Last year, I wrote a blog post about picking a word of the year for 2016. I had never done this before but when a teacher at my yoga class mentioned it I thought it could be a cool option to try myself. The word I picked was “choose” as in, for every situation I can choose how to feel, act or react.  By January, when my daughter turned 18, it was obvious to me that it was a word that could provide a good amount of contemplation for this year. I didn’t quite expect how often I would return to the word in a variety of scenarios throughout the year. It’s been a simple but powerful word to witness in dozens of opportunities both personal and for our community in 2016.

Over the course of a year, obviously we literally have thousands of opportunities to make choices, many of them are small, others large, some we control and others we do not. In reflecting about this year, I’d love to share a few moments when I literally remembered my word of the year and was grateful for the reminder that I can’t control a situation but I can control how I react to it.

Life is about Experiences: Always “choose” an experience over a possession

In November 2015, about one week before the Paris attacks occurred, we had just finalized and paid for a spring break trip to Paris in 2016 with our children. Obviously, we wanted to go on the vacation but of course we had some fear. Would we be safe? Should we cancel our trip? Would there be better options we could consider?  Since the trip was several months away we decided to continue with our plans.. We communicated regularly with the apartment manager at the VRBO apartment we’d rented and learned how things were unfolding in France each month. In March, when we left for France it did seem as if some of the unrest had settled down a bit. The trip felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity. My husband and I delighted in sharing Paris with our kids – their first visit and our third, including our honeymoon. During our week long vacation, there was a bombing at the airport in Brussels, Belgium. It was alarming and disheartening. We learned about the bombing from our tour guide at the Eiffel Tower that afternoon since we hadn’t read or heard any thing about it that morning. That evening when we viewed the Eiffel tower it was bathed in the colors of Belgium in solidarity with the attacks. The kids were taking pictures and both have said that the Eiffel Tower and spending that day together was probably the best day of their life. That trip was about many little experiences. So many Americans had cancelled their trips after the attacks that multiple Parisians, in the restaurants and pharmacies, actually thanked us for coming. Choosing to go on that trip and experiencing everything that happened was a reminder of how much of our life is really about shared experiences with our family and friends. I believe an experience shared with others is more valuable than any possession or material item.

“Letting Go” is the only choice you have, as hard as that might be

In September, several days before my daughter was leaving for her first year of college I got sick, the kind of sick where all you want to do is crawl into bed and hope someone else will take care of you and the rest of your family. Gone were all the ideas I’d had of helping my daughter pack up and do gather any last minute things she needed for college (she handled that herself). I was worried that I might not even be well enough to join in driving her to college and I worried she would get sick (which she did) in her first week(s) at school. The lesson learned from this experience was two fold. First of all, being sick was actually an amazing gift. I felt so terrible that I had little time to actually get emotional about my daughter leaving (had plenty of time after we dropped her at school to do that). Perhaps I didn’t quite “choose” this but I did find a way to view it as something good rather than bad. It’s ironic that something on the outside that seems negative sometimes can actually turn out to be unexpectedly positive. Second, this experience just continued my realization that as my kids are growing up I MUST let go. Let go of expectations or preconceived notions of so many experiences and must  accept that as parents we are here to guide and help raise our children but now I also need to trust them as they embark on adulthood. It’s one of the hardest realizations I had this year and yet I know it’s the only choice.

We are either part of the solution or part of the pollution (paraphrased from Michael Bernard Beckwith)

Of course, probably the most notable collective experience of choice this year was after the presidential election of Donald Trump. I know collectively many people felt a sense of deep grief and a kind of mourning around this outcome. It was a wake up call to say the least that all as we had known was not status quo. In the aftermath of the results, I saw people jump into action both in words and deeds and I saw other people adding to the negativity, anger and disgust  – I watched a video recording of Michael Bernard Beckwith founder of the Agape International Spiritual Center sent by a friend. He’d recorded the talk at his spiritual center the day after the election and about 50 minutes into the recording he basically told us if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the pollution. We can surely choose to be angry, upset and do nothing or we can feel that same way AND choose to take an action that could make a positive difference both in our family, our community and/or the world at large.

What word to choose for 2017?

I have thoroughly enjoyed having a word of the year and am thinking I would like to make this a practice again this year. I mentioned this to a few colleagues yesterday and I think we are all eager to utilize this idea as a way to settle on one word with more focus and clarity. What about you? Do you think you’d benefit from having a word of the year to come back to as a practice for contemplation. If you decide you are going to give it a whirl let me know what word you pick.  Not 100% sure yet what my word of the year for 2017 should be though I have a few ideas in the hopper. I guess I’ll have to meditate on it. Any suggestions gladly welcome. Enjoy the final days of 2016!