The new year approached through a haze of fairy lights, family noise, and Nyquil. It fought through mounds of wrapping paper. It curled past feverish bodies and thick knit blankets. It rose with the flames licking the brick in the fireplace. Everywhere I looked in my sniffling, sick state, the new year met me.
When I tried to grasp it, hold it up to the light, and turn it over in my hands, it disappeared. A moment of clarity and vision for the year would arrive, and then dissipate like smoke as soon as I lay claim to it. I looked for a word to attach to the year, and the only one that came to mind was Ephemeral—momentary, like a whisper streaming into the wind.
I prefer words with impact and permanence. I prefer years like this too. Years like 2017, filled with life-changing events: celebrations, new endeavors, and major shifts in my beliefs, my politics, and self-imposed limitations. I prefer change. New year, new everything. I want a year that makes me feel something, because to feel is to know that I am alive.
As the holiday season slid into January, I recovered on the sofa which gave me plenty of time for reflection, albeit somewhat fuzzy-headed. I thought of all the hard work leading up to the holidays. The time spent making lists, decorating, shopping, cooking, wrapping. And again, the word ephemeral rose to the surface.
All of my hard work had disappeared in a blink—the gifts were already tucked away in drawers, the food eaten, the kids making plans for bowling and skiing and brunch at the diner. I began to feel angry. How could they move on so quickly? Where was the steady stream of appreciation for my efforts? Why was no one serving me as I lay on the sofa surrounded by empty teacups and used tissues? And why, every time I finished cleaning the kitchen, would my people once again claim to be hungry?
So much of what we do as women has a feeling of impermanence. We spend hours in the kitchen only to find ourselves with an empty table full of dirty dishes twenty minutes later. Stacks of recently clean laundry are found soiled and crumpled in corners. We write reports, fill out forms, teach classes, administer medicine, balance accounts, soothe children, scribble words, and lead the morning meeting.
Over the course of time, these daily tasks can feel unimportant in their regularity. They become routine, carrying a whiff of the ephemeral. The roast is prepared and cooked for hours, dirtying every dish in the kitchen. With the scrape of a knife and fork, it’s gone in an instant. We wonder if the small, daily tasks of showing up and doing our work is worth it when the results seem impossible to measure.
I have not laid claim to the word ephemeral for the coming year, but I have plucked it out of the air as a reminder. It will flutter about my thoughts as I begin to dream the new year into being. I have resolved to no longer object to the string of days, weeks, and months filled with small things.
I’ve decided to love the work of my hands, even when the rewards don’t appear to match my level of effort. I will make the meals and fold the laundry and sit in the school pick-up line and buy the groceries. I will place one word after another. I will grade the papers. I will teach the class. I will even drive the gym shorts over to the child who forgot them.
While these tasks don’t generate feelings of excitement or elation, they keep me grounded in my real, everyday life. These are the tasks that nourish the faces gathered around my table. They are the rhythms of a life full of honorable work, people to love, and the intimate pleasures of caring for a home and one another.