January 1, 2013, Chapel Hill, NC
Last night Deanna and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at home, talking and laughing and trying to strengthen each other for what will be a challenging new year for us in some ways. We and Mason had not-so-gracefully showed up at a New Year’s party that afternoon—a full day early. Our friends were celebrating in the Japanese style, and doing an all-day New Year’s DAY (Oshogatsu) drop-in gathering, but we didn’t look at the invitation closely enough to take that in, so we just showed up for the usual New Year’s Eve hang. Our friends welcomed us graciously despite our goof, and we had some good time talking, playing with Mason and sipping the cheap champagne I had brought. We got some sushi on the way home and closed out 2012 with some good food.
Later, after Mason and Phillip had gone to bed, Deanna and I sat on the couch, had a cup of tea and talked about the turning of the year. We have treasured an occasional practice that I believe grows out of the Moravian tradition of choosing a guiding word for the year. My sisters have both done this in various ways, basically involving picking a piece of paper from a bowl full of printed words, then taking the word on it to heart and keeping it somewhere where you’ll see it from time to time throughout the new year. Last year, my sister Margaret had these words on star-shaped piece of paper, and they remain on our refrigerator. Deanna picked oneness, I picked rest, while Mason, hilariously for a three-year-old going on four, picked focus.
Last night as we talked about that tradition, Deanna shared that she had decided to choose a word for herself this year, rather than picking one randomly. We started talking about that important question, but I’m afraid I was a terrible listener. I offhandedly mentioned that there had to be a random word chooser on the web somewhere and picked up my nearby laptop to search. I looked for a “spiritual word” generator, but had no luck. When I looked for a site that would just pick a random word, though, I quickly found one, and then I started to get amused at the possibilities of various words that could pop up if all words were included, rather than just an appropriate selection. What if the word that came up was ‘tire iron’? …or ‘appendectomy’? Or… well, you get the idea.
The web site I went to allowed me to choose the word type and ‘complexity’ of the word, so I mischievously chose ‘interjection’ and ‘obscure.’ I hit the button, and the word “Looky!” came up. Whether it was a delayed reaction from that afternoon’s champagne, general weariness catching up with me, or just my innate goofiness, I couldn’t stop laughing.
That’s pretty random alright. All hope of having a serious conversation was out the window. Any time the conversation turned to something else, the word “Looky!” would have some semi-appropriate usage, and off I would go again, laughing until tears fell.
As I finally calmed down, though, I couldn’t help but think that it might be a pretty good word for the year after all. For all the attention we give to New Year’s Resolutions, several of the biggest features of this year were entirely unpredictable. What I resolved to do or not do at the beginning of the year could not have prevented the fact that we lost my mother-in-law to cancer in April, or that my father-in-law moved in with us unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago. White Flour’s release had a lot to do with my intentions and actions, but most of the amazing things that have happened since then with that project have had much more to do with the support that so many others have generously offered because of their own passion about the project. The wonderful trip that my Guatemalan friends made to North Carolina to perform in October, the reunion with the Abraham Jam guys for a second interfaith-in-the-round show in Kalamazoo, the hiring of Emma Harver, who is doing such a great job running my business, a trip to Thailand that held powerful intersections of music and worldchanging with new friends I didn’t know before, the effort for Ed Chapman’s pardon, which we’re still waiting to hear the results of, the list goes on and on. How could I have seen all of that coming? And how should I respond to the wonder of it all? Maybe “Looky!” is just right. What an incredible spectacle.
And to look is different than to see. We have to actively pay attention to look. Maybe that’s my New Year’s Resolution this year. Pay attention. Look. Looky!
Of course, ‘looky!’ is actually an interjection. It’s something you say to someone else. I need help looking sometimes, and I need the wonder pointed out to me. Remind me, eh? I’ll try to remind you too.
Lastly, “looky!” is a downright silly thing to say. It’s completely undignified, and I like that. It is essential, as we do the hard work of engaging with a broken world and trying to heal it (and isn’t that what most of us are trying to do, in small or large ways, on most days?), we have to keep laughing at ourselves and with each other. It’s always a tricky balance to take our work seriously, but not ourselves. Sometimes when we stumble, laughing is the best thing we can do. We plop down in a mud puddle and the best thing we could possibly do is say “Looky!” and laugh a while.
Looking forward to 2013, I’m headed back to Guatemala to move PEG projects forward there in February, and I’ve been invited to speak and play music at some wonderful venues around the country and in Belize. I’m thinking toward a new CD, and hoping to finish my WorldChanging 101 book, as well as getting into my second year as the Clerk of the AFSC Nobel Peace Prize Nominating Committee, taking forward some good lessons from the first year. There’s a lot to ‘look’ forward to. I hope I can pay attention.
Deanna forgave me for my lack of sensitivity last night, and this morning told me that she had settled on the word “embrace.” We’ve been moving around so much for the last few years. Everything we’ve done and everywhere we’ve been has had an endpoint, and it’s been hard to fully commit, whether to friendships, work, community, church, etc. She’ll be embracing her life in 2013, and hopefully me from time to time. I’ll be trying to pay attention, and to cheer her and Mason and Phillip on, with an occasional goofy shout from the side lines.
Happy New Year 2013! Looky!
Please keep us updated on Ed’s pardon, and if it didn’t happen, tell us what more to do so it does happen!!
Loved this first commentary for/on the new year, David. When I realized where this was going with “Looky,” I immediately thought, “Don’t just see–look. Pay attention. Be mindful.”