Let's Have a Word

Years ago I forsook that self-imposed early January opportunity to beat myself up over failed resolutions. 

Before my resolution recovery, there were annual intentions to stop smoking and lose weight (wait, aren’t those mutually exclusive?) When I did eventually stop smoking it had nothing to do with January, and that weight thing morphed into a lifestyle. And anyway, Lent is always just around the corner and I do much better taking on a discipline for Jesus than I do for myself. 

Still, it’s hard to look at a fresh year and not hope and pray that at least something in our lives will get better. Maybe we dedicate 2024 to hoping and praying for our world and ourselves. Yes, definitely that. But in case you’re looking for a little more focus, read on to find what’s worked for me this year. 

Seeking simplicity, I adopted a one-word theme instead of a resolution: “enrich”.  “Enrich” is versatile, because you can both give and receive enrichment, and it’s easily applied to decisions: “Will doing this enrich my life?” Will this enrich someone else?”  This little word has led me to write a note of encouragement, to bake lactation cookies for a sweet young mother, to carry food to a homeless man who turned out to not be homeless but appreciated the food anyway, and to join my talented young filmmaker friend Matt Parks and his colleagues in viewing the premiere of his fifth entry in the Rome International Film Festival. As I sought to enrich others, I, too, was lifted up. 

If you’ve read my column for a while you’ll recall my tales of awe from the annual FLAME festival, a celebration of the flow arts where gifted performers trace beautiful patterns with fire in the night. (And no, it’s not like Burning Man.) In settings designed with impeccable attention to safety, artists fluent in the art and science of fire performance spin staffs, swords, poi, fans and hoops with blazing fuel-fired wicks in ways that enchant and amaze. Of course, the performers are fluent in the art and science of fire performance, but the safety of their surroundings must also be ensured. It was to this end that I found myself on a recent cool November night, cradling a red fire blanket in the wings as a fiery sword blazed a hot path of orange and white and little spikey flames on a hoop twinkled and danced. It was the night that the fire came to downtown Rome, compliments of the RAD Eco & Arts Fest. I had eagerly reviewed my fire performance safety course and volunteered for safety. Enriching? You bet! I had the best view in town, and the artists were all so sweet and grateful. Come next year and see the magic for yourself. 

“Enrich” has been such sweet company that I pondered keeping it for 2024, but there are so many more great words available, I’ll be moving on. Here are some of my ponderings, and I hope you’ll come up with a list of your own.. 

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AUTHENTIC 

We might as well start out with MerriamWebster’s 2023 Word of the Year, chosen not because there was any spike in searches for its definition, but because it kept a high trending search count throughout the year. You can do a lot with this word; it is rich with variations that include: “not false or imitation: real, actual: ‘an authentic cockney accent’”,  and “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character: ‘is sincere and authentic with no pretensions’”. Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/authentic 

If you adopt “authentic” for 2024, encourage some of your friends to choose it too so you can enrich one another by sharing photos and articles you know to be authentic, curate those produced by AI, and even pinky-swear to be accountability partners in keeping true to your own character. 

 

CURATE  

As in, “curate your input”. I turned off all of my news notifications for Lent, and the absence of that overstimulating noise brought such peace to my life that I’ve never turned them back on. If I want to know what’s happening in the world, I go to my trusted media outlets and find out. This has been life-changing! I so wish I could convey at least the principle of curating your input to my fifteen year old granddaughter, but that firehose of social media and drama with friends has a pretty strong hold on her right now. Hoping and praying.

SURROUND 

Would you like to be a little bit different than you are? Would you like to be more adventurous? More caring? Calmer? Even if you can’t change our stripes completely, it may be possible to soften their edges  by surrounding yourself with things that reflect the person you want to see when you look in the mirror. Get a pair of hiking boots and leave them out in plain view. Sign up to volunteer at a charitable organization. Read compassionate books. De-clutter and Zen-ify your bedroom to make it into a calming space. Surround yourself with what you’d like to be. 

 

ENOUGH 

This word has such power to rein me in, I will never limit it to just one year of mindfulness.  A torn-off calendar page from years ago reminds me, “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” (William Blake) My corollary is, “There is nothing that I need.” What a lucky life I have, to have more than everything I need! It only makes sense to share, and ‘enough’ reminds me to do just that. Enough is a good enough word for us all. 

 

BETTER 

Don’t we all want to feel a little better? Look a little better? If you’re looking for a low-pressure moderate-expectation theme for the new year, consider “better”; it allows you to define its accomplishment for yourself. “Better” can be done in baby steps, and it’s adaptable to any situation. You can do something small to make yourself look better (a nap, a facial, a smile), or you can do something big to make yourself look better (hitting the gym). Want to feel better? Try some little things (another nap, a heating pad, a cup of good coffee), and big things too (looking at you, therapy!) Some of these might even foster the others. You may ease into 2024 with “better” as your companion. 

 

SMILE 

Try smiling, on purpose, and for no particular reason. Try it in the grocery store, and try it in the car. You know how you keep running into the same person throughout the grocery aisles? Recently I was in that flow with a lady who smiled at me in such a friendly way that I felt sure I was supposed to recognize her. But that wasn’t it; she was just smiling, and not only at me; at everyone! She had a huge laughing-smile that made me feel like I was the cutest, sweetest person she had seen all day. Sure, I had on a bright and ditzy little dress, but I don’t think that’s what made her smile; she just had a lot of smile to share. It lifted me up. Now, when I can’t find the gruyere or don’t remember what kind of bacon I buy, I realize that my face is saying “frustrated, rushed,  

 

and confused”. Then, I remember that sweet lady’s smile, and I put one on as well. It may not always be authentic, but paying it forward is the least I can do. 

 

And finally 

It’s not my column if I don’t go judge-y, so before I descend my soapbox, there’s a word that I’m going to shed for 2024: SHOULD.  

Okay, I’ll concede that there are a few reasonable uses for this modal verb (“If you’ll hit F5 to refresh your screen, it should display for you now.”), but when invoked as a commandment  (“You should go to bed earlier”) or to imply obligation (“You should send her a Christmas card because she sent one to you”), or as a self-reproach (“I should choose the salad over the burger.”) it brings forth my bottomless scorn. My opinion must be born of rebellion; the word is just so bossy. A gentler alternative might be “I” messaging, as in “Y’know, I started going to bed earlier and I’ve noticed I have more energy.” Now, you know.  

Just so I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, I *will* admit that this word has one powerful truism: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!” Apply as needed. 

I’ve said enough now–Here’s wishing you an authentically curated, blazingly better 2024!   

 

Note: Artificial Intelligence was not used in the creation of this column, but it did help me code a web script last week.