There have been a few funny little synchronicities in recent days. As usual, I wish you were here to share them with. But I find myself feeling really blessed and grateful at how available and supportive your friends have been to me this year.
It's funny -- I had lunch with my former colleague Cathy and her boyfriend on Friday. They're closer to your age than mine, but we had the best time. (Or I did! Hopefully they weren't just pretending to humor me...but I don't think so, as we practically shut the place down.) Cathy remembers you fondly from the time we ate lunch together in Charlotte.
We lunched at a restaurant called Robert on top of the Museum of Arts and Design in Columbus Circle.
And it does feel fun having this delicious dose of unscheduled time, being able to explore the things that excite me, to read the things I'm curious about, to consider the identity I want to embrace, and the baggage I want to shed. It's scary at times -- especially when articles like this one go viral, and I listen to the voices of fear. But it's mostly exciting and energizing, and I feel grateful to have had the courage and the ability to seize the opportunity to take some time away from a traditional office.
A colleague at work even helped me "rebrand" myself online. LinkedIn is such a big venue for networking these days, and I wanted to put a new face out there, to ensure my digital profile felt authentic and updated and accurate. One of my old teammates is a very talented photographer, and I asked if he'd help me get a spiffy new head shot.
I'd had the same photo on LinkedIn for ages -- one that, my friend Laura gently informed me this week, looked like something straight out of the Sears Portrait Studio. It was a bit tragic, I'll admit.
But check out the new ones!
We timed the shoot around the afternoon light in Tribeca, and it's getting dark by 5 these days. I snapped this one afternoon as I wrapped up a jog in the park.
I'm actually really enjoying these short days and early nights. After spending so much of the year roaming the world and living out of a suitcase, it's good to be settled down again. I've been cooking more and had company for dinner three nights last week. I made curried broccoli soup for Neil, chicken minestrone for Leigh Ann, and spaghetti and meatballs for Laura. Fortunately, I'm stocked with festive cocktail napkins for my guests, thanks to Miss Patsy and Julia.
And, I read an absolutely delightful book that helped me really embrace this season of extended darkness.
Here's one of my favorite passages:
"I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”
What I took away from her book is this: we're so afraid of the dark -- as a society and as Christians -- that we do anything we can to keep the lights on. Well, unfortunately, that's just not natural. It's not how the earth works, and it's not how humans work. We need sleep, we need times of winter and incubation. And every now and then -- we need to get our hearts broken, and then we need to let them heal.
Life is about birth and death. Creation and destruction. New things cannot be born if old things do not die, and we cannot truly know what it means to hold a treasure if we do not know what it means to lose one.
One of the most interesting facts she reveals is that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV, also known as the "Psychiatrists' Bible," recommends that patients who show signs of grief for more than two months (e.g., sadness, insomnia and loss of appetite) may be diagnosed with depression and treated with prescription drugs.
Seriously?! Sometimes I'm astounded by the extent of our "there's a pill for that" culture.
This low tolerance for sadness means, she writes, we often keep the "dark emotions" like grief, fear and despair filed away with other shameful things like personal bankruptcy or sexual deviance. "If you have ever spent time in the company of the dark emotions, you too may have received subtle messages from friends and strangers alike that you were supposed to handle them and move on sooner instead of later."
I'm sure not everyone will love this book as much as I did, but it was perfect for me to read right now. (Leigh Ann and I have been fans of BBT since we read her book "Leaving Church," and she spoke at Aunt Tillie's church in October.)
And -- forget my take -- what better spiritual stamp of approval than Oprah's?!
Barbara Brown Taylor was today's guest on Super Soul Sunday. It's a great discussion, and I believe it will run again next week at 10 a.m. Eastern on OWN.
Oprah asked her to define what she means by darkness:
"Darkness is a place of unknowing, where I am out of control and I may be vulnerable to danger, and I may be vulnerable to divine revelation. It is the place where I am least able to protect myself and, therefore, may be most opened to being transformed."
Well, hello! Bingo! Maybe I should ask if she's been petting any cheetahs lately?
And similar to Sheryl Sandberg's observation that careers are jungle gyms, not ladders, life is, BBT notes, more like a navigating the water in a sailboat than riding along on a train.
Oprah: Enjoy the smooth sails while they're up!
Barbara: Yes! Yes, and then enjoy the storms if you live through them. Because they'll make the best stories later.
Here's hoping that's true...