Navigating the minefield week between Christmas and New Years is never easy

The blinking cursor pulsed off and on.  “Think, think, think” it seemed to be saying.  “Come up with something.  Why can’t you come up with something?  Don’t you want to improve your life?”  Sadly, apparently, she did not.  Next to her laptop her exam notebook (the one in the purple zebra print) lay open, her favorite pen resting securely in the valley of its binding.  Its blank page pleaded, coaxed, almost begged, “Please write something in me!  I know you want to and I so want to have your goals, your dreams and your hopes chronicled safely in my pages.”  The cursor shouted and the page beckoned, both to no avail.  She was in Christmas/New Year’s purgatory.

For reasons she had never been able to pin down she went through this hell every year.  Fresh off the few small victories of Christmas, she tried through Herculean effort to evaluate last year and plan for the coming one.  It never went well.

Christmas, or rather the aftermath of it, still weighed heavily on her sense of success and self.  She always strove to make it perfect for everyone: her kids, her spouse, her extended family who she felt so grateful for (and indebted to) and finally, as an afterthought, herself.  She knew that their happiness in the presents, the food and the experience was her happiness.  And yet, their happiness, however much they expressed it, seemed to ignore the great lengths she had gone to in order to manufacture it.  Somehow they saw her work, her efforts, as somehow disingenuous when exactly the opposite was the case.  Her motives were pure enough.

Her intentions were focused on their joy, not hers.  She wanted them to have the perfect holiday for them, not for her, yet somehow most of it never worked out that way.  Important things were glossed over.  No one valued the season as she did and few of them seemed to “get it.”  At least, not the way she hoped they would.  In the end, now, in these few fleeting days between holidays she was left feeling defeated, regretful and unappreciated.  It was the perfect time, she thought sarcastically, to evaluate her life.

The cursor blinked.  Off.  On.  Off.  On.  Like some angry little imp jumping up and down, “Come on!  What did you do last year?  How did it go?  What were your plans?  What were your goals?  What went well?  What didn’t go well?  Successes?  Failures!?  Come ON!!!”  All she could think about was the last three frantic weeks, watching all that work laid to waste in a matter of 20 minutes.  Were her plans from last year like that?  Had she built elaborate goals making sure they were SMART and that she had short, intermediate and long term components supported by processes to bring them to fruition?  Had she revisited them periodically, charted her progress, built habits in support of her goals so that achievement was ensured?  Or had she run pell-mell chasing the approval of others, using their measuring sticks to gauge how happy she should feel?  She didn’t want to admit this was how she operated but she couldn’t fight back the voice that accused her of being selfish when she rose up in her mind and said, ‘No more!  I’ll do this for myself this time!’

This was the constant war, the oppressive reality bearing down on the vision she kept in her mind that wore her down.  It seemed this was always what made her give in, this is what made her fall back into reactionary mode.  Even now its weight held her hands on the table, unable to type on the keyboard, unable to lift the pen.  She blinked blankly at them both as if the Morse code of her eyelids would make words appear.  She raised her hands, clasping them in front of her lips as if praying to a higher power, any power, for an answer.  When none answered she dropped them helplessly to either side of the kitchen table.  And that’s when it happened.

Somehow, through her fidgeting, her squirming and her struggle to make something akin to progress she must have pushed her zebra-printed exam book toward the edge of the table.  As her left hand fell it caught the edge of the book, flipping it wildly up in the air like some bronco coming out of the chute.  Her pen, her favorite instrument of listings and notes and addresses was flung skyward.  Its arc, as if sailing over the moon, went right to left.  She watched it as if it were in slow motion, passing through the glare of the kitchen light.  It banked and rattled and finally clunked to the bottom of the metal trashcan she had brought over to receive what she assumed would be copious and multiple rough drafts of how she would live her life over the next 365 days.  She had emptied it in anticipation of the assured volume it would have to accept.  Her favorite pen rolled across its bottom and came to rest.  Silence filled the air, her kitchen, her head and she stared at it lying at the bottom of the cylinder.

She recalled gawking into the vault at her Aunt Emily’s funeral in June.  It seemed so dark, so final and yet so peaceful.  Aunt Emily had earned it.  At 98 she had raised six kids, buried two husbands and wiped the noses of grandkids, great grandkids and countless Sunday school and daycare charges.  She deserved the rest.  It was now no one’s time but her own.  Pity she’d had to die to get it.

She took a deep breath and mustering all her strength lifted her right hand, placing it on the table.  With an effortlessness that surprised her, she swiped right to left pushing the zebra-printed exam book over the edge and down to its final resting place along with the favored pen.  She smiled, a small, fleeting upturn at the corners of her mouth as she reveled in the dispatch of two thirds of some unholy trinity.  She thought of the kids, her family, her husband and the multitude of tasks accomplished during this most wonderful time of the year and she realized blame, responsibility, rested far from their shoulders.  It was her own voice, the same voice of the pen, the notebook and the insistent yammering of the cursor to which she cow-towed.  It was only in laying to rest the first two of these, one by chance and one by design, that she knew what she must do.

Far easier than she would have imagined and with a peace and a contentment she hardly knew she possessed; she raised both hands almost in supplication and closed the screen of the laptop.  It clicked softly.

“Rest in peace you little s-o-b” she whispered as the screen’s light dimmed and disappeared.  The house seemed somehow warmer and quieter and the Christmas lights shone as they never had before.

The post-Christmas letdown never seems to get easier and when you throw in a handful of retrospection and a dash of trying to plan for the next 365, well, it can be a bit much.  I hope you take control of your next year and make it your own and that it’s the best one yet.  

I write about life every week at my blog, the good and the difficult, the awkward and the amusing.  If you would like to check more of it out, click here to go to my home page.  I offer a free subscription to those that would like to receive an email with links to the week’s posts on Saturdays.  You can sign up for that at the home page or here by clicking this.  And please don’t worry, I never sell or share emails so you won’t get signed up for a bunch of spam.