When I woke up on New Year's Day, the house was quiet. The floor of the boys' room was filled with sleeping bodies, teenage boys wrapped in blankets. My husband, who is normally the first to wake up because he's in charge of the alarm clock, breakfast, and school lunches, had given himself permission to sleep late and was still cuddled under the down quilt on our bed, taking a much-deserved day off. The downstairs bore the traces of an all-night party: guitars propped against furniture, empty glasses on the counter, drumsticks set aside on the window sill, the piano bench pulled out, sheet music piled on an amp, a stack of board games on the floor near the fireplace.
I dressed quickly, left my sleeping household, and drove just a mile up the road for what has become a New Year's tradition: brunch with some of my friends. We gathered in a farmhouse that was built more than a century ago, the home of Makes Bread. Gusts of wind blew snow across the road and rattled the windows, but inside her kitchen, the warm air smelled of chili and gingerbread. We stood around her kitchen counter or sat around the big wooden table, eating leftover holiday food we had brought from our homes, plus all the amazing food that Makes Bread always provides.
We talked about the holidays, about our extended families, about children and grandchildren and parents. Mystic Woman told us about a new year's tradition that involves putting various items into a paper bag, leaving her house before midnight, and then making sure the paper bag is the first thing that crosses the threshold after midnight. She's a deeply spiritual woman who is quite willing to poke fun at herself. "Yeah, there I am, out in the snow in my pajamas, clutching a paper bag, peering through the windows to see if the ball has dropped yet. The neighbors think I'm crazy."
In a conversation about animal spirits, I repeated what the group has heard before: if I have an animal totem, it's the snake. It's not the animal I would choose — I'd prefer something a bit warmer and cuddlier — but it seems to be the animal that has chosen me, appearing in both dreams and real life. Healer Man, a down-to-earth guy who works as a plumber but studies mysticism as well, repeated what I've often heard about the snake as a messenger of change, transformation, and growth.
"I don't like change," I told him. "Change has always scared me." I can remember being frightened to go to kindergarten, just absolutely terrified to leave the comfort of home and go off to that big brick building, a new stage in my life. I am not someone who seeks out change. I still live within a few miles of where I was born, I wear the same clothes just about every day, I have had the same job most of my adult life, and I'm married to my high school boyfriend.
He laughed. "Exactly." Apparently, an animal totem isn't supposed to reflect who you are, but challenge you to grow beyond yourself.
So that's one of the themes I am going to put on my list of New Year's promises to myself. I am going to embrace change. Because change is inevitable at my age: my daughter will graduate from college this year, which means she will move away from Snowstorm Region, a dramatic change for me as a parent.
I've got other New Year promises on my list too. I made a truce with a close friend to make detachment a theme, to step back from emotionally fraught situations and put things in perspective. And my third theme, I think, will be balance. That's something I've often discussed with Artist Friend. I like all the parts of myself, even the stubborn streak and the quick temper and the crazy passionate parts and the impulsive words, but I feel so much healthier when I can all keep all of that in balance.
Of course, all the themes and resolutions and promises I've heard from my friends add up pretty much to the same thing: 2008 as a year of healing. In a warm kitchen, surrounded by friends, I felt hopeful about the year, optimistic even about the November election. Snow swirled against the windows as we packed up food. My friends sent most of the leftover food home with me, since I've got hordes of hungry teenagers who will devour it. Quilt Artist and Signing Woman spooned food into plastic containers and bags while I found my coat. We hugged and made promises to ourselves, to each other, and to our friends and our families. And then drove back out into the snowstorm.