Goodbye, my year of magic

Paddling into the setting sun on the Schuylkill River

“I do believe in magic, and I believe it’s at its most potent when we’re open, when we’re willing to face the world with soft eyes and even softer heart. When we believe we’re bound for somewhere wonderful even if we can’t yet see it. When we’re able to take life in our arms, with all its glorious mess and mystery, and love it fully still. “

These were the words I wrote last December as I prepared to let go of 2018 and invite in a new year. In my practice of choosing an intentional word to carry me into another 12 months, “magic” was the one that found me — my word of the year for 2019.

And it has indeed spun its charms, bold and bright, sweet and wondrous, across the swath of days. As in any year, there were moments — and sometimes passages — where I felt adrift from my word, from the possibilities of its invocation.

The ringing uncertainty that surrounded my job when the year began, as the promise of significant change loomed, lasted for long, anxious weeks. When resolution finally came, it took a stunning and sorrowful turn, even as I was grateful to be moving forward into the next chapter that awaited a small and fortunate group of us.

As I mourned what was and strove toward optimism for what could be, our family also wrestled with a health scare — and another torturous wait until the burden of our worst fears was lifted.

In those early months of 2019, magic, though I know it can be as much about what we create as what finds us, seemed elusive.

Yet if I were to make a list, to gather in the goodness — the shimmering joys and moments of pure, exuberant aliveness — from this past year, I discover a multitude.

A few of my loves at Save Africa

This was the year I traveled to Tanzania for the third time to be with my kids at Save Africa Orphanage, to check up on my Clara Bean and her family, to be tucked into the tender folds of my friend Harriet’s life. Though short, it was the most magical of all my trips there, as I felt a deeper rooting of heart and spirit, spending a part of almost every day soaking up the laughter, kindness and incandescent joy of the kids and my evenings savoring the company of Harriet, her sister Betty and their children and the neighbors who were frequent guests to her home.

There were other trips that gifted happiness and delight, like my family’s annual Memorial Day weekend getaway to Woodstock in New York’s Catskill Mountains and my first visit to Asheville, N.C., with my mom.

Magic arrived, too, in the tremendous opportunity to participate in a writing retreat with one of my favorite poets, Ross Gay, though I was sure I would never make the cut when I applied. And yet I found myself not only immersed in the playful, adventurous, nurturing environment he created, I was invited, along with all the attending poets, to share a poem of mine onstage before his own reading from his newest book.

When I think back to those days, I still view them through a lens of awe, and, yes, gratitude. But I remember, too, the time I spent with a dear friend who didn’t take the workshop (and definitely deserved to be there!) but roomed with me then and all of our long chats about poetry and life, while feasting on delicious dinners and writing side by side after I’d share my daily prompts with her.

With my mom at the Biltmore in Asheville

In truth, those moments are the ones that so often sing to me, that remind me being here, here, wherever it happens to be, with full attention and grateful heart, is where the magic happens.

I can point to my first podcast interview on grief and dying as a marker of my year of magic. Or the medal my team won during my only dragon boat race of the season. Or the poem I had published. Or the offering, with my best friend, of our first yoga and grief writing workshop.

They are among the beautiful surprises, the unseen destinations and arrivals I’ve celebrated.

And between them float so many other moments: sitting under a twilight sky with my best friend as the night grew late and studded with the stories of our hearts; catching the sudden lift of a heron from the river bank during dragon boat practice; looking up from the table at a restaurant in Arusha to see the faces I’ve come to adore and thinking “this is family…”

I won’t forget the wedding guest, a former bride I’d married, who hugged me long and tight at another wedding when she ran into me, months after I’d officiated her mom’s funeral. Or the joyous dance party my mom and I stumbled into in Asheville following the percussive sounds spilling from an open window. Or running along the beach in the moonlight with my family, laughing as our dog chased and drew back from the surf. Or seeing my niece through a veil of tears all dressed up for her junior prom and wanting desperately for her to know she will always be the magic in any moment.

My niece heading to her junior prom

I think, in this bountiful harvest, of dancing in the woods under a setting summer sun, of being witnessed with so much tenderness as I cried grateful tears while being sung to during an equinox ritual on my birthday, of watching people I love do what they love — sing, heal, make art, teach yoga…

Even this year’s bittersweet end, with my mom downsizing and selling our family home of the last two decades, brought with it treasures, as we came together weekend after weekend to pack and remember and laugh and celebrate, while each grieving in our own way.

I may be choosing a new word come 2020 but the magic remains — the stuff of the everyday and the endless possibilities that live in each moment, thrumming their promise of gold.