The Lessons of 2023

(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 12/29/23) By Neal Lemery

Neal Lemery
Dancing Elephants Press

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Photo by Trent Erwin on Unsplash

It’s the end of the year already. The year seems to have flown by, as years tend to do. I like to be reflective, to look back and wonder what I’ve learned this year, what the lessons of life have been taught to me by the many turns and twists of the road in 2023.

The ten-minute rule

I’m working on a new protocol for when I’m running my errands. I’ve realized that relationships are at the core of my life, that being around others, and truly listening to them, is an essential part of life, a core value of being a community member.

And, relationships need time. They should take priority over what I think my important and busy schedule is. At the end of the day, the quality of my interactions with others is what matters, and what I did today that was important was all about relationships.

I’m learning that when I encounter someone, I need to be patient, to take time, and to truly listen. You can learn a lot about your community and life if you simply take the time to be present, to listen, and to exercise your empathy and compassion.

When I truly listen to someone, when I focus on what they have to say when I take a few minutes to simply “be” and not “do”, I learn a lot, and I build community. And I have ten minutes in my day for someone, if they need it. Sometimes, I need it. Friendships are our treasures, and they need to be tended to, fed with conversation, and given the nurturing that a few minutes of conversation can bring to our lives.

I do have ten minutes in my day to spare.

The other day at the store, I found myself helping a man in a wheelchair in picking up a bag of dog treats. He was grateful for the help. At the checkout, I found myself behind him and noticed that most of his purchases were for puppies. We struck up a conversation and I learned he had a new Christmas puppy and was out shopping for the new love in his life. He laughed and smiled, happy to talk about his Christmas, and sharing his new-found joy.

I had ten minutes with him, the best and most joyful ten minutes of my day.

Unplug and start again

Technology can be my friend, allowing me to communicate and to organize, to be productive and useful, from the comfort of home, with a hot beverage to enjoy. And technology can be the source of frustration, and the onset of feelings of incompetence, ineptness, and even the use of some four-letter words.

I’m less of a techie than I sometimes think I am. One of my tried and true remedies, often as a last resort, is to turn off, unplug, wait 30 seconds, and then start over. More often than not, that little break with the device seems to reset the problem device. and eliminate the problem. I suspect that more often than not, my less-than-perfect tech skills are the source of the problem, but my pride keeps me from being that honest with myself.

Unplug and start again seems to work in other areas of my life as well. Taking a break, going for a walk, filling up the bird feeder, or relocating myself often works wonders for the frustrations and challenges of life. I don’t apply this remedy nearly enough, but when I do, the benefits are often immediate and productive.

I’ve been reading about the Japanese practice of “forest bathing”, which is popular in other cultures as well. A walk in the woods, or on the beach seems to be cleansing, relaxing, a purge of toxic thoughts and processes. I’m adding that practice into my reliable technique of “unplug and start again”.

Restringing

My friend and I haven’t seen much of each other since he moved out of town for a better job. When we do meet up, we can hold down a coffee shop table for several hours. This week, he brought his guitar which had languished in his closet for seven years. We planned to restart it, giving it a new life, so he could start playing it again and teach his young daughter a few songs.

We sat around my dining room table, talking up a storm as we usually do, and began to put on new strings. We cleaned up the grit and grime on the guitar, removed the old, rusty strings, and put on new shiny strings. Like a lot of relationships, we tuned up the guitar, bringing the new strings up to pitch, and letting the guitar find its new, fresh voice. The wood responded with sweetness and harmony, much like our friendship.

That guitar will teach us about the value of time and patience, too. New strings need to “settle in”, to stretch, to develop a relationship with the wood of the guitar. Playing the guitar vibrates the wood, improving the tone and “seasoning” the guitar. Those vibrations soothe my heart, too. The benefits are abundant.

Friendships need that sometimes, to be cleaned and restrung, brought up to the proper pitch, and strummed with new energy and purpose.

Looking at Ordinary Things

I’m a photographer and am often looking for that special photo, something out of the ordinary. But I learned again this year that my best photos occurred when I didn’t think anything spectacular was happening, that what I was seeing was just “ordinary”. When I took another look, when I paused and looked around, what initially seemed ordinary had a special beauty, that “special something” that needed to be the subject of my camera.

The other morning, I went outside at dawn, having noticed a pinkish sky to the east. The coming sunrise didn’t seem like much, until I stopped and waited, and looked again. There wasn’t that brilliant phosphorescent explosion on the horizon, but there were some subtle colors. I moved around and put a Japanese maple tree covered with morning dew and the remnants of last night’s rain between me and the soft colors of the sky. Suddenly, the composition took form, with the soft colors and sparkly waterdrops becoming what I realized was a stellar photograph.

The lesson I took away was to wait, observe, and let the ordinary be transformed into something special.

With time and patience, something that seems unexciting, plain, even mundane, can become a moment of beauty and serenity.

As the old year fades away, I’m reminded that life so often gives us simple lessons, if we only take the time to notice.

12/28/23

✍ — Published by Dr. Gabriella Korosi, at Dancing Elephant Press. Click here for guidelines to post.

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Neal Lemery
Dancing Elephants Press

Author of Be the Change: One Random Act of Kindness at a Time; Building Community, Rural Voices for Hope and Change; and others. On Amazon.