“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” –George Santayana
This may be true, but after these last few months of cold, I cannot help myself.
Living in Charleston, South Carolina, I know that I have nothing to really complain about concerning winter. But even here we have had an unusually rough time of it. I also realize that by June, I will already tired of the 90+ degrees days.
But right now I have to believe in the promise of forsythia and dogwood and wisteria. As the sun warms my bones, I stretch and settle in like a cat napping in the sunlight.
This is the time of year that most people look ahead, plan, make resolutions. But it is also a time for reflection, a time of looking back, assessing and reassessing. This is a time to learn from your mistakes.
Believe me when I say that I love to move on. I fully appreciate the value of a clean slate. I am a planner so the start of a new year is welcome and full of possibilities.
At the same time I am an historian, a writer, an observer. I have known for many years how important it is for me to learn from the past–my past.
I try to reflect during the Christmas holidays but it seems it is just too busy and full of activity even if the activity is basically non-activity (e.g., reading books, taking naps, eating, talking with family, eating,…). Every New Year’s Day I am shocked that I haven’t really done the thoughtful preparation that I meant to do and instead scribble a few generic resolutions on my [symbolic] list.
And every year a week or two into January I realize that I have not followed through on any of these resolutions. I might feel a twinge of guilt or disappointment in myself for a few seconds but I wasn’t really invested in those things anyway, I tell myself.
This year I am trying something a bit different. I am using the month of January as a time to look back and reflect as well as a time to begin crafting some thoughtful goals. I am focusing on learning some things about myself, asking myself some difficult questions and looking around for resources that might help me.
I want to know why I am doing what I am doing (or why I am not doing something I should be doing). I want to be invested in my future. I want to live intentionally, to be authentic and to love wholly. I want to learn from others and to share my experiences.
I have invested in several tools that I believe will be useful and I will share these resources and some of the results on my blog. I will continue to document my journey both verbally and visually though I have not decided yet how my editorial calendar will be affected by this period of reflection, learning and planning. Once I have figured this out, I will post about it here.
I hope that you will continue to check in on my blog and to share with me your thoughts about my posts as well your own experiences in looking back and moving forward.
Blessings for 2014!
Autumn in coastal South Carolina is subtle. We don’t get much of the showy reds and oranges and yellows that one thinks of in the fall. We mainly have evergreen trees and plants in the lowcountry: live oaks, pines, palmettos, wax myrtles, loquat and holly. And the dramatic temperature changes can be a bit tricky: hot and humid one day, cool and crisp the next.
When I first moved to Charleston almost 20 years ago from the mid-Atlantic and New England regions, I would have said that Charleston didn’t have an autumn. I desperately missed the traditional fall foliage (though not the cold and snowy winters).
But I wasn’t seeing what was right before my eyes as I drove across the many bridges spanning the region’s salt marshes. I was overlooking the obvious: the subtle changes in color of the Spartina marsh grass from springtime chartreuse to the brown and amber of the fall. Even though I hadn’t noticed the beauty of this season, change was taking place all around me.
I began to wonder what other changes I had not noticed because of subtlety and my inattention.
Learning to open my eyes and mind to change.
I am not particularly comfortable with change–particularly change that surprises me. I suppose that I should not be surprised when things in life do not go according to my plans. Change is happening continually.
But when I am feeling secure in a particular season of life, I somehow I convince myself that everything will stay as it is: children won’t get older, parents won’t get ill, jobs won’t end, . . . . This isn’t a very useful or realistic attitude to take. Looking at the list I realize that it’s a pretty negative view of things. I need to change my perspective and come to terms with the notion that change is a given. But not all change is a bad thing.
Learning to pay attention to the details.
Once I have learned to open my eyes to change, I can begin to see the small, incremental alterations that often lead to the big changes in life.
When my daughter was eight-and-a-half months old, she took her first steps. I was surprised because she did not go through the regular developmental progression of crawling before walking. She went directly from sitting to walking–or at least that is how it seemed. But there were indications that change was happening all along as she pulled herself up to a standing position and began cruising the furniture (at 8 months-yikes!). I must have realized this on a subconscious level because my husband and I knew it was time to move from our tiny downtown Charleston 19th century kitchen house to something with a bit more floor space.
For me documenting the details around me is how I am learning to pay attention. Writing about my life and photographing the world around me helps me to notice the details and the small changes taking place around me.
Learning to see the bigger picture.
Sometimes, though, I can get so caught up in the details that I forget to take a long view of things. It’s a case of the proverbial “not seeing the forest for the trees.” This happens to me creatively quite often when I get so caught up in the minutia of a project I am working on that I forget to step back to see where this particular element fits into the whole.
I am learning to see the bigger picture of particular seasons of my life by looking back and by looking ahead. I try to place this season on the time line of my life (yes, a literal time line) and am able to see that what seems like an interminable period may in reality be only a blip.
I am learning to see connections of a particular season of my life to a past event or time as well as trying to anticipate consequences in the future. I am looking for God’s hand in my life to see what he may doing to shape and form me. I am trying to learn from the difficult times and the easy times.
Learning to embrace the season I am in.
This may be the toughest part of it all. Complaining comes far too easily to me.
I used to tell the girls in my Girl Scout troop, “You get what you get, so don’t throw a fit.” I need to remind myself of this when I lash out and cry to God, “This isn’t fair!”
I’m not suggesting that we don’t have any control over things in our lives so just sit back and take it. Not at all. I am saying that sometimes we find ourselves in a place that is hard or painful perhaps because of something we have done or someone or something else has caused the situation. It may not be fair. It may not be fun. It may be very, very hard.
Now what if I open my eyes and heart to gratitude? What is it in this situation that I can be thankful for? Where can I see the goodness of God? What can I learn? How can I thank Him in this hard season?
The only way I know to do this difficult step is capture it–embrace it–document it.
Do you have a way of embracing the season you are in? How do you respond to change?
Bee Smitten is a new column on amywatsonsmith.com focusing on the beautiful things with which I am “smitten.” It is essentially a curated collection of things that are among my favorites–life simply would not be the same without these. It is meant to be for everyone who enjoys beautiful things, delicious food and great adventures, but it may be particularly useful for those of us who have little time to find these things on our own (busy bees) and who appreciate someone doing the filtering for us. Every week or so I will feature one of my favorite things.
The inspiration for this idea came from Miss Judy, my mother’s oldest and dearest friend. Miss Judy was a great Southern lady and style icon.
Notice I did not say fashion icon. Miss Judy was not concerned with fashion. She had a certain flair and confidence about her style. She might wear an inexpensive khaki a-line skirt, a crisp white blouse and loafers but then she would throw a Liberty of London scarf around her neck and look like a million bucks.
The truly wonderful thing about Miss Judy’s style, however, was that she always seemed to be able to find some unique item that one “simply could not live without.” And then she would buy dozens and share them with her friends. I’ll never forget the time she discovered a particular hair brush made in France. My mother received this gift with the statement that it was the best brush ever and Miss Judy just knew Mother was going to love it. It appeared to be a rather normal looking brush to me, but when I picked it up and ran the bristles through my hair, I realized she was right. It was an absolutely perfect brush. My mother and I both wept when the handle finally broke in two and we were not able to use it anymore. Whether it was a luxurious hair brush, a pot of jam or a new book, Miss Judy always found the best things and shared them with her friends.
I have always loved the idea of finding something that I absolutely love and then letting my friends and loved ones in on the secret. It seems to transform an ordinary object into something precious. It is now imbued with so much more meaning–a dear friend has brought you into her world and shared something with you that she loves.
With this column, I hope to do the same thing with you–share some of the things I love most in the world with friends.