2021: A year of awe

Some people call it one word. Others call it one little word, abbreviated OLW. Either way it’s the tradition of choosing a focus word for a new year. Maybe even a new word for each month. Make of it what you will, how you will, the chosen word serves as a tool for reflection, a lens for living, a frame for your days.

At the outset of 2021, I wasn’t in the frame of mind to choose a defining word unless it was survival or endurance or possibly perseverance, none of which were inspiring or lyrical (shouldn’t your OLW strike deep chords in your spirit?). After 2020, I was tired. We were tired, all of us. It was a year that seemed liked ten. The world as we knew it changed overnight. Quarantine, separation, isolation, closed businesses, bare shelves at the stores, working from home, doing school online. Plans disrupted. Staggering losses of so many kinds. Grief. Rage. Despair. Navigating the unknown every single day. The COVID-troubled world kept turning but we almost didn’t recognize it or ourselves anymore…literally, behind the masks.

We hoped. We clung to our screens. We cherished every glimmer of light in the long, dark night of the soul. How long? we wondered. How long?

On the brink of 2021, as I wearily turned the page in my academic planner, I said something like this to myself: Forget the one little word thing. I don’t have the energy to think around it or write around it. What difference does it really make, anyway. After all, my word for 2020 was reclamation. I wrote in January, before the onslaught of COVID-19 in March, when everything shut down that Friday 13th for what we thought would be only two weeks: Moving forward becomes an act of will, a revised determination to do what you can, what’s most important, for that given day. Recovering ground, inch by precious inch.

Note to self: Be careful what you wish for…

But then, then, turning that page… I discovered this quote, in tiny font, sitting on January 1, 2021, in my planner: Experiencing awe (the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than you) can improve your physical health and make you feel more altruistic. Intentionally create awe this month by spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, etc.

I knew, then.

Whatever might come in 2021, I must look for awe. I must keep the door open for it. Anticipate it. Invite it.

There’s a psychology, a science, to awe. A savoring of life, an ineffable hope, a spark of joy, an inhaled breath of wonder at the wonders all around, a reverence. It can make you feel more altruistic…desiring to benefit others at your own expense…can the world not use more of this?

I sat in awe of this revelation…and that is the story of awe choosing itself as my word for this year, now in its final days.

It’s everywhere, awe.

In fragile periwinkle flowers poking through the January snow, in the piercing cry of a red-tailed hawk, in the flight of an eagle near enough for me to see its white head. In the resilience of children learning from home and in their happy dogs who attended class with them. In my own dog, who slept in my lap during those long hours online. In colleagues who stopped resisting new learning in the hardest of times and began embracing it…and each other. In children learning to read despite all, in one student pointing to a new word, “trombone” (without a picture), and telling me I don’t know how to say it, but it’s a musical instrument. In resuming church services and eventually singing hymns again. In the return of the little finches which have built a nest on my front door wreath every year except for 2020. In the gift of new life…in the announcement that my son and his wife were expecting a baby in the fall. In the long summer of anticipating, in finally making it to the ocean again, in seeing how seabirds stood on the shore, protecting one of their own that was missing a foot. In passing three white horses in a grassy meadow on morning drives to school, reminding me of a game my father taught me to play on long journeys when I was a child (I have a lot of thirty-point days now, Daddy). In teaching poetry again, in seeing the kids’ faces light up with their own writing discoveries. I wrote a lot of poetry in 2021; much of it centered on awe.

I have so much more to write. I am awed by what my sons have accomplished this year, one as a minister, the other as a funeral assistant and musician. I am awed by other people who say your boys have blessed me.

Baby girl Micah arrived at the end of October. Her big sister’s wish, come true.

Christmas Eve at my house, 2021

Awe abounds. It waits to be found. Just like the little present placed in my stack on Christmas Eve during our family gathering.

That’s especially for you, Franna, said my daughter-in-law.

I opened it.

Micah’s tiny handprint, in white plaster.

Awe.

And tears. Too overcome for words.

My daughter-in-law didn’t know the story. One day I will tell Micah about the handprint I made for my grandmother so long ago, how it hung on her bedroom wall for over thirty years…

Awe. Awe. Awe. Life in its abundance, making full circles. Light to be found, even in the darkest season. The treasure of having each other. Love, blessing, wonder, the gift of life itself, all from the hand of Almighty God.

I see no reason whatsoever for changing to a new word in 2022.

Wishing awe to you all – each new day with its waiting treasures

*******

with much love and gratitude to the Two Writing Teachers for the weekly Slice of Life Story Challenge. There is sustaining power in writing. There is more in a writing community.

19 thoughts on “2021: A year of awe

    • Thank you, Nancy, for your thoughts. Many of those awe-examples are related to nature…which, I learned through writing, speaks to me more than I realized! As I grow older I understand the value of awe and actively seeking it. It comes so naturally and simply to children. Courage – that is a mighty word, a powerful attribute, as well. A joyous and awe-filled new year to you as well!

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  1. Fran, you bring truth and proof to the saying, “a lot of what we see depends on what we’re looking for.” I am always sparked with anticipation when I see your blog post subscription alert pop up, letting me know I can look forward to reading your words – and find myself continually in awe of the thoughts and heartsqueezes as I read what you’ve written. I’ve toyed with the idea of one little word. It’s hard to drill down that far to a single word, but I’m liking Mary Oliver’s line, “leave some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” I think that’s a lot like awe. And the good Lord knows, we need His arms around us to focus on it – to find it and to feel it! I smile at the “assorted barrettes” and the festive llama dress and the precious granddaughters that bring you such joy!

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    • Oh, Kim. To think of anything I write being a “heartsqueeze” …what a gift your words are. Always. Here and on your own blog. While I love writing around a word, you’re so right that narrowing a long-term focus to one word is hard (I take this to be your meaning, that it is confining). In that you are right. Many writing friends have expressed a lackluster experience with “one word” and I think that may be because one word often just doesn’t fit for a long period. We are transient creatures in constant flux. One word is easily forgotten in the daily grind of things, the minutiae of living. Awe, however, strikes me as a defining life word – probably because I am growing older, and I know my time here is growing shorter. Grandchildren snap this into focus in such a poignant way. I want what remains to me to be filled with awe and, if possible, to be awe-inspiring for others. Especially for my little ones. In a simple way. Awe isn’t necessarily ornate or elaborate. Just wondrous. Amazing. Breathtaking. Let’s face it – there’s a flip side to awe: mortal dread (the basis of “awful”). I suppose we need this contrast to appreciate the stab of joy or beauty or the sacred revealing itself, in order to fully appreciate it. Awe really does come from knowing you’re a small part of something so much bigger than yourself – akin to contemplating the glittering stars on a clear, cold night. Above all, it’s a spiritual thing. something that enables a person to appreciate the Lord God as well as a little girl with assorted barrettes and a llama dress who adores her new sister… in this, for me, awe comes from a place of gratitude for all that God has set in motion, that Creation works the way it does, and that I am allowed to see bits of it. You’re part of that, never forget ❤

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    • Thank you, Juliette – love how your phrased “a graceful way to look at life.” I aspire to do this! And also to appreciate the many wonders of life, even in hard times (which have a way of bringing the gold to the surface). Much joy to you!

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  2. Awe is such a perfect word for you Fran….I feel like your writing and perspective always depict a certain holiness and beautiful, warm, wise outlook on life. I’m so glad for the blessings 2021 brought to you. I am a better person for having read your blog posts. Wishing you all beautiful things in 2022!!

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    • Dear Kathleen – thank you for your words. I am humbled by them – I recently thought of “holy” as a one-word focus and decided I couldn’t manage that. But holy things draw me. More so each year that I live. There is a gradual shedding of things… maybe I will write on that more, later. Please know what a pure inspiration you are. Whether writing about your children, students, or that dear and precious dog – your heart shines through, ever-bright! So grateful for you and wishing you and yours so much joy in the new year.

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    • It means much to me that you should find my writing “healing” – that awes me, too! I often find healing in writing my posts. There’s a lot more I could have said that awed me in 2021, such as the way people reached out to help (and heal) one another in times of crisis, disaster, unrest, and loss. I will be keeping my eyes and heart open for more in 2022. Thank you so much for your words.

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  3. “Awe abounds.” I believe this, too, Fran! Your post exudes the beauty and power of living with a lens of awe in all we do – my oh my, what rewards you reaped, what precious experiences you noted. I absolutely love this.

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    • Thank you, Maureen. The extraordinary surrounds us, is right there amid the ordinary…perspective makes all the difference. Living with a lens of awe, yes. Especially in such a troubled age, rife with despair, anxiety, fear, and conflict. It can take a bit of work to clear out a patch in the mind and heart which stays open to awe…but it is so needed. For our own psyches. I’d never thought before about awe being connected to altruism; I find that profound. I am grateful for your words!

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  4. Fran, I read your “AWEsome slice this morning and felt the spirit of the Lord in your writing. Your slice touched me deeply.I began to respond but my comment was lost in cyberspace so I reread the piece tonight and still was touched by your words. Awe has served you well all year and will continue to move you further on your journey. Fran, you have a gift that inspires others. Each one of your comments to your responders was filled with heart-filled thoughts. May you continue to grow in the spirit and bring messages of wisdom to family and friends. Your grandgirls are little treasures. I love watching them grow through your eyes. I know that your OLW, Awe, is a word will lead you and inspire you to greatness. Peace to you and your family!

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  5. What a gift to see those beautiful granddaughters and the hand print. Awe abounds.
    Thanks for sharing your insights from your year of living with awe. I love that the finches came back this year.
    Borrowing this paragraph for my writer’s notebook: “Life in its abundance, making full circles. Light to be found, even in the darkest season. The treasure of having each other. Love, blessing, wonder, the gift of life itself, all from the hand of Almighty God.” He is wondrous indeed.

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    • Looking for awe means that it often comes to find you, to tap your spirit with its gilded finger, to open your eyes so you can see…it’s linked to noticing, the core of the writerly life. I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday, Ramona – the little grands make it all the more wondrous, don’t they!

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  6. I found this in a stack of email and so glad I had some time to read it this morning. What a wonderful word to embrace! Even if you don’t change it, I hope you will join us o Thursday for Spiritual Thursday writing about our new (or perhaps the same) word.

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