Carpe Diem



Christmas is behind us. All the gifts are opened, and all that’s left of the feasts are leftovers in second-hand Cool Whip and Country Crock tubs. The lights are still up, but they don’t twinkle quite as brightly now that the big day is over. What’s left for us to do is to take down the decorations and move into a new year. It’s time for the obligatory New Year’s Resolution. Sigh.

In years past, I made myself promises and set goals and had so many good intentions to make huge and healthy changes for my life. I made lists and vision boards and charts and spreadsheets. I read motivational literature and gave myself pep talks. I surrounded myself with good energy from good people who also had good intentions.

And I don’t remember a single New Year’s Resolution that I ever actually carried through to completion. Not one.

That bothered me for a long time, this inability to lose the weight or save the money or make the home improvements or whatever else my list contained from year to year. But sitting here this year, as 2022 rises like the sun on the horizon, I can feel the weight of that burden roll away.

I’ve decided that my resolution this year is to not have a resolution at all. I’m going to reign in my planning tendencies, my to-do lists and my motivational sticky notes and just live in the moment. Because for all my planning and looking forward to special days like Christmas and birthdays, I’ve finally learned that, more often than not, life just doesn’t follow a straight line. The moment you mark a date on your brand new calendar with red ink, the universe sits back and conspires to make sure that date, in fact, is far from set in stone. Use a pencil, I’ve learned. Or, better yet, be okay with a big red slash through your plans and new ones written over them.

Don’t get me wrong, I will always be a planner. I’ll always delight in a new color of marker and sticky notes shaped like a beagle. Plans are good, and people who plan are necessary. But sometimes having no plan at all is the exact right thing to do.

Three days before Christmas this year, I found myself standing in a spare bedroom surrounded by gifts that I had spent hours planning for and shopping for and wrapping. I closed my eyes, and I was back to late September 1994, standing in a silent house in Danville, Virginia. The house belonged to my sister, her husband  and their two little boys. It had been an empty house for the seven days that we’d been in the hospital, waiting and watching while my sister slowly slipped away from us.

On that day, we had traveled back to the house to try to stumble through whatever the next hours would bring. Just inside the garage door, we had been confronted with a calendar hanging on the refrigerator. Play dates and appointments were marked in bright colors … reminders for events that would now take place without my sister, if they happened at all.

There was a blanket on the couch where she’d left it, and her shoes were waiting at the foot of the stairs.

Leaving my broken family behind me, I climbed those stairs looking for a space where breathing might not be so painful. I found myself in her bedroom, surrounded by bookcases with volumes she had read and re-read. I ran my fingers down the spines, hoping to feel something other than grief. There was her nightgown tossed onto a chair. Her glasses were on the nightstand. I’m not sure why I opened the closet, maybe I had the desire to close the door behind me and hide there until the world returned to normal.

Her clothes hung there, waiting for her to return. I could smell her perfume in the air. Up on the shelf, a box caught my eye. It was a shirt box with a sticky note attached that read: ‘For the Boys — Wrap These!’

I lifted the lid and found two plastic watches, one with a Ninja Turtles face and the other with a red Power Ranger face. The watchbands were plastic in primary colors. They were so small, just right for a six- and four-year-old’s little arm.

And it broke me.

My sister had picked those out, maybe on a whim or maybe after much searching, and with all the confidence in the world that she would be the one to fasten them to her boys’ arms and teach them how to tell time. But that’s a joy she never got to have, memories she never got to make.

Back in the bedroom in Opelika, three days before this Christmas, I stood looking at the gifts I’ve been excited to give Tim for weeks now. And I realized I can’t wait, not even until the 25th. In fact, I decided not to wait a minute more. So we sat together on Wednesday, Dec. 22, and had our own little Christmas celebration. And I am so grateful that I got to be the one to watch Tim open the tickets for our guided fishing trip on a lake we’ve never fished together and the special lures he’s going to use to catch the biggest stripe of his life. Not waiting was the exact right thing to do.

2022 will be the year of living in the moment and seizing the day. This will be my Carpe Diem year. I will relish the unplanned and the spontaneous and the priceless moments that just pop up when you least expect them. (I do plan, however, not to actually throw away my sticky notes and day planner — let’s not get crazy.)

Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s hoping 2022 is the best yet!


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