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The Joy of Keeping a Promise to Myself

Following Through on a New Year's Resolution has Rendered Me Audacious!

Source: sasint/Pixabay

I was on Metro-North when the idea occurred to me. As the local train slowly chugged toward Grand Central Station and my meeting, I began writing down participles, adjectives — words that described countless ways of showing love. I had been contemplating all the places words cannot go, all the ways in which language can lead astray as well as illuminate, how much words are dependent on a shared meaning. I had been thinking of all the couples who had sat in my consulting office, misunderstanding each other because they had been listening to words rather than behavior. I had been musing about ways in which I aspired to be a better wife, mother, grandmother, friend.

I looked at my list, well over sixty items long. Impulsively, I made what was perhaps the first New Year’s resolution I have ever kept: In the year to come, I would publish a post each Sunday exploring a way to show love rather than proclaim it. The topic was demonstration; the pieces would range broadly.

Knowing that I would tackle the essays one at a time and that the list already promised I would never run out of ideas, I got to work on two introductory pieces about “52 Ways to Show I Love You”. The first was published December 18, 2016 and the second on Christmas Day, December 25th.

And so began the year 2017. Of course, the first of January brought “Celebrating”.

I made a promise to myself and to my potential readers: I would mix ideas from academic psychology with clinical experiences and personal anecdotes, to hopefully bring my own love to others, expressing it effectively, creatively, and above all suitably to each unique individual who might read a column. That goal fit me perfectly: Years before my life had shown me that it was supposed to be about learning love, living it, and teaching it. The blog theme offered a new way to do just that. Perhaps I could touch people I did not know, as my just-published memoir had done.

The extra piece in the equation was you, my dear anonymous reader. I had no idea who would read my posts, “like” them, perhaps share them, offer feedback in the form of a comment, or take an idea here and there into their own homes and hearts. It was an experiment in a new use of my training, experience, skills, and lifetime of volunteer work. I knew I liked experimenting. Nonetheless, I wasn’t so convinced of my ability to follow through, in spite of earlier accomplishments that bore witness to a certain dogged determination to keep going.

Along the road, I encountered three major surprises. First, my preferred way of working — organically — still took precedence over carefully planned steps towards a goal. Perhaps a dozen posts in, I abandoned my original list when other topics nudged my unconscious, tapping on the language centers in my brain until they were explicitly addressed. Yet again, my right brain had more inspired judgment than my organized left brain.

The second surprise was the impact writing the posts would have on my own marriage. From the beginning, I had hoped that David would edit my pieces. Not only does he have an excellent eye for detail — I thank him for every corrected typo or deleted extra word — but, trained as a lawyer, he reads what I write with an intelligent but open and often innocent eye. He can (and does) tell me when I make no sense, am too obscure or abstract, and when my reader might have no idea at all what I am trying to say. Not only was David happy to edit but, as a bonus, he took on the challenging task of finding pictures for the pieces I wrote. Each week I marveled at how beautifully he could find images to illustrate the basic theme of each post. Best of all and most unexpectedly, he took what I wrote to heart and, as a result, we have both become more sensitive to showing (as well as telling) each other how we experience our love every day. Our bonds are stronger, more open, and embrace more forgiveness, especially for ways in which we are essentially different from each other. Yet again, I had thought I could not love him (or anyone) any more than I already did — and then, there it was, capacity expanding again.

Source: johnhain/Pixabay

The third surprise has been my own reaction to having expressed and kept a promise I had made to myself. It was not the first time. Among the major accomplishments of my adult life I include stopping smoking (1976), writing a well-received dissertation (1980), giving two spectacular children enough space to become their unique selves and to parent pretty terrific grandkids. And, yes, I had actually let go of security to follow my heart, closing my clinical practice and moving to Paris at age 54, after a two-year transatlantic courtship. But this commitment was different; it was a true New Year’s Resolution with awareness that all sorts of interference might prevent me from fulfilling my promise. In spite of challenges: I was no longer young (or even middle-aged); there were self-imposed weekly deadlines; the feedback was remote at best; I scrambled to put future posts on the dashboard when we took advantage of retirement and traveled or when I found myself scheduled for unexpected surgery. Now, having posted the 52nd piece in the series I had committed to, I feel the joy of having completed a marathon. And the shaping of a new identity that can expand my most cherished possible self into a larger reality.

Throughout, I was determined that the efforts not take precedence over my own expressions of love to those closest to me. My family understood when a lunch at the diner replaced homemade dinners and evenings we might have spent watching a movie were traded for my working at the computer while David read or edited one of my drafts. He and I missed some middle-school basketball games, but we celebrated every adult child or grandchild’s birthday, kept up with volunteer commitments, managed to keep our home in reasonably good shape, even when breakdowns in appliances and challenging weather events required extra attention. We made it to college soccer games, a high school graduation, the annual dance recital, school performances.

I am filled with joy as I look back on the year’s journey of wrestling with these posts. I have often repeated a prayer my Rabbi once shared with me, “Please, let me not waste their time.” Hopefully, I have brought you, my reader, something of value when a particular theme may have struck just the right chord for you or your relationship at just the right moment in time. I would love to hear your thoughts as you travel your own road to becoming your own possible selves. Most of all, I wish you a year filled with health and courage and joy and the very best kinds of discoveries.

As for me, I am encouraged by having followed through. As I contemplate 2018, I am deciding which commitment best deserves my energy and focus in the year ahead: Will it be the personal goal of regular aerobic exercise? Or teaching myself to switch gears more seamlessly? Or to explore ways to expand my reach to others I do not know? Hopefully, a year from now, I will be able to again declare the same kind of joy in having completed an initiative that is definitely worth my while — and, I hope, yours as well.

Copyright 2017 Roni Beth Tower

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Markus, H. & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible Selves. American Psychologist, 42, 954-969.