The year of la sonrisa

Do you have a word for the year ahead? I never have, but I’ve made some new acquaintances who do this and, of course, it got me thinking. They’ve pegged 2018 as their year for spontaneity and courage, respectively. Great concepts, both of them, but my hopes for 2018 felt too complicated to be encapsulated in a mere word.

But they weren’t.

You know how words sometimes just pop into your head? Well, January 1, there it was. Sonrisa, a Spanish word I loved when I first learned it. It’s sound and spelling made me think of a sunrise, and then a tequila sunrise, and that made me smile. Which was perfect, because it is the Spanish word for smile, and I had no idea I remembered it.

I’ve been trying to learn Spanish since 1997, so I’ve learned a lot of words. I don’t, however, speak Spanish, which is a different matter. Yet, I can often get the gist of something I read and once a Spanish speaker figures out that I am trying to speak their language (something that is not obvious with my poor accent and constant confusion with vowels), I can often communicate rudimentary concepts. It’s better than nothing.

This year, I will be spending some time in South America. I’m quite excited, and brushing up on Spanish is at the top of my to do list. Sonrisa reminds me of this.

This year, I hope to continue my commitment to fighting for fairness and compassion in my country. Thanks to the research I did for my novel z2, I am a strong supporter of finding a quick and caring solution for the many “dreamers” in our nation, the young people brought here as children who want to make a normal life in the only home they’ve ever know. (One of the main characters in z2 is a dreamer.) Sonrisa makes me think of this.

This year, I hope to come to terms with the few ghosts that still haunt me. One of them is my incessant smile, an artifact of being raised by a woman who hated any other facial expression. She had her reasons, and I understood them. After all, my grandmother lived with us, and my grandmother was the most unhappy person I have ever known.

Yet, no adult wants to be the person with a grin on their face at the worst of moments. I’ve smiled at the news of tragic accidents, during corporate layoffs, and throughout a bout of postpartum depression during which I needed help more desperately than I ever had.

This year, I want to discover how to smile only when I mean it. For me, sonrisa does not carry the baggage of the word smile. I can embrace my sonrisa.

This year, I want to remember how wonderful my life is, how blessed I am. I want to appreciate the love, and stimulation and the comforts that I am fortunate enough to have every day. I want my sonrisa to let that gratitude shine out of my soul, unencumbered by the struggles of those who came before me. To that end, I’ve started a gratitude jar, in which I hope to leave a note every day about some silly or profound thing for which I am grateful.

Here’s the real irony. When I looked for something to use as a container, I stumbled on my grandmother’s old cookie jar. It’s a big ceramic apple, a beautiful creation from long ago. She gave me and my sister store-bought cookies out of it when we came to the house she lived in by day. (She lived with us by night, because she was too afraid to be alone.)

One of my father’s chief complaints was that after a decade of eating dinner every night and sleeping at his house, my grandmother never once said thank you. Even as a child, I recognized that the woman was as incapable of gratitude as she was of love. So I vacillated between thinking her cookie jar was the worst of places to record my own gratitude and the best of them. In the end, the incongruity won me over.

Life is complicated, isn’t it? If you want your sonrisa to be genuine, I figure you need to own the complicated parts. You need to put your arms around them and let them snuggle up against you in such a way that their barbs soften and can no longer hurt you, or at least not as much.

Today, I’ll write my third note to myself. So far I’ve been grateful for being alive in the year 2018, and for oatmeal with raisins. I have no idea what I’ll be thankful for today. Whatever it is, I’ll tuck it into my grandmother’s cookie jar as I send my best thoughts of kindness and understanding to her and my mother, remembering the struggles they had with all the affection I can.

Then, I’ll do my best to let their travails drift into the air and dissipate, as they should have long ago. I’ll let my own beautiful sonrisa emerge like the rising sun.

It’s going to be a very good year.

farewell 2014

 

 

with a breath of kindness blow the rest away

New Year’s Eve plays a role in y1. Each Dec. 31 since I wrote the book, I find myself thinking of adolescent Zane throwing up on coffee liqueur as he attempts to greet the new year like an adult. Creating this scene required a better sense of balance than most. I meant to capture both the fear and joy of letting go of childhood, and in fact of letting go of anything, in such a burst of determination that it leads to inappropriate behavior. I wanted my readers to cheer on Zane as he tried to be older, in spite of their hopeful disapproval of children drinking alcohol. I wanted them to empathize with how the process of releasing the past is seldom an easy one for any of us. Metaphorically, a lot of us end up with our heads over the toilet bowl when we try to move on.

farewell 2014That is what New Year’s Eve is about, isn’t it? Drunk or sober, alone, with family or friends or surrounded by loud strangers, we each find out ways to release the joys and failures of last year as we resolve to be stronger, better, and happier during this next trip around the sun. Some of us do it from the comfort of our couches, others while setting off fireworks in our front yard. (At least if we live in the country in Texas we do.) Some will acknowledge the moment with a quick sigh as they go on about their work, keeping hospitals running, drilling rigs drilling, and streets safe for those who had the luxury of deciding what they wanted to do tonight.

New Year’s Eve is an ending and a beginning, whether we like it or not. Maybe that is why so many of us drink so much. There will be jobs, relationships, possessions and habits that won’t go with us through 2015 and we know it. Replacements and voids will be there instead when we greet 2016. They’re gone or going. Say good-bye. It’s not an easy thing to do.

A friend shared the above saying with me, and it has become my New Year’s resolution. I’m going to work a little harder to keep what matters healthy. I’m going to make a better effort to send the rest softly on its way.

Here’s a gentle kiss, 2014, with gratitude for all the good times, and for all the lessons, too. Welcome 2015. With a breath of kindness, blow the past year away.

 

 For more thoughts on letting go, check out my post Face Painting for World Peace.