It’s the season for year-end Top Ten lists, so here is mine: an arbitrary accounting of what I’m most grateful for, in reverse order of importance. So long as one ignores most of what happened in politics, healthcare, professional sports, weather and popular culture, it was a pretty good year.
10. Teaching. Being in the classroom, engaging the minds of college students and teaching them basic reporting skills keeps me intellectually challenged. I understand and appreciate my own college-age kids better for my interaction with New Media students at OSU. Putting a word after a word after a word is power—especially if you have a grasp of grammar and syntax.
9. Gardening. Tending my garden is more than a metaphor of life. I love having a living canvas in my back yard upon which I can create color, texture, dimension and movement. Life on earth started in a garden. It’s where I find renewal and am taught humility. Plants thrive and sometimes die for reasons that seem unfathomable.
8. Reconnecting. I was a part of an assortment of gatherings of old friends this year. The largest was a 30-year reunion of a young singles group at the church in Berkeley where Ellen and I met and were married. On the same trip I had dinner with people I worked with in San Francisco in the 80s and 90s. I reconnected this year with the Episcopal priest, now in his 70s, who was a spiritual mentor in my youth. My sibs and I also went to an all-class high school reunion last summer. I gladly skipped the sock hop.
7. Running. The beauty of running lies in its simplicity. It’s the rawest form of athleticism; no piece of equipment controls your fate. I made some epic trail runs this year, including the McKenzie River trail with Ben and Julio, the Waldo Lake loop with Scott, and the Santiam Wagon Road with Ben. Then my leg went wonky, and I limped through the Portland Marathon in October. It was still a joy to have the chance to run my motor again at full throttle.
6. Travel. I’ve written below about the sojourn to Death Valley I took with Keith. I also did some cool travel alone down the southern Oregon coast, and one-day photo shoots. My photography gives me a chance to wordlessly interpret my world. A family vacation to Waldo Lake returned us to a place we all love. There were also trips to Wheeler County and of course to the coast, where I caught more crab this fall than we could eat.
5. Grieving. The loss of friends is hard but in the context of God’s plan for his world, something from which we learn and grow. In the past year I’ve said good-by to Mike, Tom and Bob, and attended more memorial services than I care to count. Several people I know are contending with cancer. It’s my privilege to come along side them in their need, and to pray with and for them.
4. Healthy living. I’ve received happily from the hand of God a full year of strength and vigor. The anxiety prompted by the occasional CT scan punctuates my bliss, but is almost manageable. I’ve learned that good health is more than just the absence of illness, and that it extends far deeper than just what’s happening in the flesh. We’re never really fit of body without first being fit of soul and spirit.
3. Writing. It would not be inaccurate to say that I write to bring order out of chaos, and to share with myself a knowledge that is useful even when it hurts. Writing brings meaning to my life in ways that talk and reading do not. I write on this blog, in particular, to force myself to think deeply, which helps me to keep my equilibrium. To repeat the catchphrase of The Ogler, how do I know what I think until I see what I say?
2. Relationships. Daily life with Ellen is the best adventure a man could hope for. Through storms and tranquility, it is always good because of the regard in which we hold each other. My children, Nick and Allie, bring me new ideas and over the course of the year, I have on occasion returned the favor. The labor of love I do for Acorn, for Options, for Calvin; the time I spend with friends and family old and young; the community of which I am a part—for all these human connections I am blessed.
1. Interior life. In Catholic theology, the interior life is nothing less than seeking God in everything. I’m not remotely close to that ideal, nor am I Catholic, but I am learning to live moment to moment from the perspective of eternity. God is not remote. My conversations with him sustain me. I sense his presence, and I seek his guidance in all things. I know that I live within the kingdom of God, both now and forever. His truth and grace are, ultimately, all I need. Everything else I have enumerated above mean nothing without them. It is this life of the heart for which I am most grateful this Christmas eve.