The Blessing of the Fleet
Family visits at Christmas in 2021 were filled with movies and discussion. Dad came up with several titles we should watch – Chocolat, The Reader, Big Eyes. We gathered in the living room, arranged our comfy chairs strategically to see the screen, and snuggled all the dogs into our laps as we watched by white Christmas tree lights to the snores of snoozing schnoodles.
“This one is for mature audiences,” Dad warned as we started watching. He wasn’t kidding. It wasn’t even Big Eyes we were watching at the time – but that’s what our sleeping dogs would have seen under our raised eyebrows during several scenes.
Discussions that followed were deep and thought-provoking reasons we perceived the characters’ actions in the various ways we did. Had the points been polarizing political hills, we may not have spoken as freely, but without divisive party particulars attached, all opinions and viewpoints were considered – even respected. Close to an hour into one movie discussion when no one could figure out why a character removed her shoes at the end, Dad sat back and observed, “maybe it was for this very reason – to get people thinking. Talking. Wondering why.”
Deep thinking and active listening – both of which can be physically exhausting – have been part of the lineup in my life in a more intentional way lately. I’ve misread the tea leaves a time or two recently, and I think this may be the most compelling reason that my one not so little word for 2022 – Listen – jumped right off the page and into my arms, leash and all, licking my face like a Great Dane puppy, pleading Pick me! Pick me! Nothing like one of those more timid breeds that might have taken a little more time to warm up in an elusive way, to slowly reveal itself and its reasons for taking up camp with me this year.
As I have talked with others about their choices for their 2022 words, I have come to realize that the discussions about what led to our word choices may be as important as the words themselves – just like those movies. To have true value, like a good book, a thing has to stay with you and haunt you for awhile, to keep casting and reeling, demanding attention. That’s the part of listening I’m enjoying most these days – people and the words they picked, words and the people they picked.
Would I have ever felt as tuned in to these stories before Listen ambled up next to me and took out a year’s lease? I’m beginning to feel the magic already – swirling and mesmerizing, like a cup of strong Earl Grey tea in a fine China cup with a matching saucer in a quiet corner of an Oxford Street tea room in London. To listen across a steaming cup with two cubes of sugar stirred in is to savor the richness – to ensure that I don’t misread the tea leaves again, to feel a deep connection with another person. Just to listen…..
Dad’s word – telos – led to plans for a monthly blog post from him that we will collaborate on together. It’s a Greek word that will have us climbing toward the ideal view of a summit that we know we will never fully reach even as we climb – because with telos, there will always be more distance to the tip top. The summit focuses our journey, but our tents are not meant to be pitched there. It’s fitting that he chose a Greek word. I remember an old Polaroid picture of myself as a baby plopped in the middle of his desk wearing only a diaper, books stacked all around me as he taught me the Greek and Hebrew words he studied in seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The words, unfortunately, didn’t stick- but the love of books and words did! Interestingly, he is choosing a “helper word” each month – much like a diopter adjustment on a pair of binoculars that brings clarity of focus between two lenses working together.
My husband, Briar, didn’t veer from a list I shared with him in his choice of the word balance, even though it wasn’t his first choice. Resilient was his immediate word, but it sounded too much like perseverance after he thought on it for awhile, so he considered the swarm of emails demanding his attention first thing on New Year’s Eve and settled on the word balance as his one little desire, his one little word for 2022. His word is born of deep need.
One of our daughters, Mallory, has settled on the word journey with the helper word bloom. She plans a move in 2022, and she wants to bloom where she is planted and continue on the journey of living a healthy life, nurturing self-growth and blooming along the way. Another, Ansley, chose the word dominate as she chooses to continue to win against things that hold her back from the fullest enjoyment of life. Our son Marshall chose the word commitment as his guiding word – he is committed to being a loving husband and father to his wife, four children, and three dogs. “I’m living my life dedicated to what matters,” he explains. His wife, Selena, a beautiful person inside and out, chose the word adaptability, “to be able to see other perspectives around me and be more open. I’m choosing this word because I want to be better at adjusting to change, open minded to doing things different ways. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of doing things my own way, but the times I “go with the flow” so often turns out great or better than expected. It’s just hard to be willing too at first. I believe if I can learn to be more adaptable to circumstances and people, I can become someone that is a strong listener, more relatable, and offer better leadership.” Our son Andrew is taking the word power. “I’m set up in life currently at the beginning of the year to really power through the year and the next and the next, exponentially.” As a pilot and airport manager, he is truly taking off in his life, and has an amazing view of all the world’s beauty from the clouds!
My brother, Ken, thoughtfully began choosing words for others before landing on one for himself – order. In his real estate realm, the need for order is expansive – from the dream to the reality, from the offer to the contract, from the living room to the kitchen drawer. Order. It’s a word both wanted and needed in his sphere.
Marci, friend and guidance counselor, chose pause as her word. She explains: “Life finds us in a whirlwind, going and coming, spinning- always in a hurry. There seems to always be something that needs my attention. I need to do this and then that……(even if it’s not really that important- sweep, vacuum, reorganize this cabinet, drawer, organize the grocery list, what to do for this…things at work,etc). I’ve discovered that I have a little trouble just being still. I need to PAUSE and just be still. Really SEE the moment, HEAR another, FEEL a situation, ‘smell the roses’. Take control over the moment rather than the moment taking control over me. Staying on the go may keep me from seeing the blessings that God has for me, even in a moment. I don’t want to miss those. Even in the valleys this year, I may have focused on the hurriedness of the situation and missed things God has for me. He is SO good and continues to bless us through it all. I simply must PAUSE. ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10.”
My sister in law, Bethany, chose the word mindful as she strives to be true to her authentic self in all of her decisions. “I began learning to truly be in the moment when my mother’s dementia was getting bad. We would have fleeting moments of time in which she knew who I was, so I would shut all the noise and business of the world out and just be present with her. This made me realize how many small moments in life we miss because we do not know the art of mindfulness. So my word reminds me to be truly present in each moment!”
My good friend Adrienne chose the word freedom. “My One Little Word is Freedom. Freedom from physical, psychological and perceived restraints. My vision of Freedom is living a life with a healthy body able to keep up with my plans for the future and living a life free of bad habits.”
Another dear friend, Jayne, chose the words present moment as she reflected on 2020. “On August 2, 2020, I was feeling very lost about certain things in life. I had read the following Wendell Berry quote: ‘It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our journey,’ when I was reading Tom Ryan’s book Will’s Red Coat about an old dog who chooses to live. Later in the day, Mary Chapin Carpenter – who I consider to be the pre-eminent singer/songwriter, poet, and philosopher of my generation – sang live her song ‘Late for Your Life’ about not waiting for the ‘perfect’ moment to start living. How prophetic – and timely – these three messengers were! The realization, at my age, that time is running out, the reality of health concerns, and the message set forth on that August 2020 day have been the catalysts for my shift to more present-living moments. As a planner, some of these are scheduled into my day (for example, several minutes of focused breathing before bed each night), but, happily, much of this present-moment living is spontaneous in which I go for an unplanned walk with the dogs or watch a gorgeous sunset. As someone who has always defined her value in being a ‘doer,’ living in the present is not the easiest thing for me to do, but it’s always the right choice because it liberates me from stress and anxiety and allows me to be a human BEING.“
My friend Carrie chose the word try. “I don’t really have a profound or even interesting reason for the word ‘try.’ I’ve always been a goal setter and a hard worker. It’s served me well in some ways, but has been detrimental, too. I retired due to chronic head pain that was threatening my life. I didn’t want to retire; I loved my work. I hoped the pain would be less in retirement, but that has not happened. I can, however, rest when I need to rest. When my husband suffered a massive heart attack, I discovered that I could return to my work persona in order to care for him. So, it’s still there if I need it. I guess with the word try, I am giving myself permission to try and possibly fail without being frustrated and angry with myself if I can’t do something, finish something, be somewhere due to pain. With pain, retirement and Covid, I have become very reclusive. I can’t really commit to things like volunteering because I might not be able to follow through. And on and on. So this year, I will just try. Try and start seem to go together for me. Some days, I will try to take a day trip with my husband or have lunch with a friend. Other days, I will start a load of laundry and hope it makes it to the dryer. As I said, not very interesting, but it allows me to work towards an acceptance of my new normal.”
I asked Debbie, a lifelong friend who has always been such a special person to my family, to share her reasons for choosing kindness. “I would be happy to. That word came to me immediately because of the divisions in our country, as well as the culture in which people say hurtful and judgmental things simply because they don’t have to speak face to face. Others are quick to judge. Personally, I want to be mindful of making an effort to be kind to others at every opportunity. I don’t think it has to be huge….just small acts of kindness where ever we are, and no matter who God puts in our path. It’s easy to be kind to those we love or think like us, but I think we can all do a better job of being kind to all.”
One little word I can’t wait to watch color the year 2022 with joy comes from a former student – and amazing artist – who attends the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega. She shared, “my word for the year is pensierino. It’s Italian for ‘a small present/gift.’ Every day, I want to find one small gift God has given me – because as the beloved Ferris Bueller once said, ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’ I also want to give one small daily gift to someone at random – a small encouragement written on a piece of paper handed to a stranger, a flower given to another. The smallest acts are sometimes the biggest. The word, also being Italian, is a nod to the previous year and my new dear ‘Italian Grandmother’ Riccarda – it’s quite the story of how we met. I’m studying Italian more in depth, as I may be visiting her in both New York and Italy.”
In Darien, Georgia each spring, a priest stands atop the Darien River Bridge blessing the fleet of shrimp boats that pass underneath on their way out to sea by sprinkling the bow of each boat with holy water to bless crews with an abundant year and safe journey. It’s called The Blessing of the Fleet. I envision a higher power standing on a bridge that towers over each of us, blessing us all as we set out on our journey with our words. May we all have a safe and enlightening voyage through 2022:
Felix: telos, monthly helper words
Mallory: journey, bloom
Jayne: present moment