Happy New Year – Back to “Normal”, right?

Happy New Year – Back to “Normal”, right?

I just recently returned from visiting my family for the holidays, and it has really made me think about “expectations”. As much I had wanted and hoped that it might be a perfect holiday visit, it wasn’t (is it ever?) because both my parents came down with illnesses while I was there. Nothing serious, and thankfully no Covid — but still, it was disappointing for both them and me, especially as I needed to steer clear of close contact. I popped extra Vitamin C and Airborne, attempting to dodge potentially coming down with whatever they were fighting. I certainly didn’t want to depart early out of fear — thankfully, I returned home feeling fine and unscathed. I am grateful that both my mom and dad, now in their early 80s, are quite healthy and rarely ill. But I couldn’t help but notice that the pressure my parents place upon themselves to create a picture-book holiday for our family seemed to have taken its toll on them more than usual this year. And of course, it has been challenging during the pandemic when we’ve all gathered for holiday meals, attempting to keep everyone safe and Covid-free. On top of that, it seems that each passing year brings new dietary guidelines and restrictions in my family that require more elaborate menu planning. I felt their fatigue, and did my best to help out. At the very least, I always enjoy cooking for my folks when I visit, and they really seem to appreciate it.

The period between the December holiday and the new year can be challenging for many of us. It’s some rare combination of joy mixed with fraught pressure. I was certainly grateful this particular year that I am always able to drive home — relieved that I don’t have to book an airline ticket to visit family. My heart went out to all the many passengers stuck in airports, and what seemed like acres and upon acres of lost, homeless luggage viewed on news videos. For some of us, the holidays can be sad, even depressing, and we cannot wait until it is in our hindsight come the new year. Still for others, there can be a tremendous let down after the hubbub of the holidays are over, and the time has come to pause the parties and take down the decorations. I always suffer a little depression in early January… the start of a new year doesn’t always provoke a desire to wish folks a HAPPY one.

As we lean into 2023, I’m struck by how the pandemic has altered our perception not only of time in general, but how we approach a new year. Seems like we keep saying goodbye to the old one, with the assumption that the new one just HAS to be better than the last 365 days we experienced. So, I find myself feeling somewhat jaded and/or pessimistic that 2023 will usher in any kind of return to normality, as hopeful as I’d like to be. I sometimes wonder if our lives as we knew and experienced them in the past will ever be the same, post-pandemic. Maybe the only way to embrace the future is to lean into whatever “new” normal there is… otherwise we just end up being disappointed. There is some comfort though, that the last three years is something we’ve suffered and survived TOGETHER. At the very least, it is a common and mutual reality. I hope that at the start of 2023, we all can retain some kind of hope and optimism for whatever new normal the future might bring, albeit the usual pitfalls, bumps or even horrors along the way. Holding hope is a way of coping and keeping our spirits alive — the alternative is certainly not an appealing or viable choice.

I leave you with an excerpt of “Blessing for a New Year” from enfleshed:

In threshold places, where endings meet beginnings,
we listen backwards as we move forward.

What can we learn from the year past—
from how evil played its cards,
or from relationships gained and lost?

What brought you deep delight, when everything was swirling?
To who were you able to turn to and who challenged you to grow?

Individually and collectively, none of us are the same.

For some of the changes we weep and for others we rejoice
but from each we carry something forward
–a feeling, a lesson, a memory, a challenge, a call to solidarity…

Collectively, we acknowledge a closing and an opening;
A fresh start that offers only as much meaning as we need from it,
inviting us not to wage war on ourselves, but just to pause,
pay attention to our longings and our pain,
and that we might learn from them about how we wish to live.

A new year does not mean “a new you”.
You do not need to make demands of yourself
grounded in messages that are only meant
to make you feel inadequate or unlovable.

Your worth is ineffable,
that is a constant that carries from year to year.

Move gently with yourself into 2023,
speaking instead words of possibility,
committing to that which calls you,
letting yourself be lured by the Sacred
in the direction of your most powerful becoming.


  1. Linda Linton

    Thanks, Michael, for sharing with us your thoughts and your observations about your holiday experiences. I love the poem. I look forward to sharing experiences with you in 2023!

  2. Ellie McManuels

    Wow, Michael, this reflection on the holidays is just as beautiful and poignant as the music you help to create each Sunday! I especially loved what you said about how we might change the way we approach the new year…. “Maybe the only way to embrace the future is to lean into whatever “new” normal there is… otherwise we just end up being disappointed.”

    I struggle with this time of year. In order to feel less like the Grinch, I’ve learned to schedule myself to work on my unit from December 23rd-25th and to organize the distribution of holiday cheer bags to our patients. I do this for myself at least as much as I do this for our patients. The generosity of our staff and former patients always amazes me and lifts my spirits 🙂 And, we have so much fun pausing on our busy shift to sing carols to our patients and deliver our gifts on Santa’s sleigh (a transformed stretcher). Thank you for acknowledging how the holidays can be challenging for many of us…yet, they can also be unexpectedly beautiful.

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