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And Here We Are, 2024

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Carol Bossard

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We have just exited the Christmas season. Having made it through December and New Year’s, many people are breathing a sigh of contentment, repletion, and maybe —- relief.? Wonderful holidays and the Christmas decorations lovely, but it is time to take the tree down and put the ornaments away until next year. Twelfth Night, just past, is traditionally when the Magi reached their destination (probably not the stable in Bethlehem although all of our creches have them there), to worship Jesus. Regardless of time and place, it does commemorate a special event; that the hope and love in the Christmas story are for all the world.  

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The other name, Epiphany, originated in the Orthodox Christian churches but quickly spread to include the European churches. It also marked the end of the 12 days of Christmas merry-making. For many years, we held a 12th Night party, always including more people than our house could comfortably hold. Somehow, its walls stretched, perhaps aided by the laughter and good conversation. It was a warm and wonderful occasion that fortified us to meet the rest of January.  We miss doing it, but it was an activity that became too difficult, regardless of how much fun it was.

I recently found a word that expresses our coming year’s journey very well: “Coddiwomple.”This word means: “To travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination.” Isn’t that perfect for a new year? We all have hopes and plans, and some people, who are more confident and/or arrogant than others, have no doubt that their plans will work as they wish. Those of us who are more experienced (generally older) know how quickly life can change regardless of our wishes. So, I really like that word both for its uniqueness and for the reality that our year’s journey will be full of surprising side trips, some not always of our choosing, but many that are delightful — for which blessings we can be grateful.

When one reaches our elevated state of “elderly”, there are decisions to be made; issues to discuss. One that came up for us recently was our home. Our sons and daughters-in-law,- and rightfully so, were concerned that the maintenance of house and land was getting to be too much for the energy and strength we find it possible to summon.  The gardens that I’ve had so much fun creating, with Kerm’s helpful digging, raking and weeding, are way too vast for us to keep in order, especially with mutually uncooperative artificial knees and a tendency to run out of steam too soon. Inside the house, the dilemma is nearly as bad; both of us have several projects going at once, creating too much stuff for tidiness. Creative ideas keep on flowing, but my organizational abilities, sadly, have diminished. Our concerned family members also, undoubtedly, are contemplating the huge job it might be to clean out and distribute our way-too-many belongings.  So, what to do????

We considered several options. We could buy a smaller house. A couple of houses in town have come upon the market, but there isn’t a lot of turn-over in our community. And we are relatively fussy. As we considered that move, we agreed that it would cut down a bit on the volume of our maintenance, but only a bit.  As for cleaning out our stuff, certainly some of that would be accomplished, but I’ll never live as a minimalist, so we will always be surrounded by too many things.  We cherish our books, and I enjoy various sorts of porcelain silver, sculptures, and glass ware. We could consider renting, eliminating outside maintenance. However, rentals in this community are not numerous either and we are rather firm about sufficient space for each of us to do what we want to do. Neither of us wants to sit in the other’s pocket! Ithaca has some fine senior living places where we’d probably do just fine. But, as much as we enjoy visiting Ithaca, we really do not wish to leave our community where we have 45-year-old roots, a church, fine neighbors and friends.

So, after analyzing things, we finally decided to stay right where we are, but to revisit the issue each year. And we’ve agreed to try to find help for cleaning and gardening.  This may not be easy or inexpensive.  But it seems to be the best solution for us right now.  

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There is a concern that one not put off too long what changes might be necessary.  Too often, older people procrastinate with decision-making, and those choices, by necessity, fall upon their reluctant children. It is sad when older adults are “put” somewhere, often with no opportunity for closure, because they didn’t make changes in their lives while they could. Of course, sudden illness or disability unexpectedly hastens the need for other accommodations.

In former centuries, most homes had multiple generations living in them. But with healthier old age and young adults going out on their own earlier, this simply is no longer the norm.   Certainly, multi-generations in one abode bring their own challenges, some of which probably means a bit of discomfort for all involved.  We went through a series of care needs with Kerm’s mother; moving her, reluctantly, from her farm home to an apartment in town, then to assisted living, and finally to a nursing home. And that nursing home didn’t always please us, but her need for care was more than we could provide at our home. My sister moved from her home, also reluctantly, to a lovely senior apartment, but from there, right into a nursing facility when she suddenly needed more care. That nursing home was excellent though it still wasn’t really “home”. Quality of care varies considerably, sometimes due to available finances; sometimes due to lack of staffing or training. And most places have nothing happening that would encourage a resident to feel needed or valuable. There is a nationwide need for continued discussion, planning and creativity around elder care.  People are people who all need the same consideration and medical opportunities. And even more important, for mental health, no one wishes to feel stashed away and useless.

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Meanwhile, we are still at home, and hope to be fully participating in this new year. And while we intend to eliminate some of the unnecessary stuff ( via yard sales, auctions, and loving relatives —-lock your cars! — 😊) in our lives, I found other even more important,  but less solid things we all should remove.  All of us, regardless of age!  

  1.  “Fitting in” should not be all that important. We all wish to be liked but we shouldn’t deny our uniqueness and gifts to accomplish that.  
  2.  Being harsh and critical of ourselves is foolish and unhealthy; our brains don’t respond well to self-bashing.  
  3.  Be careful about criticizing others, especially for small things.  We have no idea what troubles and pressures exist in their lives.  Instead, pray for them.  
  4.  Do not spend time with people who make you feel badly about yourself.   You are the only just-like-you in the universe. This is good. Don’t let someone else make you uncertain about that.  
  5.  Don’t worry about or agonize over failures. Mistakes become learning experiences if we are at all wise.  
  6.  Don’t become too attached to material objects. This one is tough for me; I’m a “thing” person and many of my possessions remind me of times, places and people I love.  But I’ve also reached a point in my life when I could give almost anything to someone who needed it. I might replace what I gave away via the next antique shop or auction, but….. 😊… So perhaps better advice would be to not let material things be first in our lives.   
  7.  Stop comparing yourself to anyone else. We are each different —- purposely.  We can learn from others, but shouldn’t try to be clones of them.  

Develop a spiritual connection. Someone once said we are spiritual persons in a physical body. So, this is a health issue that also, during spiritual growth, brings a few growing pains, but also a certain quiet joy.  

If we all consider putting these into practice, 2024 would be a gift to ourselves and all those around us.  And surely one step toward a happier world.

We may be looking at the year with gloom, doom and fear in our hearts; certainly, there is enough evil, both generally and specifically, and potential chaos to make that dour perspective reasonable, even logical. Or we can trust what has been true for eons; that joy will find its way into the chaos and there will be many times of happiness, warmth and enjoyment in the coming days. I hope to go on setting goals, finding interesting things to do and continuing to plan ahead, even if I must go to Plan Z. I hope the same is true for you — that your year finds you looking for both enjoyment and ways to help wherever you are, and that you can look ahead with that trust and faith that makes life worth our participation. 

Ranier Maria Rilke* had an especially good thought that starts this year off well. He said: “And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us — new, untouched, full of things that have never been.”  

 

Carol Bossard writes from her home in Spencer. She may be reached at: carol42wilde@htva.net. 

*Ranier Maria Rilke —- actually Rene Karl Wilhelm Josef Maria Rilke. Rilke was an Austrian poet and novelist.   1875-1926.   

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