I’m not interested in bouncing back unchanged. I’m intrigued by resilience in the way Psychology Today looks at it:
Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on.
Resilience seemed not only fitting but sufficient, until I awoke in my own bed on December 31st after a week of Christmas travel spent sleeping with my husband on a wiggly air mattress. My eyes flitted open and closed as I anticipated sunrise, looking to see if the skies would be clear enough for Mt. Rainier to be visible. I plumped my pillow and slumbered in the growing light, glancing out the window, every time I regained consciousness.
That’s when the word INTENTIONAL dawned in my brain as clear as the looming mountain. I would live 2018 with intention—who needed resilience?—and I’d get a day’s jump start. So as soon as I finished eating breakfast, I set about doing something in my skill set to help finish our home renovation: touch up painting.
In retrospect, I remember that my husband mentioned something about being unsure of paint sheen as we gathered brushes, rollers, and paint trays, but his words scudded by like a quick moving cloud in my eagerness to be intentionally productive. I painted some glitches on baseboards then tackled the entry walls, scuffed up from our recent floor tiling.
After lunch I returned to the entry to find swaths of shiny paint all over the walls. I’d used semi-gloss, and the walls clearly were not that sheen. The entire room would need to be repainted—maybe the entire main level of the house. And when I had that realization, I completely lost it.
Why had my husband set me up with the wrong paint? If he’d only warned me to paint one inconspicuous spot, I wouldn’t have gone wholesale on the walls (as if I’m not responsible for my own actions; as if he has to supervise everything I do). I sarcastically commented about throwing away time and money, and my husband sarcastically commented back that yes, that’s exactly what he loved to do.
I stomped to the bedroom, thrashed on the floor, huffed and puffed and cried until my anger was replaced with the heavy weight of sadness and shame. Intentional? Hardly! I hadn’t even paid attention to what my husband told me. I hadn’t asked questions, or made sure I understood. Resilient? Rolling on the floor wallowing in self-pity is only resilient if that’s the type of flooring you tantrum on.
When I skulked downstairs and tried to talk about it reasonably, my husband told me that someone—maybe me, maybe one of our crew, no one knew—mixed up our paint finishes during one of the many weeks he was out-of-town caring for his mother, and that in fact, we’d discovered it when I’d touched up the kitchen months ago, and the same thing had happened.
How had I completely forgotten? Probably because back then we were preoccupied, and rightly so, with love and loss, and everyone was simply doing the best they could for and by each other in the midst of a poignant and sacred season.
In helping my husband to care for his mother in her last months, I was intentional, and resilient. I know this about myself: I am better able to focus on the big picture and attend to the big things in life “that really matter.” Yet I know the small things of daily life, and how I respond to them, are great in their impact. It is the mosaic of such moments that comprises our lives creating the image we have of ourselves, and the impression we leave on others.
The great paint debacle of December 31st is simply one example (of too many, I’m afraid) of precisely why I need INTENTIONAL RESILIENCE as the words to guide my life this new year; and always. What words will shape you this year?
Oh life, you give me too much
opportunity to receive your difficult gifts.
You ask me to let go of my desires, my
expectations, my wants, my will--
the my, my, my that drives me
to distraction, anxiety, fear.
You ask me to practice seeing
the present apart and aside
from my wish to craft existence
into something easy
the recliner and slippers
I would opt for over
this narrow path
these sharp stones
that cut and bleed.
And life, practicing the art
of accompaniment seems never
ending as I stumble in descent
alongside those I hold dearest
through dark canyons. We long
for illumination and the river coursing
the valley floor where we might
drink of life. Instead we travel
through fractured families and ailing
health down through loss of job
and identity, mental faculties and self
down amid despair and death.
Hands skimming striated walls, we are
dwarfed by enormity
as we touch the long history of the world
and our very small places in it.
Oh life, accepting what is, along with our
insignificance is such a difficult task.
Difficult too, to give thanks
in every circumstance,
to love the fleeting and fragile.
More difficult still to cling
to nothing but this moment
to find hope and peace in breath
alone—And so life, we must
practice again and again the art
of embracing your difficult gifts.
In loving memory of my mother-in-law "Mama Honey" Diane Warner
It was December 1980 and my boyfriend Kevin and I had been dating a little over a month when he was having dinner with his family at a Japanese restaurant in Aptos during our Christmas break from UC Davis. One of his siblings asked either what my last name was or how to spell it (it was Preimsberger) when his mother piped up that it didn't matter..."It's going to be Warner," she said, "I see it in the tea leaves."
She had yet to lay eyes on me, but she was right. Kevin and I married in August 1982.
I remember announcing our engagement on New Year's Day 1982: Kevin and I drove from Davis to San Jose to find his mom in the library at their big house they dubbed The Mansion, visiting with a cousin—family and friends were always stopping by for a visit—I don't remember who else was there, but I do remember how happy his mom was for us and to celebrate, she made some calls and rounded up some of her kids and a few other relatives who lived nearby and sent Kevin and me to Taco Bell to pick up dinner.
We came back with bags of tacos and burritos and ate them in the formal dining room at the large table topped with a beautiful crocheted lace tablecloth, toasting with glasses of Pepsi. I was instantly welcomed into this big family—if Kevin loved me, then they loved me.
That gift of belonging is one of the most precious gifts I've received in my life, a gift that my mother-in-law extended to me and everyone who graced her doors.
Any friend of anyone in her family, or any friend of a family friend, was a friend of hers. Friends and relatives could stop by my mother-in-law's anytime. No need to call first. And any occasion was a cause for celebration. No need for a fancy menu, or to send out invitations. No need to plan in advance or even need to clean if pressed for time—you could just pile everything in a corner and drape a sheet over it. I used her trick many times when my kids were little, and it was the perfect decor for Halloween parties!
On the other hand, she especially loved making things beautiful, and decorating for holidays by filling the table with candles and crystals or acorns and pinecones, and when I had the privilege of hosting Thanksgiving dinners with my husband at our house, my mother-in-law—who’d been dubbed “Mama Honey” by our oldest child—was the first to lend a hand and to compliment my arrangements, a collection of my children’s school craft projects I saved and reused.
My mother-in-law had a huge oak dining table custom built for her beach house in the early 1980s that sat more than a dozen, and it traveled with her after she moved from there. In the past 35 years I've had the privilege to gather around that table time and time again, with family and friends and strangers who became friends; some of who are no longer living (but feasting with Mama Honey in the next life I hope).
Her generosity was genuine and never grudging. Her door and heart were always open, and there was always room for another person at the table, even when they showed up unannounced on holidays after the meal had begun. A true model I’ve tried to emulate—not always successfully.
That big oak table got overrun in the past year or so when my mother-in-law wasn't able to get around, even in her apartment. As she began to feel better, the clutter began to bother her more, and I made it a goal to clear it off for her—sorting, filing, and recycling the items it held—in July as she was recovering from a three-week hospital stay. And just in time for the last day of our visit, we gathered round that beautiful table for what would be Mama Honey’s last supper with extended family. There were three children, one grandchild, several in-laws and a few friends gathered for deli chicken and pre-made potato salad, bagged green salad, steak, watermelon, and iced tea. Our menu unpretentious as she'd taught us.
There was also a young man most of us were meeting for the first time; a young man who Mama Honey had predicted her granddaughter (my daughter) would marry weeks before she even met him.... Time will tell, but based on my experience, she’s always right about that sort of thing.
Prayer in the Time of Evil
When evil shatters the lives
of our brothers and sisters
and smashes our illusions of inclusivity,
and safety, when the shards
splintering our nation
pierce our hearts--
grant us solace in our weeping
and the courage to dream
and speak and act for peace.
When violence and hatred
bombard our senses
spewing lies and hopelessness--
free us from demonizing
our enemies as we voice
sharp and needed words
that name our own complicity
while we seek justice, equality
and compassion for those
who carry the weight
of oppression and evil.
Let us not be undone
by the unconsciousness of fear
and hatred, nor give into
powerlessness and despair--
Let us reach for each other
and step together into
the unfolding future
holding fast to love.
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.