Two years ago, still reeling from my father’s death and trying to put my life back together, I opted to give myself a break from choosing a single word to strive for during the year. That break stretched into the next year without me even noticing.
This year my word came to me as I was flying home from visiting my terminally ill mother. The trip to and from her house is pretty much endless. First you have to get to the airport. Then you take a first flight to somewhere in Europe. (My personal preference is to fly into Iceland. Because WOW is incredibly affordable.) Then you take a second flight to Paris. There you rent a car and drive the 2.5/3 hours to my mother’s house in the middle of nowhere France. It takes about a day and a half to go from door to door. The trip back is even worse because, thanks to the 9 hour time difference, you cram the whole trip into one simply endless day.
In short, all of that traveling leaves ample time for some deep, deep reflection. And watching a LOT of movies. Like a lot. Do you know how many movies you can watch in a 9 hour flight? It’s a lot.
So there I was, on my way home after spending a very peaceful five days with my mother and her husband, trying to pinpoint what had made that trip so much more pleasant than the last two I had taken to visit them. The location was the same. Her health was no better than it had been the last time I’d been to visit. If anything, it was way worse. Her mental decline over the last 6 months has been devastating, to say the least. I had no sisters or husband or kids to help buffer and distract from the illness that is rapidly stealing my mother away. And yet, I was flying home feeling oddly at peace.
In between movies, I came to a startling conclusion.
The difference? Intent.
I headed to France with the sole intent to spend a few quality moments with my mother. I didn’t go with the hope of fixing anything, or having a wonderful week, or even having deep meaningful conversations with anyone. Instead, I went with a totally open heart, intent on noticing the little good moments amongst the big sad scary stuff.
And I was rewarded. My mother and I spent long afternoons in the car, driving around neighboring towns. Her speech is confused and usually makes little to no sense, but I followed her instructions without worrying about the destination. Each day I was rewarded. One day she navigated me to a butcher. Another to a grocery store. The last to a yarn store because she had noticed me knitting the night before. We had a couple laughs and just enjoyed being together.
I didn’t try to hold on to the moments or control them. I just let myself enjoy them as had been my intent upon arrival.
As the miles between my mother and I stretched further and further apart, I thought about how I can’t actually control anything in my life. I can’t control other people’s health, my daughter’s anxiety, what jobs I get offered, or how my life generally flows. What I can control is the intention that I bring into situations.
I can be intentional about the jobs and invitations I accept or reject. I can be intentional about doing things that make me happy. And I can be intentional about how go into challenging situations.
For years I’ve needed to just go with the flow and let the river of life take me where it wanted to meander. I’m excited to see how bringing a little intent to the mix changes things for me this year.
Did you get everything you wanted this holiday season?
No? Well, then, maybe it’s time to treat yourself to something special.