Thursday 2 January 2014

Life’s Uncertain Voyage

So here we are again – at the beginning of another new year. Is it only me, or are the years sailing by faster than a clipper?

When I was younger, my Mom used to say, “Jude, time is the most precious gift you have. Don’t waste it – it goes by faster than you expect.”

Are Moms always right? Because last year certainly went by at a rate of knots!

I’m not ready to start 2014, for I feel I’ve barely got my breath back after waving goodbye (and good riddance!) to 2013.

So many people I’ve spoken to over the festive season have all agreed: not only did 2013 end almost before we realised it had begun, but it was a hard year: a year of losses and change; a year when things we’d taken for granted in our lives disappeared at an alarming rate. Long-term friendships ended, beloved family members died or moved away, pets passed on, jobs ended, rock-solid marriages disintegrated, houses burnt down … the list of troubles went on and on whomever I spoke to, making my own challenges in 2013 seem paltry.

Even the newspapers help to depress us. Today’s newspaper, the first edition of this bright and shiny new year, with its remaining 364 blank days waiting for us to paint the picture of our life on them, had three stories on its front page: murder, murder and death by train. From bouncing out of bed, cheerfully looking forward to the new day, I felt myself wanting to slink back into bed, pull the covers up and hope the world and all its misery would just go away!

Then a little thrush flew down into the birdbath near the gate and my neighbour ran by with her dog on her early morning jog.

I thought of the thrush I’d accidentally killed over the Christmas season (it had a decent burial), and chatted with my neighbour about the game her children were playing with me (throwing a note over the wall asking for it to be thrown back – I did throw it back, together with some Christmas candy!)

I was reminded that, in life, the sorrows are somehow always balanced out with simple pleasures. Life, like the endless ocean, has tides that ebb and flow, disturbed only by the occasional storm.

After an arduous year like the one just past, which has left so many of us exhausted by a tsunami of trials and travails, the temptation is to sink into despair that life can only become ever harder and more difficult to navigate.

How easy it would be to waste our limited energy resources on fear of what the future holds for us, and regrets for the choices we made (for whenever we commit to one choice, we immediately lose the opportunities hidden in the other choices we could have made), and a deep grief for what was lost and can never be regained.

Life has always been uncertain – not only for the human species, but for all sentient creatures.  It can be snuffed in instant; it can change irrevocably in a second. And it is all too brief an existence, whether we be man or mouse.

... and it will!
 No matter how thunderous the storm,
never give up your hope,
your trust and your faith
If we waste the precious time we have left on ‘what ifs’, ‘I should haves’ or ‘I shouldn’t haves’; if we think only of the bad news that constantly surrounds us, would we ever have the courage to leave the shore of our current existence? Would we be able to face new oceans and discover new lands if we allow ourselves to be weighed down by the anchor of those fears and regrets and griefs?

No, we wouldn’t. The new ocean may be a pond in our backyard, the new land only a change of neighbourhood or a new habit, but our lives and our souls would become tarnished and dull if we only ever clung to the certainties in our life.

And so, during my life’s journey through 2014, I plan to captain the ship of my soul over whatever unchartered waters the breath of the wind, the height of the waves and the light of the stars steer me into.  

My fate will be what it will:  but, when the end of another year looms too soon on the horizon, I want to look back and know that I have lived to the full every fruitful or futile second of my life’s uncertain voyage.
… tell them that, to ease them of their griefs,
Their fears of hostile strokes, their aches, losses,
Their pangs of love, with other incident throes
That nature's fragile vessel doth sustain
In life's uncertain voyage, I will some kindness do them …

(Timon, in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, V, i, 199-203)

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

(from Invictus, a poem by William Ernest Henley,
and used by Nelson Mandela to inspire him during his prison term on Robben Island)



Ann Summerville said...

Good post. I try to avoid newspapers and news. The media has a glass is half empty mentality. I hope 2014 is wonderful for you.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Ann, I stopped reading papers years ago, but get it for my Mom as she likes to do the puzzles - today I made the mistake of glancing at it and that half-empty mentality blaring from the front page was why I don't read papers anymore !!!

Hope 2014 is a great year for you too!

Bish Denham said...

Indeed. I too am glad 2013 is done with and am facing boldly into the 2014 with all the hope and naive excitement of a small child.

No matter what it will be what WE make it.

Happy New Year, Judy!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Judy - Happy New Year .. and last year was a challenging time for many and your list seems a little much - but that is life.

It is taking that tiny step forward and enjoying each moment, your thrush .. the pleasure your neighbour and her dog have running together ... I must remind myself to savour all aspects.

Negative - I really do not like it! Thank goodness I do positive and get on with things .. sometimes we need to rest, sometimes we need to take stock ... but essentially we need to be the captain of our ship.

Happy writing this year and enjoy 2014 - cheers Hilary

Anne R. Allen said...

Lovely piece, Judy. One of my resolutions is to spend less time on the news and more reading fiction. The former always depresses me, and fiction--even when it's sad--is uplifting. Here's to a happier 2014!

Anne Gallagher said...

Oh, I so agree. 2013 was the year of suck. I don't know what 2014 will bring, but it has to be better.

Much happiness to you in the coming year.

Judith Mercado said...

"...exhausted by a tsunami of trials and travails...." Yep, that about covers my 2013. Thank goodness, the human spirit remains resilient. Great post. Happy new year.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

Wow, this is so beautifully said! My favorite: "... the sorrows are somehow always balanced out with simple pleasures."

It's very, very true. I try so hard to hold onto those simple pleasures and also learn from the sorrows. 2013 was very difficult for me, but I think 2014 will be all the sweeter because of it. I hope yours is wonderful too, Judy. :)

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

Apologies for the delay in responding - between new computer issues (I intensely dislike Windows 8 & 8.1) and a pinched nerve which was a real pain in the neck (haha - thanks for that, Bish!! :) ) I'm hopelessly behind on everything. But finally, here I am, ready to chat!

BISH: To look at life with the innocence of child, while aware of the shadows of life, is a great gift … may 2014 bring all those hopes to fruition!

HILARY: It’s said that Life is stranger than fiction and 2013 was a year that proved that to me. My list was truncated because I could hardly believe all that happened myself. But one of the small joys of 2013 was always being able to go to your blog POSITIVE LETTERS and enjoy a happy moment. Have a great 2014!

ANNE R : So true, story books are a wonderful refuge in tough times :). Toasting your happiness in 2014 and beyond!

ANNE G: 2013 … the year of the suck! Hahahaha! TRUE! But I’m nervous to say 2014 will be better … I said that at the end of 2010, 2011, 2012 … all I’ll say at the end of 2013 is may 2014 be different! Wishing you and yours many blessings in this brand new year!

JUDITH: Sending hugs and strength your way Judith … I have no doubt that strong spirit of yours will claim 2014 as its own! Wishing you a year of health and happiness and all good things!

MICHELLE: So sorry that 2013 was hard for you – and may your 2014 be sweetest for you and your hubby and daughter!