A time for reflection and a time to look ahead

As January takes hold, many of us wonder about the year ahead.

What will it bring? Will the pandemic finally end, ease or continue to surge? Will our lives return to normal, or will there be a new normal? What will we read about in the news six months from now? What will our country look like? We ponder our hopes and dreams for ourselves, our loved ones and our community. Will they be realized?

I’m looking back and ahead as I write this column on my 70th birthday. Where have I come from and where will I go? Born in the middle of the 20th century, I think about the amazing changes I’ve seen in my lifetime — the end of apartheid in South Africa, the fall of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the Berlin wall, the end of the Cold War, the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage, the election of an African American president, the invention of the personal computer, the internet, social media, and a handheld computer called a smart phone. When I was young, I could never have imagined that these events would unfold in my future.

Like each of you, I’ve had my share of joy and pain. I’ve experienced the joy of long-lasting romantic love, the delight of watching my daughters grow into lovely middle-aged women, the satisfaction of meaningful work and now, the bliss of having my grandchildren live nearby. I’ve experienced the pain of losing my brother when he was 32, killed by a drunk driver. I’ve lived through the death of my parents and the older generation. I’ve experienced the loss of good friends and colleagues who didn’t make it to my birthday. And like all of you, the ups and downs of everyday life.

So, what have I learned in my 70-year journey?

Life is an adventure. If we check our expectations at the door, we can experience our lives as an adventure that’s filled with a multitude of experiences and opportunities for exploration and learning. We don’t know what is around the corner! What we do know is that we will have tears and joy, but not always in equal portions. How can we approach each new event with curiosity? How can we truly live in the present?

Become the person you hope to be. So much of the trajectory of our lives is dependent on the circumstances of our birth — where we’re born, who are parents are and when we come into this life. If I were the child of a street urchin in Calcutta, I would surely not be writing this column today. I probably wouldn’t be still alive. Yet, even so, I have the ability to develop qualities that I hope to embody in my everyday actions — kindness, empathy, patience and love.

Take action. So much of what happens is outside of our control, yet we do have control over what we do. If we’re in a bad relationship or job, try to make it better. If we can’t, don’t stay in it. Use your agency to take control over what’s in your power to change. Don’t let our fear of the unknown prevent us from making change.

It’s all about love. My mother was very close to end of her life on her 92nd birthday. She died just a week later. Surrounded by her friends, at her last birthday party, she said to them, “I love all of you. Life is all about love.”

As we come into this New Year, may each of our lives be filled with love and joy. May each of us become the person we hope to be. May each of us fully experience the adventure of our life and

the miracle of being alive.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.

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