Key 7: Let go of the past; embrace the future.
Throughout November I focused on gratitude. Now I want to turn my attention to hope and anticipation. It’s a natural progression, for the connection between gratitude and hope is strong. Without gratitude for the past and the present, we will have difficulty finding hope for the future. Advent can serve as our springboard. Today is the beginning of a Season of Hope for all of us who celebrate Christmas.
The Crucial Three-Legged Stool
Michael Hyatt, a prolific blogger on attitudes that lead to success, examined Duke University’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, in his recent blog, “Why Giving Thanks Gives You an Edge.” He observed that the coach constantly emphasized gratitude. Hyatt concluded that positive emotions like gratitude help us become more resilient by giving us hope and reminding us that we have agency. Most important, I think, “Gratitude moves us into a place of abundance—a place where we’re more resourceful, creative, generous, optimistic and kind. When we’re operating from a place of scarcity, it tends to make us reactionary, close-minded, tight-fisted, gloomy and even mean.”
Author, blogger and widow Judy Brizendine reached a similar conclusion in her recent blog on the crucial “three-legged stool” of gratitude, hope and resilience. She wrote, “When bad things happen and life is difficult, gratitude may not be at the top of your list of things to consider. But when you purposely stop and think of what is still good in your life—and you begin to list the people and things you’re grateful for—your perspective changes. You soon realize the many ways you’ve been blessed, both now and in the past. And appreciating your blessings encourages you to be hopeful about your future.”
Each morning in November, a Facebook friend posted one thing she is thankful for. When I told her how I appreciated her daily reminders of gratitude, she said that every day in November, she and her youngest daughter list something that they are grateful for. What an excellent example for all of us! Counting our blessings each day—writing them down—is a discipline and a record far beyond my daily practice as a new widow of saying, Thank you, God for…. I wish I had a written journal of all those short noontime prayers of gratitude. Six years ago I was grateful simply for the energy to get out of bed in the morning.
In the early years of widowhood, I found it almost impossible to look forward to Christmas with joyful anticipation. My anxiety level was off the charts. That first Christmas, I avoided Santa Clauses and bright red; but I put up the tree and decorated the house with angels, evergreens and white poinsettias. To have ignored the Season would have made it ever so much more depressing, my home that much emptier. Instead, the house echoed with the sound of traditional carols, which I played all day, every day.
I surprised myself as I hung the ornaments on the tree. Lev and I collected ornaments all the years of our marriage, picking up small items—not necessarily designed as ornaments—on trips around the world; and we frequently gave each other special ornaments on our wedding anniversary. Now, every ornament brought back a happy memory: The little red lantern that Lev had received as a child; the last unbroken hand-blown glass ornament from a set we purchased on our honeymoon at Sanborn’s Drugstore in Mexico City in 1962; the hand-carved wooden bird we bought on the steps of the Papal Palace in Avignon, France, in 1969; the glittery sand-cast plaster molds of the children’s feet from long-ago kindergarten projects.
While my weekends were empty, my weeknights were busy throughout December. I attended every Christmas event I could find—clubs, neighborhood, nonprofit organizations, church. I observed our wedding anniversary with dinner one night with family and the next with close friends. I pulled out my Christmas china and linens for a birthday dinner with couple-friends early in the month and sent out an invitation that “Soup’s On” the Sunday night before Christmas. I made a list of all the single women I knew well enough to invite over—a grand total of nine.
Just as Lev and I had done, our children always celebrated Christmas at their homes, grandparents invited; and we all gathered to open gifts under my tree and enjoy my traditional Christmas dinner at some point during the holidays, working around our son’s schedule—first as an Air Force officer and then as a commercial airline pilot.
Sensing that I dreaded the gap between Christmas Eve with my daughter’s family and the big family get-together at my house on the 28th, my daughter-in-law proposed that I join her and the boys in Colorado Springs on Christmas night to surprise my son, who was overnighting there between flights. Christmas afternoon, when my daughter’s family left for their celebration with the other grandparents, I flew to Colorado Springs for a return trip to the Broadmoor, festive with all the Christmas lights reflecting on snow-dusted evergreens, excited children in their plaids and red velvets, doting grandparents hovering nearby. Even without Lev, it was a magical place.
We returned to Corpus Christi two days later to prepare for our annual family celebration. We were all very aware of the empty chair at the dining room table, and I passed Lev’s Santa hat on to my son. The girls knew that I would have fewer gifts under the tree, and they splurged on a gray coat with a fox collar for me. We laughed a lot, cried a little, remembered joys of past Christmases and celebrated being together. We began the process of letting go of the past and embracing the future, our first step in a continuing experiment in how to do Christmas without husband, Dad and Grumps.