Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Punches and Rolling with Them

By Zinta Aistars

That would be the trick of getting through life and doing it fairly well, I think—rolling with the punches. What that idiom means is that one takes the hit, but rather than taking it full force, rolls with it, and so diminishes much if not most of the blunt force behind it. Stand stubborn and resist, and it will hurt a lot more and cause more damage.

I’ve done quite a bit of rolling over my lifetime. Rolling means I have to give up control at times of where this ball will land. Give up the hard edges and curl up into a ball, and you may travel this way or that, ending up in some unknown place and circumstance. Maybe a good thing, maybe not. You just don’t know until you let go. But when you roll rather than resist, you get to keep a lot more of your innards and bones intact. And your sanity.

One of my favorite holidays approaches: New Year’s Eve. In general, I dislike holidays. Oh, I do enjoy the time off from work—that’s a necessity if we are talking about maintaining said sanity. But the making of a “special” occasion means instantly adding pressure to, well, be special. Rather than just relaxing and enjoying the occasion, suddenly there is stress, and the game is on to make the occasion rise about the common day.

I like the common day. Some more than others, sure, but the common every day is a good day. Our lives are made up less of special occasions than they are of common days. Look closely, and there are actually plenty of special trimmings on the common day. It begins with the moment of waking, that moment of being aware one is alive, despite and in spite of everything, and that in itself is special. It keeps going from there. To be alive means all things are possible.

Times Square, New York City
 New Year’s Eve is a milder holiday. If one so chooses, it can be trimmed with all kinds of party-throwing stress. I’m betting the folks who organize that massive gathering on Times Square in New York City every New Year’s Eve wouldn’t call it stress-free. I’m sure they long for a real holiday right after it, just to take a deep breath and rest from all that specialness.

It is what we choose. As I’ve gotten older, I have chosen quieter and simpler celebrations of the night into new day, beginning of another year. Looking over a lifetime of more than half a century of such celebrations, I glimpse parties, popping champagne corks, bursting fireworks, dances 'til dawn, floating balloons, streamers and confetti. I glimpse family gatherings, and gatherings with friends in homes. I glimpse long, luxurious romantic nights for two, far away from the madding crowd. I glimpse walks across frozen lakes, looking up at a sky studded with crystalline stars, wondering what the future will bring. I glimpse sitting on a rooftop, huddled under a warm blanket, trading resolutions. I glimpse bonfires, red and orange sparks dancing upward toward another night sky of stars. I glimpse children, asleep in my arms.

This New Year’s Eve I had hoped to repeat one that I spent three years ago, one of my favorites. I had planned to camp out in the snowy woods with a few friends and our dogs, dog sledding through the fluff, drinking bubbly out of tin cups, our tents circled around a campfire.

All week I’ve watched the weather forecast. While much of the country is frozen in deep snow, southwest Michigan has only a dusting of white, and it looks like even that may be washed away soon by … rain. Thunderstorm? Yes, the forecast for New Year’s Eve is mid to even high 40s Fahrenheit with rain, even a possible thunderstorm.

Of course, I am disappointed. I had purchased a new sleeping bag, made for minus 20 Fahrenheit, and was eager to give it a try. I was thinking about taking my old chow pup, Guinnez, along for the adventure. I had looked at photos from that night three years ago, and smiled every time, remembering. What a fine way to make this holiday special, and without undue stress or pressure. No gifts to buy and wrap and exchange. No dressing up in finery. No need to have perfect Norman Rockwell family gatherings. Just hanging out in the snow with some pals and our dogs and making tracks.

Roll with the punches, I remind myself. Sh— happens and so does warm weather … in winter. We still have plenty of winter to go, and surely some weekend will open up and we can give this plan another try.

I consider a few more conventional invitations I’ve received to join parties, turn them around in my mind, and decide against them. In a generally very busy lifestyle, some of those most special moments for me are the unbusy ones. I think I will opt for something pleasantly quiet. One friend, one bottle of bubbly, old chow pup curled at our feet, and the clock slowly ticking toward midnight. Nice.

I’ve rolled into quite a few odd and interesting places in my life when I have rolled with the punches. Most any time I have thought my road ahead was a pretty sure thing, that I could see clearly for at least a few miles and predict the outcome—the road will take a bump and a twist and surprise me. Not at all how I had planned things. Sometimes that sharp bend in the road has taken me into some pretty dark and scary woods, and I have had to wage some unexpected battles to free my path again. Sometimes when I thought I was going to a known place, the road would twist and take me to some other place, and hurrah, sometimes even a much better one. I just had to trust that would work out, and if it didn’t work out, that I was equipped to handle the challenge.

In this time between Christmas and the New Year, I have watched people around me go into the holiday with bright faces, high expectations, giddy excitement … and then emerge with pinched lips and downcast eyes and deep disappointment. Not what they expected. Not the gift, not the perfect family gathering, not the scene painted in their hopeful imaginations. I’ve heard that statistically the holiday season sees more human tragedy in people giving up, even higher suicide rates, than any other time of the year.

Oh, that’s sad. Truly sad. Yet I don’t think the answer is to lower one’s expectations. I have known dark people with shadowed hearts who go through life protecting themselves from disappointment by maintaining low expectations. You will hear such people say, expect nothing and you will never be disappointed. Watch what they get, time after time: nothing. Pretty disappointing.

I think the answer is more along the lines of keeping high expectations of life. Aim high, really high, right up there with those dizzy and crystalline stars. But if you miss that one star, roll with it and see if you might not catch another. Do your rolling in the sky rather than down in the muck. There is just one nothing, but something can come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, in an endless variety of packages.

If you aren’t alongside your imagined love—whether in person, or place, or life occupation—consider that the only true love is all about loving imperfection. Embrace it and watch it shine.

An unchallenged life is a pretty boring one. Go for the adventure. In this upcoming year, push yourself toward the farther horizon. Leave yourself less protected. Open a door where there was once solid wall. Declare the day, any day, a special occasion. Wipe the slate clean and choose colored chalk for your next drawing. Everything you have so far experienced has brought you to this moment like no other moment. Watch for the miracle.

Resolve to enjoy the journey more and care less about the destination. You never really know where any road will take you. When you realize that the mystery of it all is the best part, you’ll have learned to roll with the punches. Changes in your route are more fun to travel when you aren’t all hard edges and sharp corners.

Expect the stars, and be one. Don't just count your blessings, but be one.

Happy New Year, every day.

And yes, next snowy weekend, January or February whatever, I'll be out there, with bubbly in my tin cup, calling it special.

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