The Turning of the Year

I think often, lately, of what will come to be in that time called “after,” whenever that is. This year has been a whirl. 

I look back, and I see the mistakes of the past months. It’s my nature. I’m sure there are successes in there, but when I look back over my life, I see the detritus. The times I failed my children. The things I failed to do for them. The times I spoke wrongly or harshly to others.

I think of all the things that didn’t get done. Now, mind you, this is a bit ridiculous, considering how much did. But I feel the weight of unfinished home repairs, untended gardens, untidied rooms.

I feel the weight of unfinished commitments to myself. I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. So few of those promises are for my own enjoyment that I want to cry when I realize how they’ve slipped away in the chaos. I recognize the need to make some room for myself in my own life if I’m going to be good to my loved ones.

And yet, I feel that I already take too much. Or that, perhaps, my family feels I do. There’s no measuring such an unorthodox life, no perspective to it when one is living it.

This one thing I know: the wild north cradles us in its freedom, full of things that remain unseen by any eyes but God’s. Yes, we are excessively well-mapped. The land is settled and bounded. But that has never stopped a prairie girl from hopping a fence and going wandering across fields and through wild, well-treed ravines. The eye of the world does not see the moments any better than my own does.

People are the only thing you can take with you to heaven, and if you don’t believe in heaven, you’d better snatch every moment, all the more.

Perhaps it’s a godly instinct to see what’s missing…for what shepherd, when he finds a sheep missing, does not leave the ninety-nine and go search for the other one? But on the other hand, what’s crooked cannot be straightened, and what’s lacking cannot be counted.

It doesn’t stop me from searching till my heart is torn. But there comes a time to remember all lambs, like all sparrows, belong to God.

To ease the uncertainty, I tell myself it’s like this: The softness, the wavering, and the fears are only the surface. The shyness and tenderness are my outward presentation. And in some way, this is true: if you meet me, you’ll see and hear a much quieter person than appears amid the type.

I tell myself that the deepest part, so deep it’s nearly hidden from myself, is bedrock. And I hope that if I say it often enough, it’ll turn out true. I look in the mirror, and I think that maybe I have a nicer face than I did when I was younger. Something real, not just youth.

These are the last vestiges of youth, it strikes me. These uncertainties, this lack of knowing, the hopes that dare not. I am leaving behind something of who I was before I had the slightest idea of who I am.

But I also know that I’m losing nothing of the good. It’s not something being stripped away, but an emptiness being filled. My spring is past–blossoms fall, and we miss their fragility, their tender essence. There’s a space where we can’t tell whether fruit will follow in its season, or whether some unknown night frost has killed it in the bud. But soon enough, a gardener knows, for there are many kinds of fruit. Some come quickly, some wait for autumn; some things are best harvested after frost or even turned from beneath the first snows.

I know now.

This is my summer. I felt it coming, and I thought its first amazing warmth was all there would be. That burst of light and freshness completely overtook me for the day it lasted.

Summers also need rain in order to enter as they should–to be anything but a parched wilderness, to have any beauty at all, they must start with rain. And it is a constant tempest in a teapot around here. The children are in the door just now, bickering again. Do they ever address each other any other way? Things are breaking faster than we can fix them. There’s always five more things to do than time in the day.

But I’m in a world full of colour and life that I never expected, things growing all around me. I can see everything I’ve loved since childhood coming home to roost around me, like the return of birds.

There are books. More of books than I could have dreamed. Aged, nascent, not yet born. From across continents and worlds. And alongside, the people who go with books. I live in a renaissance time, where everything is becoming new in old ways. And I myself walk through it an anachronism, by my pre-digital birth as well as my nature.

And the old is new again. There are small presses making leaps of imagination using electronic infrastructure. Digital buskers exist–my word, they think of everything these days. Conversation happens between me and the other side of the globe.

I go to town for the mail, and see the buildings I’ve seen since childhood. I go to the old Legion Hall on a Sunday morning, and see the same faces, feel the heart of the farmland beat around me. Thank God, thank God that I’m still where I am from, or everything would be swept away.

Back inside the door again, my house’s atmosphere flows with the gentle sound of guitar strings as my son plays “Blessed Assurance” on his great-grandfather’s archtop guitar. His touch is so melodic, gentle, meditative. He plays like his father.

Time turns onward, doesn’t it? I sit with pen in hand, and write my own peculiar longhand in my journal as the sun sinks across fields of untrodden snows. Soon, I think, I will write a letter to England in the same way, to an author who – I suspect – will understand why. We have never met. He does not believe in digital greetings.

The warmth of the 1960s radiators takes over as night settles and stars appear. Stars, by which birds navigate, going home to roost.