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  • Writer's pictureHeather Simmons

To Speak Well Of.

Happy New Year, friends.

IYKYK. If you don't know, you can catch up here and here and here and here.

Artwork by Theodore. Words added by me.

I earned a hard C- on my report card this year. I wholeheartedly embraced expectancy this year and earnestly tried to live with open hands for whatever came my way. It was a mixed bag. I received equal parts solid gold nuggets and flaming bags of poo. There seemed to be no in-between. Per usual.

Although 2021 was at times pleasant and nothing less than interesting, I found that the hardest part of living with expectancy was managing my emotions around expectations and then actual results in a healthy, consistent manner. I'm not one to push my emotions down until I forget about/internalize them, though I am an excellent compartmentalizer. But I did find myself not having enough time to process feelings the only way I know how - through writing or through excessive and nonsensical verbal processing. The isolation that resulted from the pandemic prevented me from having the thoughtful and life-giving real talk with my friends that really does fill my cup. The collective suffering of the globe weighed so heavy on me that it tinted everything I did with icky shades of grey. The trouble started when all the circumstances started flying at me without enough space in between them to adequately digest what I'd just been through. Hear me: I have to thoughtfully digest even the most shimmery golden nuggets to see how they fit into my paradigm, how they affect my life and trajectory, etc. I need freaking time to absorb things and life just doesn't give me the "pencils down, class." cue that I need to do this properly.

The result of not having enough time and space to thoughtfully absorb the hits that just kept coming was extreme compartmentalization. I just kept keeping on. And I can clearly see this now, after two months of multiple visits to family and friends where the high of connection is back and I feel healthier and more centered than I have all year. Hindsight is such a finicky thing. But prior to August 23, 2021, I was an Ennegram three in stress: unhealthy and apathetic, highly anxious, and a workaholic. Instead of building in the space I needed to process, I just kept my head down and my chin up.

While I'm sure you haven't been keeping tabs, I'll have you know that this is the first post I've written IN ALL OF 2021. The. only. one.

I wanted to share the loss of my beloved Oscar and point out some sort of silver lining for you all. I wanted to share my yearly Pantone deep dive into the color of the year and even researched it thoroughly. But the colors were Blah Grey and Sickly Yellow (not really the names but might as well be) and I just couldn't rally around such terrible colors. The post would've been a snarkfest and really there's enough of that out in the world. It's not that I didn't want to share how all of my friends surprised me with a quarantine birthday zoom call (because I did want to and you should know how lovely and incredible my gals are). But I had COVID-19 and got really ill and literally needed months to feel like myself again.

I wanted to share about how the stimulus checks and the freezing of my student loans absolutely changed our financial situation and put us on a somewhat positive track for home ownership and a debt-free life. I was definitely NOT expecting that and it has been the bright and shiny beacon in the rest of this bizarre year. It's not that I haven't wanted to chit chat with you about the rapid-fire move-out I had to make this summer that landed me on one of the prettiest lakes I've seen. You should see this place! But I've spent half of July and all of August packing and unpacking and most of September settling into the rhythms of a new home.

It's not that I haven't had opinions about our national vaccination rate or the brief two weeks of glory we experienced before the delta variant reared its ugly head. But I've been battling "separating my frustration and heartache with society from the people I know who are handling things differently than me" - a direct quote from a wise sage who helped me suss this out over the past year. And I for sure wanted to share how I finally got to see my nephew for the first time in 1 and 3/4 years and how I had a minor meltdown that was hidden behind my mask and luckily didn't scar this toddler. Most of my vaccinated and negative-testing family was there and it filled my heart to the brim! This experience in August and then two visits with the oldest of friends in September are the only things that brought my report card up from a D. Thank you, Jesus, for the back half of this year. What a treat.

But I haven't shared all of this because life has been a lot. For all of us. And as mentioned earlier, I haven't had the time to process all of the big things that happened this year, so I don't feel comfortable writing about them. If I did write about them, you'd mostly likely receive my top-level expressions of snark or whining on all accounts. And again, I feel like there's enough of that on the internet.

So it came as no surprise to me when my word of the year bounced out of a podcast on the rise and fall of a megachurch in Seattle. Note: the podcast has NOTHING to do with my word. It was a random sentence within a long monologue that just leapt out at me with meaning and urgency and I instantly knew this was my word. Second note: it is not lost on me that my word came - yet again - wrapped up in the CHURCH and my eagerness to listen to the downfall of yet another self-aggrandizing pastor with no real understanding of the humility of the gospel. God likes to take every opportunity He can get to use the rottenness of others to show me my own sanctimony. Touché.

Drumrollllllll please:

benediction: noun: the utterance or bestowing of a blessing. From Latin roots 'bene', meaning "well" and 'diction' meaning "to speak" - literally to speak well of.

My word of the year puts a fine point on what I've been struggling with while not being able to gain clarity in my thoughts. I have discovered that when I cannot adequately figure out how I feel, my instinct is to lean on my old friend sarcasm. I can parse through feelings of anger or frustration at a faster pace than I can confusion or doubt or fear, so my go-to attitude is one of mockery mixed with humor. I can whip out that tool real fast. I'll cut someone to the heart with a light laugh at the end. Woof. It's not intentional; I think it's just my default in stress. But hey man, if you've ever been around someone whose point of view seems to consistently come from a place of hardened cynicism and apathy, then you know that person is not fun to be around. Go ahead and file me under "not fun to be around".

So my goal this year is to not wait until I have everything figured out to respond as my best self, but rather to develop a posture of benediction while I'm figuring everything out. I want to retrain my lizard brain to go to 'bene' instead of 'mal'. And before any of you fluent in Christian-ese see the word "blessing" and think I'm about to name it and claim it, think again. I don't believe in a prosperity gospel. Woof again. What I'm referring to here is more of an act. I don't want to receive a blessing. I want to be a blessing. I want people to come away better or at least more at ease with themselves and the world after having spent time with me. I want to actively bless others with the space I take up in this world.

OK so here's an unexhaustive list (I've only pondered this for about three days now and will surely make edits) of how I can modify my behavior going forward to reflect benediction instead of misery:

1. I will be better at identifying the conversations that can be cathartic and those that cannot. Because I have to process my feelings verbally, I probably need more catharsis than most. But it is unrealistic of me to expect every conversation that I have to be an opportunity to get things off my chest. I actually have never been someone who will rant at anyone who will listen, but seriously the isolation from my peeps over the past two years has had me hanging precariously on the edge of that. Like we're down to just a three-finger grip in Cliffhanger here.

For those people and interactions in which I know catharsis is not productive, I will listen intently and try my best to understand. While I will not hide my feelings or "go along to get along", I will develop better boundaries to prevent coming unglued on the spot. Phrases like "I don't feel like I know enough on that topic to really speak to that" and "I haven't completely sussed out my feelings on that to give an accurate picture of how I feel" are going to be things I say a lot. I will also give myself permission to say the one thing I am sure of without feeling the need to defend all the points that may have been made. I can just speak to one thing and that's fine. No one has to have everything figured out all the time. And when I feel a conversation disintegrating I will not allow sarcasm to drive my bus; I will instead end a conversation rather than let my benediction veer into oncoming traffic.

I will also make sure that the people in my life who have been marked as "cathartic approved" do not only get the 'strong emotions' parts of me. They are not my emotional air bags and cannot take all the hits all the time. I will actively call or text them when breezy things happen, when silly things happen. I will connect with them on all the emotions, not just the tough ones. Thinking specifically of you, Madre. Sorry you've had to take all the hits this year.

2. I will do a better job of meeting people where they are. Sometimes it feels like we've all been in this giant car crash and half of us have walked away with only scratches while the other half of us are still in intensive care. Right now I low-key despise those who just have scratches and their ability to just skip through the last two years as though the car crash never happened. I want to do a better job at separating my thoughts about society and my thoughts on those who choose to handle things differently than me. I can feel forlorn for society without necessarily attaching it to specific people in my orbit. I can do a better job at seeing people individually.

3. I will treat myself with benediction. No one is as hard on me as I am on myself. I will do a better job of actively leaving room for emotional processing. I will say no to things that prevent me from having a sliver of time to think and come to a place of peace. I will admit that I am not perfect and that no one (helllooooo) is asking me to be. I will remind myself that blessing comes from above and not out of the small, rinky dink works of my hands.

I really dig my word this year. It feels like a place of rest for me - I can defer to blessing rather than to despising while I work my shit out. It's interesting to me that a benediction is usually recited at the end of a service or ceremony, but the Lord has imparted to me that it should be first and continuous in my life this year. So I'll start my year by leaving you with my favorite actual churchy benediction:

"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace." Numbers 6:24-26



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