Midweek Musing: A new year has begun.

And what have we learnt from the one we’ve left behind?


Christmas 2018 was the first Christmas without their mums, for three friends from childhood / youth. I have learnt, again, to treasure those we love. Two weeks before Christmas, my mum turned 70. I was able to fly home to spend the day with her, as a surprise. To be with her, just enough extravagance to make the day feel special, without going overboard: that was the best gift to give. I was home for Christmas, too, and have been back on two other occasions, both for birthdays as it happens, in this first year living in Canberra. I’ve had two visits from family members as well. Presence. I was able to put more money towards gifts this Christmas than I have for the past three or four combined; but it’s the being present that is even more valuable than the quality gifts. Presence. Family. Love. I learn over and over how profound are these gifts. Hold them close.

January 2018 ushered in a new decade, a new season of life.
This season is being lived in a new city, and I’ve begun to learn what life in Canberra looks like for me. I am poet, storyteller, minister still, yet in a new way: embedded in a community of faith for whom I craft worship and sermons using poetry; to whom I offer challenge and invitation to consider how we live the Story of God, our stories; with whom I pray, laugh, weep, create, dream. I am learning how to be me with this new community, and when I started preaching strong cries for just living, making small changes to ‘the way we do things’, and settled into a calm and confident posture, we all knew I had found my place.

I have made new friends in 2018. Arriving in Canberra, I had thought to approach the immersion in a new place in the way I began life in Edinburgh: connecting with many groups and communities and making myriad new friends. But it looks different in Canberra. I have a wonderful friend in my ministry colleague, and our presbytery colleagues, too. I reconnected with some mates from a previous season in Adelaide, decades ago. And I have met a couple of women about my age who I think will become good friends indeed. Conversation flows, care has been offered and received already, dreams and challenges shared in new, but quickly deep, friendships. They do say that in your 40s you find you have fewer friends, but deeper friendships.
I have experienced significant change in friendships, in 2018, too. It has given me some grieving to do, as friendships have changed. In particular, and inevitably, the friendships from the intense season of PhD life have become distant, some already memories or occasional faces on a social media newsfeed. As my world got smaller and smaller, retreating into the enforced solitude of ill health, skype chats, messages, emails, all dwindled with my capacity to be present with and for others. I regret this the most from the year that has been. Ill-health not-withstanding, I am finding it quite difficult to learn how to be a friend by distance from Edinburgh friends with whom I shared everyday life; from Adelaide friends to whom I have not returned. Perhaps I can learn from the long distance friendships within my tribe of Biblical Storytellers, with whom I gathered again in 2018 after missing out in 2017. Those friendships are enriched by our time together, sustained by connections over the internet in the months between, deepened by our collaboration and mutual encouragement of our creative, scholarly, faithful work. (More on the struggle: here)
I am learning how to negotiate fewer friendships, deeper friendships, distance friendships. I appreciate the patience and shared work on this with my friends.
This season is a new decade - my 40s; 2018 my Year of Turning 40. I celebrated this milestone with friends in Adelaide, Edinburgh, Oxford, Washington, Dayton, Melbourne, and with my kindred spirit, Shakespeare, in Stratford-upon-Avon. (Canberra, your turn is coming). I learnt a long time ago to appreciate getting older, rather than engage in the worship of youth our culture promotes. I’ve had too many friends die too young, so that feeling sorry for having more time seems churlish, if not downright rude. And, as Joanna Lumley said in an interview once, I find that as I enter each new decade, the promise of better things to come enlarges, rather than diminishes.

2018 has continued a prolonged season of ill health, with chronic exhaustion taking new shape in Glandular Fever and post-viral fatigue, alongside persistently low iron. It has been frustrating, to continually reneg on commitments, miss out on fun things, sleep through days and weeks on end. No wonder this year seems to have passed by so quickly, I suppose. I have learnt, again, to receive care and help with gratitude and humility. A task made pretty easy when the meals brought to your door are so delicious! I am learning, and will keep learning in the new year, how to turn the need for stillness and solitude into an opportunity for a contemplative way of being. And my doctor has promised to learn more about my ill health, its causes, and how we can keep me moving towards wellness. I have been a Blue Koala with this situation from time to time, but I have learnt again to embrace the only constants: love, and change.

Learning to love, and treasure those I love; learning to turn adversity into opportunity; learning how to be me in a new place, new community. 2018. A year like any other (but unlike any I’ve lived before).

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