One Word – 2018

Each year, I mark time with one “word” which serves as a guidepost of sorts. I am not superstitious about the process, but I have been pleasantly surprised to observe patterns in words over the last few years.

As 2017 unfolded, my word: “Wide” manifested in a difficult decision to change career paths. I now find myself alternating between feeling crippled under the question of “what’s next” and dreaming of “what could be.”

This year, therefore, I have settled on the word: “Expect.”

I recognize the complexity of this word, and in exploring its meanings, I note the innate relational and emotional nuances. I also respect that some would rather focus on celebrating the “unexpected.” We have expectations of ourselves and expectations of others. Others, in turn, also have expectations of us.

Meeting expectations can be stressful and overbearing, especially when our priorities are shifted or when we feel pressures from without or within. Met expectations can lead to a proud sense of accomplishment, whereas failing to meet expectations often leads to disappointment and anger. But I am not talking about expectations. I am talking about the verb “To Expect,” which in a general sense bears to mind hope, waiting, reliance – and dare I say “faith.”

The Latin root: “Spectare,” means “to look for.” As we turn the corner from the Christmas season – a season heavily laden with expectation – and look toward the new year, expectations bubble to the surface.

The context of the word “expect” I have chosen to orient myself to is that of anticipation, or possibility.

While I will keep a loose grip on my own expectations, I will also try to keep my eyes focused in gratitude on the great many experiences and opportunities I have been given.

What is your One Word?

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An Elevator Story

An Elevator Story

Four years ago, I had to opportunity to attend a conference sponsored by the National Funeral Director’s Association (NFDA). The program, called “Meet the Mentors,” brought together 50 young funeral service professionals and 3 seasoned mentors in an interactive setting which fostered rich conversation.

I was one of the youngest attendees by a long shot, and was admittedly a tad bit anxious. My nerves were set at ease, however, when I arrived at the hotel and met a new friend almost immediately in an elevator. We both chuckled at the absurdity of the thing we call “a mortician conference,” and that all of our outfits involved something black.

The elevator theme resurfaced at the end of the conference with a final charge to our group: to develop a 1-minute “elevator story” as to why we were working in the field of funeral service.

My eyes were wide with the refreshed perspective downtime brings, and my gut response to the challenge was to dive head-first into the core of the topic. My thoughts ran deep; here is a note from my journal:

As witnesses to awful and beautiful things, sometimes within the same family or funeral service or body, we are linked to life-changing moments as part of our daily work. Where else, besides maybe at a birth, do complete strangers intersect at something so emotional, uncomfortable, and uncertain?”

The intensity of those notions is raw, and I often write on this blog from a similar vantage point. Looking back, I realize I connected with painful truths laced with beauty.

I returned to work after the event and my “elevator story” did not take on form until I was leaving a trade convention a few weeks later. I spotted a gentleman I recognized as I made my way to the escalator which led to the exit. With seconds to decide if I should turn around, I stepped onto the moving escalator and smiled to myself as I reached the bottom and turned right around to make the journey back to the top. The man I approached was/is the editor of a national funeral publication, and after an introductory handshake, I simply and shakily said,

“I am a writer….” 

When I heard those words out-loud, they sounded strange and big and intimidating. I also, recognized, however, the power of the fear I felt. Harnessing that power is not easy work. Sitting with thoughts and forming words on pages requires vulnerability and bravery and a vast amount of hope. That short and sweet “escalator story” led to wonderful opportunities for more writing and more experiences in the “funeral world.”

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Last month, I was part of another kind of “Meet the Mentors” event. This time my MBA cohort mingled with an impressive group of business leaders from the Charleston community. My “elevator story” was a little different this time around, and as I reflected on my five-year stint in the funeral world, I again zeroed in on the core of my work: writing. From thousands of obituaries to this monthly blog, I am drawn again and again to the written word as a form of expression and connection. Learning to write is a process, and I quote one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott when I say,

“this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?

Thank you, readers, for your continued support and your own bravery in coming here to read about challenging topics. You may see some changes on this blog in the coming months as I continue to process what I am learning. I hope you will be encouraged to share more of your own story, too.

Transitions

Transitions

One visitation is ending as another one is scheduled to begin. I usually do my best to avoid a scheduling conflict, but there are only so many hours in a day. The allotted times overlap by about 30 minutes, and I feel the need to stand in the hallway between the rooms until the swap takes place. 

 

The first family is wrapping up early, and I am not sure why I am still standing in this spot, but I stay put. My post affords me the perspective of monitoring all entrances to the building, and I adopt the pretense of “Directing Guests to the Restrooms” when all the while I am primarily here to safeguard the transition.

 

Photo slideshows need to switch, but I wait until the last second to pull the plug on the TV. Doors are subtly closed and flowers are quietly shifted, but there is a muffled stir of activity in the background as the last few relatives say their final goodbyes. I move slowly but surely to close the casket after they leave, and we quickly refresh the refreshments in the reception area. A sparkling pitcher of ice water finds its place on the table next to the coffee, and I reach to toss an empty tissue box into the garbage. Right on cue, the second family rounds the corner. My pulse races as I move toward them as slowly and deliberately as possible.

 

img_0897I recognize it is this deliberateness which sets me apart in this moment. I have chosen to stand here in the in-between, not only between the two rooms, but between the living and the dead. This choice is one which I often question; it does not seem quite sane. Family after family enters these doors and each time I learn a little more about death, and a lot more about life.

 

More guests arrive as the clock ticks forward. They make their way to greet the family, circle by the casket, then their conversations settle around the refreshment table. An occasional laugh breaks out amidst the hushed tones. My eye catches the water pitcher as the disappearance of the last few drops signals a refill.

 

We carry on to each next thing, cycling through ups and downs as transitions between milestones mark time for us. Our view changes as life unfolds, and we can only hope to walk the journey with friendship and laughter, even at the very end.