Today’s Daily Stoic writing prompt: What will my life be a testament to?
This isn’t about “achievements.” I have plenty of those I am proud of, but I am acutely aware that very few material achievements are truly accomplished alone. But that awareness is itself something I want my life to testify to. I have lofty ideals, and strive to live up to them every day. I want to inspire and to be inspired, to be kind and engender kindness, to strive towards justice and pull others with me. I want to learn, to analyze, to understand, and to never, ever stop. As the associated meditation for today mentions, we are not a finished product until the day we die. There is always room for improvement, always a chance to be a better person. I will not give up or give in to sloth or stagnation so long as I still am able to think and breathe. And I will live, so far as possible, without arrogance, without greed or envy or excess, in joy and sadness.
The year is dying. Still now for one more week will the days grow shorter and darker. The world outside is clad in greys and browns, but not too long faded from recent vibrant colours, not yet bent from layers of snow or cycles of freeze and melt.
We don’t usually notice the dying in December. We throw up evergreens and tinsel and foil and twinkling lights, and fill the days with major key brass tunes about glory or faintly Eastern songs about a star and shepherds and a mother and child or warm snuggly ballads about snow and love and tipsiness or playful tunes about jingling and reindeer. The air smells of cinnamon and bayberry and the warm scent of baking cookies and mulled cider and if there is a sop to the ecumenical, frying oil and latkes. This year, all of this is diminished, even if bravely we hang the lights and wreathes. And so we notice the dying, the browns, the greys–the washed out colours that the magic has always hidden until after the New Year comes and goes and we pack away the sparkle, girding up for the months of winter. And we notice the dying as more than a metaphor. The dying is real. The cycle of the year will not roll around again for so many.
I have taken to the nearby paths again in the past few days, after several weeks’ absence, as our world has once again shrunken to brief forays out for groceries or takeout. It felt like March once again, but without the hope of imminent spring. Yesterday, the sun poked though–even at midday somehow diffuse, throwing crisp shadows. In most years, these would herald that special kind of December evening, where holly is jolly and we hope for a white Christmas. Today, the air was laden with the promise of that snow, and as I reached the turnaround point the first flake swirled downwards and dampened wind-parched lips. It was bereft of the magic we have always invested in December snow. Instead, it fell unanticipated, unloved, and quickly forgotten. No birds sang. There was stillness, and silence, and the feeling of pause.
Vaccines are our Christmas star this year, the hope for which the weary world rejoices. But the light has not yet gathered in the east and we are still consigned to months of darkness. That is not to denigrate the power of moving from “if” to “when,” and hope is powerful. Spring will come. And so, this year, let us understand that we can celebrate the gentle greys and browns, find symphonies in silence, and give ourselves to find the comfort in the rustle of a fat black squirrel in dry leaves, or the cold gurgle of a winter stream, bringing nourishment to seeds dreaming of green, or the beauty of a December sky, silver on midnight blue. They are as they always have been.