My hands smell like basil.
In fact, they are so basil-y that they wreak of anise root ground with black peppercorns that have been drizzled in licorice. If you are under the impression that basil is a gentle herb to sprinkle over your fetuccini or that it adds an aromatic sweetness to manhattan clam chowder, you only know half of the story. Large amounts of the fresh stuff could wake an 8th grade lab student from a dissection-induced unconsciousness. It's that powerful. And so for the remainder of today, my hands will smell like I've spent the morning digging around in a drum of bear bait.
You see, I've been nursing three robust basil plants along since the spring. Someone should have told me how resilient they are, because I didn't plan on them getting so big - no, wait - so unruly. And because I simply cannot use a full cup of fresh basil leaves each day, it's come time for me to prune off the leaves, dry them out for future use in cioppinos (do yourself a favor and always double the white wine) and trash two of the plants. It breaks my heart to cut down anything so full of life, especially when the snow drifts outside are starting to make our pond look like the Sahara, and we're beginning to see negative numbers on the outdoor thermometer. I'm pretty sure that the basils loathe my decision, for good reason: "At least wait until after February. By then, something bright and green could keep you from digging a hole in the ice and throwing yourself in. You won't survive without us. You'll see."
But alas, I am as heartless as a Jersey mobster, and today the plants must die.
There comes a time for things to pass on. We say goodbye to one so that we can welcome another. In fact, you can read about Bob Goff, a [very important and fairly unconventional] guy who, every Thursday of every week of every month, quits something. Folks, that's a lot of quits. But because of those slots that he has made empty, Bob has room to invite new things and people into his life, and is enabled to fill holes in the lives of others. He is transforming. He is letting some structured things go so that he has room to wiggle in unstructuredness.
I'm not necessarily advising you to stop going to the gym, to quit calling your mother, or to kiss brushing your teeth goodbye (seriously, please keep doing this), but am challenging myself to think hard about life and what it means to live well, which is, I suppose, a question for the ages.
Logic tells us that because we say yes to some things, we cannot say yes to everything. So why don't we stop trying to say yes to it all, because if we keep that up, not only will we be tuckering ourselves out attempting the impossible, but we will have no room for anything new. New things that are good things. Wiggle things. Un-committed things. Spontaneous things like conversations with strangers, an afternoon writing letters, wrestling with your kids, or simply a walk through
It's New Year's Day. I'm not going to beat the old dead horse/drum/dirty rug, but today is a good opportunity to reflect on where we've each been and where we'd like to go. And regardless of where you and I have been, I believe that there is something in the road ahead that is waiting for us to run it over. With gusto.
Right now, you might be in the midst of something terrible. It could be an illness in your life or the life of someone you love. It could be a broken relationship - gosh, it could be an entire army of broken relationships, for that matter. Or a looming transition. Or a lingering offense. Or a mountain you're afraid to climb. It could be a gaping sense of loneliness or doubt. It could crap the bed. In fact, it probably does.
Friend, there are good things ahead.
You might have had a year unlike any other, more exciting and adventurous than you could have ever imagined. Full of laughter and hope and joy. Defined by accomplishment and victories and a lot of crispy bacon. You may have been surrounded by friends and family. You may look back and feel a sense of gratitude and warmth and awe at a year of incredible fullness.
Still, there are good things ahead.
Notice that I didn't employ the word easy or nice or perfect to describe what lies before us. Good things are not always easy things. They are not always nice things. And - can I get an Amen - they are not always perfect things. In fact, they are seldom so. Good things are sometimes found in the midst of trials, at the end of a depression, or at the base of a steep and difficult ascent. You often have to actively search for them - you know, turn over rocks and dig in the sand and scramble into trees. After all, there are hard things ahead as well.
We may have to get a little dirty to discover that we can always see the sunset.
One simply needs to climb high enough.
By this point, my basil leaves have dried in the oven and are ready to pour into a mason jar and be tucked away for some day in February when I need to unscrew the top and take a long sniff of something fragrant and inspiring. These are the same leaves that frantically overgrew their pots after a matter of weeks in the house and crowded the light out of our windows in September. They barely survived the summer, but have pressed into the winter with surprising courage.
Today, they are transformed. They are made new.
Dead, but not useless, they will flavor future cioppinos with sweet aromatics. They will likely rescue me from a self-inflicted polar plunge that is bound to come knocking one day soon. When I sprinkle these leaves into a pot or onto bread dough, they will remind me of something that died so that I could live more brightly. So that I could find something new. Something good.
So may we scramble high into trees this year. May we see that there is a sunset above the clouds that is always worth the climb.
And may we work to make room for the adventure.