Joy Marks the Gifts

“Joy Marks the Gifts”
by Lizl Bennefeld

I have always looked forward to the coming of winter. Cold winds and snow keep folks at home except for the most necessary chores, and nearly every outing is considered, rather than impulsive. Here in North Dakota, winter often arrives in November and lingers into late March or early April. Life doesn’t halt for four or five months, but at the beginning of the winter season, the pace slows once holiday chores are completed. I find myself looking forward to the storm warnings and blizzards and unplowed streets, even with the danger that we might lose the electricity that keeps the furnace running.

The week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day I consider mine. It’s been a time for resting and reflecting on life, for doing the little things that had been put aside, for praying, and for writing down and clarifying my thoughts. It’s also a time for self-indulgence. Because I was self-employed, I seldom got a real vacation, but this was my chance for it.

Telephone calls went to voice mail, and e-mails remained unread. During this week to ten days, I stayed up late and slept in. Life was unprogrammed. However, I noticed that more and more demands crowded in to squeeze out inactivity and leisure activities in general. This sacred time became difficult to preserve, as I heard the phrase, “Since I know you don’t have anything scheduled at the end of the year, I thought you might …” Maybe I had accumulated too many affiliations over the years. In some cases, I initiated the commitments, but often assumptions were made, and I found myself trying to follow through on the (sometimes unspoken) expectations of others.

The press of daily events and the increased pace of life don’t help. There are current world events to take in and evaluate, life events of family and friends to remember and attend to, and new computer hardware and software to learn. I would never have survived those days before my retirement without my organizer apps. There weren’t enough hours in the day to keep current on developments in physics, which used to be one of my major passions. The underlying anxiety of life in a country in crisis made it increasingly difficult to relax and think or to complete tasks that require more from me than rote activity.

I more and more often arrived at the end of a day exhausted, but having accomplished nothing. When I last had the piano tuned, I hadn’t taken time to play it more than a handful of times in the previous year. I read, not for pleasure, but to escape. I decided that I would not continue struggling under a burden of unmet commitments.

While the world outside is forced by snow and ice and winds to slow down, and I am sheltered here at home, I seek to identify the sources of my joy and make those my priorities. Joy marks the gifts that I have been given and the best that I have to give to others.

Copyright © 2001, by Elizabeth W. Bennefeld. “Joy Marks the Gifts” previously published in the Winter 2001 edition of Moondance (moondance.org).