Happy Hard Year

“He told of how the trees had grown in all sorts of conditions, endured lightning strikes and windstorms and infestations. [The boat builder] said the wood taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, but it also taught us about the reason for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about things larger and greater than ourselves.” Daniel J. Brown, The Boys in the Boat

Anticipation trails the greeting: “Happy new year!” The newness in the turn of the calendar somehow holds out hope of a fresh happiness, a better year. But I remain grateful to be able to maintain the status quo of a mom on duty, keeping up with the home lessons and activities, turning out the chow, running the house. Put my face on this year? Maybe! The lipstick box awaits, now organized. Host company?? I pulled off Christmas. WRITE? Perhaps I ask too much. Because I have learned to be satisfied with little, even through the homesickness for my blog. I’ve shown up here drenched, not in the exhilarated sweat of the marathon victor, but in the swells of a twelve-month winter that have finally cast me out on shore. On the heels of a year I would not repeat for any amount of money, with eagerness do I accept the well-wishings of a happy 2017. Except that though we don’t like to think about unexpected hardships, they come. In fact, they don’t take holidays, and have left me with friends and family whose Christmas season remains an anniversary of dear losses. So maybe the relief of a tabula rasa is a luxury not within our rights. Maybe we can at best just hope to survive.

That is what I got out of the book The Martian, Watney’s desperate fight to stay alive an amplified contemplation of the symphonic battle between the harbingers of death and impulse of life we call the human condition. The farmer’s labor is a prayer, dependent on forces he attempts to harness but cannot control. And there is the financier, the urban version of this struggle, in his relationship with market conditions. Life is conflict – in the community, family, ourselves.

“A protagonist is pretty much defined by the strength of the opposition he or she faces,” journalist Jack Hart quotes a writer in Storycraft. Isn’t that life? Even trees testify to the seasons they have weathered, confess their ordeal and age in their rings and core. “He talked about the underlying strength of the individual fibers in the wood. He said those separate fibers, knitted together in the wood, gave cedar its ability to bounce back and resume its shape or take on a new one. The ability to yield, to bend, to give way, Pocock said, was sometimes a source of strength in men as well as in wood.” DJB, The Boys in the Boat. There is a strength adversity builds that is of a different order than the brawn of success. It comes from just holding on and being able to look another day of it in the face. You are not capable, pretty, or smart. You just try to keep standing. Day after day.

“I continued to go [to the nursing home], and I struggled to find meaning in their bleak existence. What finally helped was an image from a medieval monk, Brother Lawrence, who saw all of us as trees in winter, with little to give, stripped of leaves and color and growth, whom God loves unconditionally anyway.” Anne Lamott, Bird by BirdΒ 

Part of my problem with suffering is that I’m surprised by it. Why can’t it all go my way?? Well, if it won’t always be California sunshine, can I at least have my greenhouse? You have been reminded. Expect a hard year, and happiness will follow somewhere in that.

“Amazingly, some of the bacteria survived. The population is strong and growing. That’s pretty impressive, when you consider it was exposed to near-vacuum and subarctic temperatures for over twenty-four hours. With hundreds of millions of bacteria, it only takes one survivor to stave off extinction. Life is amazingly tenacious. They don’t want to die any more than I do.” The Martian

204 thoughts on “Happy Hard Year

  1. Wise musings to help us face the new year and inevitable challenges in our lives. Thank you Diana. And I’ll still wish for a better year, with more love, peace, and joy and a little less challenge. πŸ™‚

  2. Some years are like that, Diana. While life can be bleak, you have hinted at just enough hope to keep me going. I know the bad years make the good ones all the more joyous. I hope your 2017 is full of joy. And, I loved that Anne Lamott book!

  3. β€œNobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.” Cheryl Strayed from “Dear Sugar”.

    • Beautiful, yes, the stories inside. The fuller description by the boatbuilder was fascinating. I loved how he ended one of these pep sessions with the college boy in this biography. In quoting poet Joyce Kilmer, he said, “Sure, I can make a boat. But only God can make a tree.” He also builds lives.

      • The Boys in the Boat is an amazing book. Your facing and weathering your year of special struggle is like the Boys journey. I’ll carry this into 2017 which I am dreading already. Thanks.

      • Oh dear, LOL, please don’t be DREADING 2017 now. So pleased you’re acquainted with the Boys and their boat. I had to get the 400-page original after reading the adapted one with T. Turns out, I actually preferred the concise version, an extraction of the heart of it. Keep chronicling your joy.


  4. LOL! I’ve been fascinated by how truly awful 2016 really was. It’s not just me, nearly everyone I know has been saying, “may 2017 be better.” Every Christmas card, every letter makes some mention of the horrors of 2016. So many of us are like a rag tag group of survivors of some disaster that hit in 2013. What it was precisely, I can’t say, but it’s been a long slog, so 2017 comes with some wonder and still a bit traumatized, we’re all struggling to believe that it will indeed, be a good year. πŸ™‚

  5. Indeed, we all just try to keep standing. I honestly can’t find a better way to phrase it. Let’s pray somehow for a better 2017, if thats’s remotely possible. If nothing else, chow gets churned at least. πŸ˜‰ Nice post. – Marty

  6. A toast to a better 2017! And I love the quotes you’ve chosen; makes me want to rush to the library to read those books (you know, in my non-existent free time…)
    Mazel tov!

  7. Wonderful quotes! Much to think about! Yep, I’m looking forward to 2017, there are known blessing waiting along with the unknown challenges! Take one day at time & keep going. Here’s to the new year full of its wonder! πŸŽ† Christine

  8. I hope you get a chance to use those lippies in the lipstick box, D. Wishing you very well for 2017. I think 2016 has been challenging for most of us. Hardship certainly is unpredictable, and we may not be able to control how we feel but we can control how we react – and live in the moment.

  9. That was a great movie. He had every reason to give up hope, and he did not. I love your musings, and while this has not been a difficult year, each year brings some challenges. I hope I face next year’s challenges reminded of this post, with tenacity, not whining. πŸ™‚

  10. While we can always hope for everything good facing a new year ahead we need to be realistic all our hopes and aspirations may not turn out as we wished. So along with our dreams we need to temper with realism and a determination that come what may we will arrive at the end of the year smiling and grateful for what we have.

  11. Aah Diana, those wonderful books and the very wise quotes. All profound and full of meaningful application to those of us that continue to fight each to stay alive and above water. I’m wishing you a greenhouse and one for this old gal writing here. 2016 has been one hellava, I mean heck of a year, for me and somehow I made it through to live to see 80 years last week. And you will too dear one if we manage to all live through the presidency that is about to take place. I shudder at the thought. I would like to get political here but that is straying from your topic. But maybe only a wee bit. Take care dear one and keep up the wonderful writing when you have the time. It’ll all get better after your son is in college, I think. πŸ™‚ May your New Year be blessed. Hugs to you, Yvonne x

    • Wow, happy birthday, Yvonne. And look at you, going strong (though I know that’s not quite what you feel). I don’t envy you the year you’ve had, my friend. But here we are to light one another’s way and be a blessing. Our love to you and Danny.


  12. Thanks for this post. We are shaped and defined by the struggle much more so than the times of comfort and ease. I’ve heard it said that we must never judge a person by where they are in life but rather by how far they had to travel to get there. Keep the faith.

  13. I hope that, even though 2016 has been a hard year for you, you still can summon some good memories of that year before your inner eye. So that, when looking back, there are a few rays of sunshine in the dark. And then you can maybe say, ok, these spots of light, next year, they will grow larger. They will light up the whole thing. And it will be beautiful. – I think hoping and wishing for a better future is what makes us human (as is telling stories – to quote Terry Pratchett, “man is the story-telling ape”).

  14. 2016 certainly has been storm-tossed: the quote about the trees rebounds with me. I have done little blogging and have achieved little of what I aspired to, but I am learning that being requires far more fortitude than doing. Thank you for such an encouraging, insightful post. Love to you and yours as the year changes. Perhaps the storms will change direction for a while?

    • The boatbuilder I quoted was an Englishman, incidentally (or not) =). I highly recommend the read. My top pick of the year, insanely inspirational. The winds have indeed shifted, which is why I was able to lead Cmas caroling at a nursing home for our homeschool group, play keyboard at church on Cmas Sunday, host company, and blog – all in a wk! I will continue to lift up prayers on your behalf, Julia. The trees belie not only their afflictions but also their triumphs when cut to reveal their heart.

  15. Well, Queen Elizabeth referred to 1992 as an annus horribilis, but I think 2016 has that one beat by a mile, at least for us non-royals! There is, though, something about the start of a new year (whether it be calendar or religious or whatever) that does indeed present us with a tabula rasa which many of us view with hope for the future, esp in light of the (recent) past, so I join you and many of your followers in viewing 2017 with an optimistic outlook. 🍾

    I also commend the selection of books you have quoted here, esp Boys in the Boat which is clearly appropriate for this content. I also get quite a lot of inspiration, not to mention education, from books, esp non-fiction historically set books. Generally after I have finished reading of some otherwise incredible but real feats, I think, “You just can’t make this stuff up!” which makes them even more inspiring in my mind.

  16. I really like the tree analogy, D. Few things reflect the ups and downs of life more clearly than tree rings. There are fat and happy rings reflecting good years where the environment was perfect for growth, and skinny, hardly perceptible, rings where bare survival was the issue. If there is hope here, fat and happy rings often reappear after the skinny rings. And another thought: California’s Redwoods reflect having ideal conditions for growth. These massive giants reach to the sky. Bristle Cone pines of the eastern Sierra reflect a different environment: harsh, cold winters and drought filled summers. The trees are twisted and knobby. But both trees contain their own beautyβ€” and both can live for thousands of years. My wish for you is a happy and productive new year that takes you back to writing and sharing your considerable talent. –Curt

    • Curt, you leave me a gem of a gift this holiday week. I love every word, and appreciate the nod to California’s beauties (although I better relate to the poor Cones!). I always said I have nine lives but let’s make that a 1000. I shall live long enough to catch up with you who seem to go stronger, running RiNGs around them trees state to state.

      My love to you and Peggy,

  17. Diana I agree. Each end of year I give thanks for still being here (hell I give thanks for each day I survive this human condition). I give thanks that friends and family are still with me. For I know loss (none of us are immune) and I know it comes just when I feel my life is balanced and comfortable (rare). And so I have learned to take one day at a time, let go of the steering wheel and trust in this mad journey. But I still look at a new year with hope and optimism that there will be opportunities, wonderful experiences, learning and love will follow. Happy New Year enjoy, every moment that you can.

  18. Very nice words, Diana. I especially love the comparison between a tree and a person’s life. The pic with the log rings is beautiful.
    Yes, throughout our lives we have good and bad times and this is what human survival is about. The sun shines but we also encounter clouds and storms on our way.

  19. It’s always a relief to pull off Christmas, isn’t it? I think entering this next year like bacteria who will somehow survive is the steadiest course of action! Best not to think too much.

  20. How happy I was to find the “Boys in the Boat” quotation. I just picked it up an hour ago for our book club next month. You have whet my appetite. Yes, there are such years. And sometimes we can squeeze some meaning out of them, and sometimes we can but endure them, holding forth hope for January 1. Blessings to you as the clock turns.

    • I am SO glad to know you’ve got the bk, A. To my surprise, I preferred the version adapted for a younger audience, which I am still reading with T. It retains much of the original language and gets right to the heart of it. I will eagerly await your response to the bk. I couldn’t put it both versions down, and the original even after having read the adapted. Your club members will love it.

  21. I love your words of wisdom Diana. It appears that many of us have had a year of struggle and/or loss. In fact, I know too many who are only too glad to kick 2016 out on its arse. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Well I’m about ready to lift a park bench, lol. I’m guessing you an equal match.
    Cheers to you my friend to the New Year. Wishing you peace, health, love and joy. ❀

  22. Diana, lovely review and thoughtful comments about the close of 2016. A lot went wrong in 2016, but a lot of good things happened to me, too. I anticipate 2017 with the eagerness of a child. Traveling and a new home awaits me, and I pray no catastrophes happen. Happy New Year!

  23. If I tell myself it will be a better year, it will be, right?

    By the by, loved your Martian quotes. I think this is because I read it and I feel smarty because you quoted it. Oh, and yeah, when you said, “I pulled off Christmas.”


    • Very nice, a smarty who READ it. I didn’t get to the theater, though I’m sure I would’ve enjoyed it, by husband’s account. I was moved by those lines I closed with, his observation that even the tiniest suggestion of life on Mars was so tenacious. Lent me hope in the impulse of Life in our soul and body, that there is something in us that will pull through. I hope you do enjoy a new schedule soon and the sun will shine more on you, L.


      • Yeah, he’s right. It was enjoyable. Matt Damon did the character justice under the Hollywood circumstances. It’s funny how much they cut out though.

        Thanks for the well wishes. Here’s to new beginnings in 2017! xxoo

  24. Great post! Wishing you a “better” year… hope that’s some good! BTW, your comment on my last typos post bore fruit! Indeed, I have bogged about it! Thought you might be amused to know.

  25. “Life is conflict”

    I had this very conclusion on 25th Dec while driving across Kenya to see my brother-in-law who had invited me to celebrate with them. My mind wanders when I’m alone, wanders too far. And that day, as I slowed down to let two fighting baboons cross the road, I thought, ‘What do animals think when they fight? Do they hate? Are they envious? Greedy? Why do they fight?Can they justify it?’
    So I concluded that the one major constant among living organisms is conflict. ‘Perhaps life is conflict,’ I said to myself. There is conflict in everything, everywhere.

    That we had the same thought almost at the same time . . . It must be the truth. Thank you Diana. Happy new year!

  26. Don’t know if this will post, but happy -17 D!

    Me likes trees too, for many of the reasons you highlight. They are so resolute in their convictions!

    ‘Day after day’ as it were. πŸ˜‰

  27. Yay! I have released from the land of Spamelot and the isle of misfit toys.

    Maybe your letter to the Dept. of Homeland Security was the final ticket to my departure from the basement where WP is keeper of the locks! lol

    Blessings your way, and suffer well!

  28. Diana, I recognise that shock and weariness when life keeps hitting with one thing after another – and I recognise that coping strategy of getting through one day at a time. But what the past 15 years or so have taught me is that I do have the strength to cope with these things and that it’s pointless hoping for perfection because life always gets in the way – and yet, it isn’t ‘getting in the way’, life is what it is and I’ve gained much more perspective and acceptance of it through the struggles. Nevertheless, I wish you a year filled with the time and energy to achieve what you want to achieve.

  29. Once again you gracefully dance the high-wire of realism without splattering on the ground of cynicism. Thank you for sharing your brilliant writing and your deep insights. God be with you–with us all–in 2017, however “rings” the new year.

  30. I’m sorry Diana that 2016 has been so tough. It has for me too and my sincere wish is that 2017 brings us both much peace and comfort no matter our circumstances. Oh yeah, a little more JOY would be nice too. πŸ˜‰

    I appreciated your reference to The Martian. I loved the movie but have heard the book blows it away.

    Happy New Year to you! And me, and everyone else.

  31. The glorious writer in you still burns with a profound and luminous light, D. I do not know you other than through the gifts you’ve dare to share here on your blogspace. But having said that, I’m certain the Universe in all Her wisdom granted you this particular light for a reason. Best wishes to you and yours in the coming New Year. (K)

  32. Hello Diana,

    Three tough years in a row and I really really wish the culmination happened in 2016 …

    It was a turbulent year with lot of stress and personal losses, but by the fag end of it, things started getting better …

    I hope 2017 is the one I have been waiting to turn things around πŸ™‚

    I really would like to thank you for your support during my blogging journey, also wish you and family a very happy, peaceful and successful new year πŸ™‚

    • Thx for sharing, SN. Drought and famine never do keep to a restricted timeline. Sometimes they go on and on. I think that’s all the more reason we seek beauty – what you do with your camera.

      Enjoy the New Day over there.

  33. A fine selections of books you have here ~ The Boys in the Boat, “Something about infinite beauty, about things larger and greater than ourselves…” is the feeling I wish to take into the New Year. Thank you for this post, and I do like the idea of expecting hardship and difficulties as it puts the mind in the right state to overachieve for the year πŸ™‚ Maybe that is why I am such an optimist. Cheers to a relaxed and special year for you and your family, and look forward to your words and the gift of your writing in the year ahead.

    • There you are, R. I was waiting for you to post, chkg in time to time. Ready to overachieve…LOL…Tiger Mom likes that. Oh, The Boys in the Boat was my top pick of the year. I would love you to chk it out. You will thank me. =) Heh heh.

      • πŸ™‚ As a kid who grew up in the NW and did a little rowing in my 20s on the Willamette River, The Boys in the Boat will be a book I will read again, and again. It has been great to get back to reading (both books and blogs) after a brief absence…although the next couple months chaos will likely return πŸ™‚ Will 2017 be a year to over-achieve…? I will follow your lead πŸ˜‰

      • LOL. Between the inspiration from the bk and your thoughts on overachieving (not even on my radar this long, long season), Ive run to the back of the line to watch you go. =)

  34. This post definitely resonates with me. I can almost apply everything you said to what was happening to me. Well, my personal health struggle started at the end of 2013, so it’s been 3 bad years in a row with 2016 the worst of all. I have a reason to believe 2017 might be better, I’m just afraid now to hope and to expect too much. I’ve been writing about this a lot on my secondary blog https://inesepogalifeschool.com/
    Regardless of what has happened, I wish you a much better 2017!

  35. Pingback: Happy Hard Year: Surviving 2017 β€” A Holistic Journey – DMTECH

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