Today, as Hope becomes a renewed Superpower, don’t underestimate the Superpower of fear. As the wise book says, “the right kind of fear used rightly, is the beginning of wisdom” — if we let it be. Respect for the seriousness of our choices, the rational acceptance of a good kind of fear, plus hope in the goodness of others and the eternal power of love and life — those are what will guide us daily and in The Way, our divinely appointed path forward. Let’s do this, folks.
I never understood how people could worship foolish looking, or stupid, or downright evil idols instead of the true God. I looked at history, both Biblical and not, and thought, well people are smarter now, people are better now, and surely people know about Jesus now, so idol-worship is over, right? I never understood how people could sacrifice their own children on the alter of nationalism or class- privilege or misguided entitlement in order to feel like they were going to be taken care of by the gods who merely laughed and ate their babies. I never really understood how people could do violence, not to get the bread they needed to survive or to fight for their rights or justice, but to placate a human-being they had made into a god — like a pharaoh, or a fuhrer or a president on his way out. I never really got how the Christ could say “people will claim they know me, but I sadly will have to say, ‘I never knew you'”. Then 2016 happened in this country, and then 2017, and 2018, and 2019, and 2020, and then yesterday happened, and that finally confirmed it; I think I understand. We may not be what we eat, but we are what we worship.
You Can’t Take “It” With You; But You Can Pass It On
By Jane Tawel
January 1, 2021
So, this is what the start of a new year looks like and frankly I am unimpressed. We woke up today, thinking somehow the worst year on record for most of us would be immediately left behind. We all had such high hopes for 2021, because let’s face it, anything had to be better than 2020. And yet is it? Is it really? And then it hit me that every year we go into the start of this new day as if suddenly we are going to make big changes, keep inspired resolutions, be all that we can be, and just do it — and yet, today is merely the start to a new year because we say it is. Many other cultures choose different days to reboot, to restart, to call it on the last year, and call out hopes for a new beginning. And while I felt a deep sense of both ennui and sorrow today when I realized that nothing much had changed — I was still living in a world of raging dictators and raging viruses and rushing humans and roaring need and of course, worst of all my own peccadilloes and broken pieces. But at the same time, by being a day like any other, it meant that I could choose to make it a new start for myself no matter what the date said. And I could also choose to accept that all the things in my life that were part of the “old” life, the past, the previous, and yesterday, were things I could choose to embrace or not.
I mean, I might not be able to change any of it, but I could look it all in the eye and say, “okay, take a seat at the table”. Whether you are a past part of my life like a stinky, yucky, rude guest, something like a mega-virus or bad relationship or the death of someone I so loved; or you are a sweet, clean, polite part of my life like that lovely meal I once had in Provence or the births of my babies, or that student I taught who thought I was a great teacher — no matter what –Today — I will accept you as a vital, living entity appearing in the crowd of that which surrounds who I am. Mr. or Ms. Part of my Life, whether good or bad, I accept that you may stay as that fork in my road, that stone in my path, that mountain I climbed, or river I easily floated down. You, no matter how good or bad, are a part of my journey here on earth and you may enter. So, this morning, I opened up the arms of my soul and said, “All that has been, I will welcome you”.
And that is the moment, when Grace appeared. Grace didn’t show up because I wished or prayed it into being. It wasn’t because I had a religious epiphany or made a conscious choice to believe it. Grace appeared despite everything then and now. Grace appeared because I felt it. I simply felt that Grace was also there at the table of my life. Grace was being offered as a Gift. I could choose to welcome it, or I could refuse it, as I so often have.
And Grace meant that all that had come before no matter how awful, painful, unjust, evil, boring, irritating, angering, hateful, or just plain bad; it could all be made good in my own life if I let myself welcome Grace. I didn’t need to know how or why, I just needed to hold the gift of grace close to myself. But I also, because I was supposed to be thinking about the future on this randomly chosen new start to a new year, had to anticipate the gift of Grace for the future. I had to accept that Grace would also be there waiting in the bend up ahead. Grace would be plentiful in the future, even if today felt just as fearful and overwhelming and boring and plain bad as yesterday was. Grace would appear and it would wait for me to pick it up and unwrap it and accept it. Grace would be there tomorrow, even if I didn’t see it, or feel it, or accept its offering. Grace would be the gift that keeps on giving.
I am generally very bad at accepting gifts. I could go into all the psychology behind that but for now suffice it to say that I am as bad at accepting compliments, help or gifts from humans as I am at accepting gifts or grace from God. To accept Grace feels uncomfortable to me. Grace makes me feel my unworthiness and at the same time an anxiousness. In the same way that I don’t like even the people I love most in the world giving me a present or telling me I look nice, I don’t like Life cutting me slack or God giving me grace. Grace appears to me as an unreality; something I can not understand. It’s a problem. Of course, that is why, as I realized today, Grace can only be felt, be imagined, be dreamed while awake. Because Grace is not a part of the reality we create and live, it is a part of the reality that only the Divine and the divine inside us can create and gift to others. Grace is the gift of the gods, the gift of the Earth, the gift of god-ness in an individual, and the gift of the God Who Loves.
This year my children gave me a wonderful gift for Christmas. Today, on New Year’s First Day, their gift has helped me understand a bit better how truly my life has been filled with the gift of Grace even when — perhaps especially most when — I didn’t even know it. My darling adulting children gave me a beautiful little pottery jar with little bees pictured on it and the words, “Bee Happy” and inside they had each written on little slips of paper a host of their favorite memories of being with me. I was instructed to pull one out each time I needed to “Bee Happy”.
My naughty “little” children love to give me something that makes me cry with a joy I feel I don’t deserve but which overwhelms me, so you might imagine when I opened this gift surrounded by masked pandemic-protecting kids and kids faraway in presence but never in thoughts appearing on Zoom — I broke down in tears of — well, I realize as I am writing this — I broke down in tears of heart-felt, soul-felt, overwhelming acceptance of the feeling of Grace. Because I will tell you frankly — I was not a perfect mom, and still am not; but the gift of it all is that my children still love me and have enough good memories of me to fill a jar –and that, my friends — that is Grace. That indeed is grace for me and, oh, my mother’s heart! — that is also, grace for them.
Grace is like the bees — miraculous, common, un-holdable, free and absolutely vital. And the problem we have is because we can’t earn grace and can’t keep captive grace and know we don’t deserve grace, we often don’t acknowledge or accept grace.
It is Grace that has allowed me such joy as those four kids and their father have given me. It is grace that I have had some wonderful coworkers and nice neighbors, some good friends and generous bosses. It is grace that I survived childhood and had my own loving mother and got to go to school and Sunday School and learn and play and work and travel and snuggle and enjoy and grow — and well, all of it, right? ALL. OF. IT. And what has held “it” all up and held “it” all together and been there without my effort or ability or even mostly my acknowledgement — has been Grace.
The Gift of Grace has been there for my taking all along and even when I clenched my fists or refused to hold out my arms to accept it, it infused my whole life like a sweet-smelling incense. Grace has lighted my way through the tough times and the darkness, like a thousand candles appearing miraculously along the way. Grace has been there, as well, in all the positives; it has been the constant gifting throughout the whole arc of my life, un-thanked, ungraciously ignored, a gift in every good thing, and every good person that has ever happened to me. Grace gave me new beginnings even when I thought I was stuck in the ruts of yesterday. Grace gave me hope even when I thought there was none. Grace has no boundaries and no end because it comes from a God and from the God-ness in each of us that has no boundaries and will have no end. Grace, like Love, remains forever pulsing throughout the universe, as a divine, unknowable, but un-refusable gift.
So, although we are told we can’t take anything with us, we can pass things on. And that is the greatest grace of all. We may think we work hard to leave a legacy of some kind or other, but all that “stuff” will pass away. The Grace of Love and the Love of Grace are all that we leave and all that we have ever really had. Today, this first day of 2021, I resolve to myself and others, to believe, that tomorrow, and perhaps, even for an eternity, we will also have available for the accepting, the Gift of Grace. Today I will let myself simply feel the gift of grace.
Rather than make resolutions that I won’t keep or be able to keep; rather than try to outguess tomorrow or rectify yesterday; I will be here and now just for today and be open to the Gift of Grace. I will think about who I have been and who I am and be content that some of that has been good enough to pass on to my children and husband and friends and coworkers and neighbors and strangers. And I will accept that I have passed on many bad things and wrong ways to those others, (and we do pass on the bad as well, don’t we? Especially mostly to those we love most and would rather not pass on anything bad. But we do. Oh, yes, we do.). I will accept that passing on bad things are just part of being human and I can resolve not to pass on so many bad things in the future, but I know I will need a lot of grace to keep that resolution.
But I will also try to accept in my heart of hearts, that when I leave this life, even though I have passed on bad things, I won’t be able to take those bad things with me any more than I will be able to take the good things along. I will try to “feel” that even though I left those bad things behind for and in the people I love, they, too, will find the gift of grace when they need it. That is a gift of grace I want to welcome deep into my soul today — not to know, but to dream a dream that when I leave “my people” to wake on another shore, that I will find that grace lets us leave the bad things behind and go into the future with arms wide open to accept the unreal, unimaginable reality of Grace.
Today, I will let myself open up my hands a little more and make my arms a bit wider, so I can graciously accept the gifts of others, the gift of being alive, the gifts of my past, present and future; and the gifts of a Gracious God, Who Is, and Who offers each of us the Power of Grace-filled Love.
Today I resolve to leave behind that which I can’t take with me. Today I begin to feel and welcome the gift of grace alive in the world and in me. Today I pass on, the very real dream and hope of a New World filled with the gifts of Grace.
There are going to be a lot of family firsts this year, most of them foisted on us, or chosen by us for the newest “reason for the season” ; the reason being The 2020 Worldwide Pandemic. I was lying in bed this morning at 3:30 a.m. deciding whether or not to get up AGAIN! to let-out the old senile barking -for -no- reason Daisy the Dog and then wondering afterwards whether I should just stay up or try to fall back to sleep before starting my at-home temp job answering phones and taking payments for grumbling scared people (who just don’t have quite enough this year to make those payments but if they don’t they lose their job but I usually end up after we hang up feeling that at least they reached me and I am a good listener and empathizer so there’s that, so….) since I can rarely fall back asleep after rising any time after about 3:00 am, I decided — well, here I am, aren’t I?
As the coffee gurgled, and the old dog ate her third treat, one from the TJ’s Advent Calendar for dogs that I bought this year, I started thinking about how many things were going to be different for me and for my family specifically this year. Starting with the dog. This is the first year Daisy will not have her evil step-sister, Jolie, the Golden-Coyote, to fight over Christmas stocking treats with. We helped Jolie across that Rainbow Bridge this past June and it was a sorrowful time. We miss that crazy coyote so much. (And yes, we did a DNA test if you can believe we would spend that kind of money on it and she is indeed, as we always knew half “Wolf, Coyote, CanFam”. Jolie was a street dog we rescued from the pound and she never got the “wild” completely out but we loved her almost as fiercely as she loved us, so….). Our first Christmas in fifteen years without Jolie, will be a couple of big black chalk marks on the negative side of life’s score sheet for all of us. On the plus side, we don’t have piles of shedded hair to clean up daily, a terrorized mailman, the hard times of watching Jolie be in pain, and Daisy gets to keep all her treats without getting beat up and bit, so…. Pros and cons but man, do I miss that crazy old coyote-dog.
So I started making a mental list, as any good mixed breed mongrel (I am part Native American, Scottish, Irish, German, English, and Godonlyknowswhat pronoun-ed she/her.. And no, I haven’t done a DNA test because my husband’s greatest nightmare is for him to be falsely imprisoned and somehow he fears that if my DNA is on record, he will somehow be arrested for something he didn’t do, and no we are not first cousins and yes he is a scientist, so go figure, but anyway…..) Here are some other firsts I thought of at about 4:00 am while the coffee perked and Daisy farted (another sad thing about old dogs is they really have a lot of gas and it smells like the worst meat packing factory you could possibly imagine spewing fumes constantly in your very own living room but The Guys at my house swear that Daisy’s farts actually smell likewhat- ever we ate for lunch or dinner that day, and they are scientists, you know so I have to accept that as fact, and I feel for my sake and Daisy’s that from now on I will only eat rose petals or lavender bud so Daisy’s farts will smell like that, according to “The Guys”, so….). And so it goes, and so here is a short list I made this morning while the rest of the world slept-on, with pleasant memories and dreams of Jupiter and Saturn kissing (See!? A year of firsts!)
Firsts of 2020 Christmas
(which I hope mostly not to repeat except for maybe a few of them but mostly no, so…..)
We did not buy a Christmas tree this year. With a pandemic on, there were very few places to buy a tree and my adult kids were unavailable to go along and play “Who Picks the Tree we Buy this Year? Race”. Raoul and I went to Home Depot just the two of us, and he was fairly excited, knowing he would win this year, but when we saw the prices for the scraggly little Charlie Brown trees and the even bigger prices for the decent looking trees, we both balked. We thought about it for a few days and decided this year we would not get a tree. (Sad, but on the plus side, I am working down to the wire this year, and even though I am working from home, I don’t have the motivation or really the time to decorate the tree all by myself and pretend the rest of the family helped me because I make whomever is around put a few ornaments on so we can pretend everyone helped and I dread having to undecorate it all by myself, and that’s a positive, so….). But we love the lights and the smell of real tree. So I strung a bunch of lights inside on our windows and bought some pine and balsam scented candles –and Bob’s your Uncle! Win-win. And on the super duper plus side – Raoul and I decided that money we would have spent on a Christmas tree? – we will give the money to a charity like The Bail Project or Feeding America. For Pete’s sake, I said to myself when I felt a bit teary over no Christmas tree in my home for the first time in over 35 years, “Jane, Old Girl, there are people starving in, well, in your own backyard today and people who are in prison at Christmas time because they can’t afford bail, I think you can go without a Christmas tree this year, right girlfriend?”
And then I remember the year we got a call from Raoul’s dad that his mom was worse, and we had to literally toss our Christmas tree out on the stoop so it wouldn’t die inside our house and maybe catch the house on fire (okay, so not too rational in our frightened worry and while gathering up our two kids with another one on the way, quickly packing clothes and dashing to the airport) and we left a message for our neighborhood teen, Robin, who used to baby sit our kids, to ask if she could sometime come over and take all the decorations off the stoop Christmas tree for us because we were rushing across the country to see Raoul’s mom who had suddenly had a very bad turn from the cancer and so then, twenty-five years later — I remember what family is all about and how much I miss those who have gone on before us and how very much and how very many people will be missing loved ones for the first time this pandemic season, and well, not having a dead tree in my living room is small sacrifice to pay if instead this year I instead put some live people ahead of my traditions. Because while I love traditions, I hope, when asked, to love people more.
2. Our family of six will not all be together this Christmas. This is the big cry, the big waaa-waaaa for me and for my husband. Our eldest is stuck in North Carolina, a gazillion miles away during a no-travel pandemic. We have not seen Justine for over a year, having to cancel our plans to go there last spring and her plans to come here this summer, even for her big birthday event this past June. And while this makes me super-duper sad, I am so very, very grateful that all six Tawels are still alive. We have survived a year of a pandemic. And we all have jobs, and more than enough food to eat, and roofs over our heads, and no one is being conscripted into a war, and we aren’t being hunted down and persecuted, and as long as we wear masks we can walk our streets safely, even at night. So, to keep the world a little safer and my own family a little safer, not traveling, not gathering is a small price to pay, isn’t it? And when you think about the prices so many have paid and are still paying in this life to keep their own families safe, who am I to complain?
To be alive and able to say to Justine and all of us – “we will wait, and we will hope”, that is a wonderful spiritual gift when I think about it. That is the idea that Christmas is actually supposed to be about, not getting, not even giving, but “waiting and hoping”. Too many people have to live lifetimes with nothing but waiting and hoping to keep them going. For me to do it now in 2020 is a time to engage in more reflection, more empathy, and more “owning” of what being fully human in community with all humanity should be like – and isn’t that the message of the Christ baby who came to be human with all of humanity? Isn’t that what the God of the People of Jesus kept telling them: “Remember. Wait. And Hope.”
3. The rest of my list of firsts pales in comparison after the biggie of missing a family member, but here goes:
We will not share a fondue this year on Christmas eve (leaning over a communal pot with sticks is not advised I imagine, by Dr. Fauci and his ilk. Besides my daughter Verity who is our family’s Pandemic Health Czar has forbidden it, which is another positive thing about changes because your adult children sort of gradually take over bossing each other and their parents around and maybe they will forget all the bossy things you pulled on them as a parent when they were young, so….). And we will read our favorite Christmas stories wearing our pandemic masks (“The Nativity” with illustrations by Julie Vivas, “Wombat Divine” by Mem Fox, and this year, we will definitely add the classic version, not the movie version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” because he really almost did this year for a lot of us, so….). We will gather with just our little family and sadly not be able to invite our various friends and “spares and strays” that we love to include in our feasts and our lives. We will wear masks when we talk and when we play Christmas trivia and Christmas bingo. We won’t snuggle except in our individual house pods as we watch Christmas classic movies and later I will sanitize all blankets used. We won’t pile into the car to go see Christmas lights, but we may take a walk around the ‘hood to see the lights.
And so, it will go, like a lot of things this past Pandemic Year of 2020, this Christmas Season, a lot of things will change; there will be a lot of firsts I didn’t plan on. They aren’t the fun exciting firsts of a new car or a new house or a new baby or a new citizenship. But if I can change my perspective, I can maybe shift my worldview into something more truly True and more worth leaning into and living out.
A lot of families will have much, much harder and more sorrowful firsts to lean into this year than we will. Far too many will have the loss of jobs and income, the loss of a place to live, the loss of the hope of gaining citizenship, the loss of a town and a place one grew up in, the loss of a place to worship, the loss of one’s health, or the loss of a loved one. So, I tried to make my list of “Firsts in a Year of Pandemic Christmas” seem as inconsequential and small as they are in comparison, and add a little bit of “Jane-humor” besides. Because in the scope of things, my own year’s changes, both foisted and chosen, are rather small when I compare them to how very, very, very much others have suffered and suffer, and how very, very much I have had my whole life and continue to have even in these strange and mind-bending, heart-rending times.
And just one more thing – when I think about a season of firsts this year, I realize that is what Christmas and the Coming of Jesus, the Messiah of God is all about. It was a first for Jesus, a first for his World Parent, Adonai. It was a first for human beings and a first for angels and the devils alike. Jesus came and for the first time the Son of God was without a Parent, without a home, without power, without a healthy environment, without resources, and without any security for future survival. Remember, the “first Noel” was to “certain poor shepherds who slept rough in the fields.” And even in all those “firsts”, he brought hope. He brought joy. He believed that “the first would be last and the last first” in a new Kingdom of Humans centered around the Divine Love that humans were meant to live out. The Christmas Child grew into a human being and brought a new way of looking at life and a new way of living this life. When Jesus first became a human, he became one of us; and he lived and suffered among us, and he laughed with us and celebrated with us and he wept with us and he loved us.
I hope that is what 2020 Pandemic Christmas can teach me, and maybe enough of us to make a different world. I hope we can learn first, how to be more fully and divinely human; how to first, love more with less; how to first, care more for others than for myself; and how to not just be more grateful but to be more responsible and more worthy.