I had a wonderful and much-needed holiday break. While I planned to continue to see clients, what I didn’t anticipate was how just like me, my clients also needed breaks and my time truly wound up being exactly what I needed, restful and quiet. This is the third time where I reveal my word of the year as my first post of the new year and quite fittingly if the holiday season had its own word it would be modify. If you didn’t have to modify your holiday plans in some way, you were among the lucky few. Maybe it wasn’t as bad where you live, but in New York, as we watched our daily cases go from 20,000 to 40,000 to 70,000, everyone saw their holiday plans change on a dime.
In my case, my Christmas Eve plans went from dinner out with my sister and her family until 1/2 my brother-in-law’s police precinct in New Jersey came down with COVID and his shift had to fill in. Christmas Eve dinner wound up just being me and my husband, which was lovely, but not what we planned. Then, my extended family made plans to get together on January 2nd in New Jersey to celebrate Christmas and a gaggle of January birthdays until my aunt and my cousin’s wife came down with COVID. Plans were modified again and instead, my sister, her family, and my mom came to Brooklyn on the that day to finally celebrate the holiday. Yet we modified again, when my husband, Frank, came down with a horrible cold which, thankfully, a rapid and PCR test confirmed negative for COVID. Despite that, he kept a mask on during their visit and chose to stay home when we all headed out to a restaurant to share a meal together. The holiday was great, as long as we all were willing to modify.
This year, I announced my word of the year in a very special and unique way. As you may know, I am a Unitarian Universalist and deeply proud of what we represent in the present and for our historic and beautiful past. We are a liberal and progressive faith of service, activism, and social justice with deep roots in movements including abolition, civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, and more. Notable people of this faith include individuals of altruism like Paul Newman, visionaries like PT Barnum, Ray Bradbury, and Frank Lloyd Wright; historic thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Henry David Thoreau; scientists including Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton; architects of American democracy that include John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and other later presidents including Millard Fillmore and William Howard Taft. We ordained the first female minister in history, a champion of the suffrage movement named Olympia Brown, in 1863, and our faith also proudly includes other notable people like Louisa May Alcott, Clara Barton, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, E.E. Cummings, Charles Dickens, and then some.
Because we are creedless and are more focused on deeds and not creeds, each week, I attend service with atheists, pagans, and people from various faiths and viewpoints. We draw from all sources of faith and live by seven principles and six sources, my favorite being the first principle, “the inherent worth and dignity of all people.” This is where I find my source of strength and faith so I can nourish myself and be of service. I share all this, not because I think you should be a Unitarian Universalist — UU’s have a strong stance against any form of proselytization — but because I truly believe that service, both large and small, kindness and compassion should be at the center of each and every one of our lives. In order to be of service to others, we must find that place to nourish ourselves first. For each individual that source is different. What is important is that we all find it.
So, when I was asked to be what is called a lay worship leader this season at my Brooklyn congregation, First Unitarian Congregational Society, a role which I describe to people as basically an emcee of our services and rotate with four other fellow congregation members, a perk of this role is that we each get to deliver a homily. I decided that my homily would be about my positive practice of having a word of the year. And just like the holiday required us all to modify, so did our church services. At the last minute, with Omnicron spiking, it was decided that services would go back online after only returning to in-person services in September after 18 months of worshipping online. The people involved in the worship service would be the only ones present at our historic sanctuary that was built in 1844 while everyone else watched safely from their homes. I preached to a largely empty room with only that small group present, which was weird but such a perfect representation of these times.
This is what gives me this cool opportunity the share my word with you in such a unique way. Below, I am sharing the homily I shared with my congregation that takes a look back at my words over the years, why this practice is so positive, grounding and transformative and what my word is for 2022. If you are unable to view or would rather read it, I am including my written homily below the video. I start the video around the time when I begin my homily with the assumption that you don’t want to sit through the entire service (more than understandable) but following the hymn after my homily, our minister, Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, who is also the author of the book No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments, shares her own companion homily and offers some direction on coming up with your own word of the year. Should the video begin at the beginning for some reason, you can jump to about 28 minutes into around the time that I start my homily. Although, the choral group’s version of Lucius’ Until We Get There right before I go on is quite stunning, if you have a moment to listen.
(note: if half the still video is appearing, hit the play button and the video will begin)
My Word of the Year for 2022
‘Word of the Year’
The statistics on the success of New Year’s resolutions are pretty grim with most saying that around 80% of them fail by February. In any other circumstance, nobody would play these odds and it makes you wonder why anyone bothers with them.
I’ve never made New Year’s resolutions for the simple fact that I am too much of a pragmatist to get swept up in something that has been proven to fail. However, I found myself intrigued a few years ago when a good friend of mine told me about a practice where she comes up with a word of the year as an alternative path. Over the years, my friend came up with words like progress, simplify or essentials as her words. These singular words somehow managed to capture a broader goal for each year she did this. Best of all, she found this practice to be incredibly successful.
So in 2020, I adopted this practice and chose the word Bold as my word for that year. I selected it for a few reasons. First, I turned 46 that year which was not only the other side of my 40’s, and closer to 50, 46 is the same age my dad was when he died, which was, needless to say, sobering. I felt like it was time for me to stop saying things like, “I have always wanted to…” or, “one day I will…” It was time to stop planning and wishing and start doing.
My birthday is January 5th. So when I remembered how I always wanted to take a trapeze class, it was remembering my word of the year that had me hit the “pay now” button and reserve my spot in a class as a gift to myself for my birthday. For weeks after I took that class, I showed anyone who would look, the photo of me the moment I was caught in a trapeze catch 25 feet in the air. It’s still my iPhone wallpaper and my Facebook cover photo and after that class, I felt I was on my way to living boldly.
But we all know how this story ends. By March we were all in lockdown and my plans for living my word felt quickly dashed.
Gone was the idea that by the end of 2020, my phone would be filled with photos of me taking bold risks, doing crazy things, and checking big moves off my bucket list. instead, by the end of 2020, my phone was packed with photos of me with 2” roots because I couldn’t get to the hair salon, me wearing face masks, hardly any photos of me with my friends or family, and plenty photos of me and my husband on all the lockdown walks we took and named our daily “prison yard time.”
However, as 2020 was nearing its end and I thought I missed my chance to live my word, I realized that while living boldly perhaps didn’t entail what I originally thought it would, I did live my word because in 2020 we all had to be bold. For some, living boldly during the pandemic meant being an essential worker. Others had to be bold during scary times of job loss, food insecurity, balancing homeschooling with work responsibilities, standing firm against people who believed COVID to be a hoax and worst of all, losing a loved one. For me, being bold meant surviving the pandemic as a small business owner who works as a personal stylist with women in executive leadership. Keeping a business alive when your entire client base goes home to work in leggings definitely takes courage and boldness. Yet, my business survived and last year I celebrated 19 years in business.
So now 2021 was coming and it was time again to come up with a new word of the year and like so many of you, I was tired. When choosing a word, I let it come to me. I create some space and let it bubble to the surface. I heard the word as if it were whispered in my ear; “ease.” I knew immediately that would be my word for 2021.
I am the person who will over-water plants, who wouldn’t dare do a trust exercise where you fall back and let others catch you. Living with my brain is like living in an endless sudoku puzzle and as you can probably guess, I don’t have an easy time letting things unfold. Yet, as I have learned, being busy and being productive are two very different things and often my busy-ness is just what I do to quell my anxiety over what I want to achieve but don’t know how, or because I feel I need to control everything for it to get done. Ease would be my answer to letting go. Ease would be the perfect challenge for me.
So it was January 5th, again, and now my 47th birthday, and just five days into living my new word. My husband, Frank, was up before me getting ready for work and came into the bedroom that morning with coloring that resembled Greek yogurt. He told me he was having a hard time catching his breath and he couldn’t find his pulse. In a moment of clarity, I took my Apple Watch, put it on his wrist, and clocked his pulse at over 200 beats per minute. To make a very long story short, what followed next was a trip to urgent care, an ambulance ride, my husband’s heart being shocked with a defibrillator to get it back into a normal rhythm, a surgical procedure called an ablation to destroy the rogue heart tissue that caused his heart to beat out of control, a two-night hospital stay, a chip inserted in his chest to track his heartbeats, and a diagnosis of what is called an atrial flutter. The good news is, as serious as what happened sounds, it was a fixable condition and Frank otherwise has a very healthy heart. So happy birthday to me.
Five days in and what happened would hardly be described as ease, but this is the key point about this practice of choosing a word of the year, you have to be an active participant. When I looked back at the events surrounding what happened to my husband, ease is exactly what helped me survive it.
Despite it sounding like a passive word, ease actually takes effort. It requires faith and trust and asks that you don’t always know how life is meant to unfold and that you let go and live in peace and harmony no matter what is happening. The events of my husband’s cardiac event were grueling, scary, and exhausting but as I went from one thing to the next, alone due to COVID restrictions, stressed out, scared and confused, it was that trust in the process that got me through it.
Contrary to resolutions, which ask us to define what we would like to achieve, a word of the year asks us who we want to be, and as trite as the saying is, it’s true, when we change the world changes. Whatever word you choose, be it a word like love or patience, simplicity, bravery, or playfulness, words of the year are decisions and not just one decision, decisions you make over and over again in every action and interaction.
So here we are again, it’s 2022, three days before my 48th birthday, with me hoping to God no fresh tragedy is around the corner, and I have a new word for the year; it’s expansion.
I’ve lived through plenty of times where I have felt like I have needed to double back and retool my life a bit, where I’ve wanted to hang around a sign around my neck that read, “currently under construction.” But now I’m in a place where my life is big and beautiful and wonderful, and I’m ready to take my life and blow it up even bigger. I look forward to the challenges that will greet me in 2022 as I live my new word.
Resolutions are limiting while a Word of the Year is all-encompassing. Your Word of the Year provides a framework for the actions you take during the year and can set you in the right direction by bringing more awareness to your intentions. Melinda Gates, who does this practice and has chosen words like grace, gentle and spacious in the past, has said that a word of the year encapsulates her aspirations for the twelve months ahead. Simply, your word of the year is shorthand for the person you want to become.
Resolutions can be really big and daunting and, in many cases, we have no idea how to even start chipping away at them. But when we envision ourselves achieving these resolutions, we usually see that the only way to achieve them is through some sort of personal change. Well, what if we have been doing the whole concept of resolutions wrong; that instead of setting these big resolutions and goals, we focused instead on who we needed to be to achieve them? And what if we could distill who we needed to be down to one simple word — a word of the year?
As I ease back in
To borrow my word from 2021, ease, I am easing back into work. While it’s great to be back, I’m still dusting off the holiday downtime and allowing myself this slower pace. My blog posts will be back at regular force next week but expect a new Facebook Member of the Month post to come in a few days. As we enter this fresh year together, I look forward to sharing more with you, learning together, and being a source of support and guidance, especially during these odd times where we have no idea what the world dress code is. May you be healthy, nourished, and grounded in 2022.