A while back, I characterized my life as an upbeat melody in a minor key. There are great moments of joy and optimism, hence the "upbeat" part of that statement. But try as I may, the minor key remains.
Why, you ask? As expressed in this wonderful piece, minor keys express a sense of yearning, of wanting something better, that so many great Christmas carols are in minor keys because they express the world's longing for something better.
I've always felt my yearning on a profoundly deep personal level. It goes with introversion, I guess, and it doesn't help when you're so different from the rest of your family, whose rural, blue-collar roots often meant your desires for travel or adventure or whatever else seemed like silly daydreaming. Keeping quiet about what I really wanted may have spared me the ridicule and teasing, but it made the longing that much more intense.
Those dreams you carry so close to your heart bring great joy when they come true, but they also carry heartbreak when they go awry, or even when they're over. Several times I've come back from spending time in Alaska, for instance, and felt kind of empty. A place that means so much to you means you leave a piece of yourself there. Or other dreams, like friendships that don't take hold, and yet you're left with memories of truly wonderful moments you shared. You can't think of the joy without thinking of the melancholy, and yet you long to be back in that precious moment if you could, just to enjoy its warmth one more time.
As I've grown older I've taken a very practical approach to life. If there's something that needs to get done, I find the shortest path. Boom, done. If there's something I need to acquire, I'll find the means. I can prioritize my needs and wants, and I've learned that some wants are just fleeting; wait a little bit, see if it's more than an impulse, then act (or don't). Others are worth the desire, but need time to make happen, and that's a reality I've come to accept.
Yet so methodical an approach leaves you defenseless when you look back, with the wonderful curse that is memory, and you remember certain perfect moments and feel that certain twinge. I sometimes wonder if it's not the moment itself I want back, but the feeling I had in that moment, and if that's what sets me yearning. Maybe it's not, for instance, that I want to be back on that train platform watching the summer sun set on the distant Manhattan skyline; maybe it's the feeling I want back, that feeling I'd just had one of the most truly incredible days of my life. Or maybe it's not Alaska itself I miss so much as the feeling I have when I'm there, that it's a place that somehow I instantly understand, and the contentedness that brings.
Part of my curse as a born historian is that by nature, I'm inclined to look backward, spend my present moments thinking about those gone by. While that can lead to some intellectual epiphanies, it also means I miss an awful lot. I'll often think too much about a moment that's gone forever, or a once-in-a-lifetime circumstance, and I'll get sentimental...meanwhile, I let a moment, and potentially a new experience, slip through my fingers.
It's the time of year that goes with yearning; the days are short, the sun is low and the shadows are long, and nature is barren and the weather gets brutal, and we spend more time huddled inside. We yearn for the world to wake up again, come back to life, shower us in warmth and color and light. Eventually, the long nights get a little less long, and the world starts to wake up from its winter's nap.
I'm seeing the start of this out my back door now, as the sun struggles to break the horizon, and our back yard is a solid mat of brown pine needles and dead leaves, and the morning air has a bite to it. The world's going to sleep for a bit. 2013's day is almost done.
Personally, I'm about to bid farewell to a year that has been harsh, one of the hardest years I've lived. I will not look back on 2013 with any great fondness. It's been a year of frustrations and anxieties, of hard lessons learned, of profound disappointments. Of loss, since a beloved family member passed away, and although death gave her release from the suffering that marked her final months, we're left to deal with missing her. It's been a year of a thousand cuts, some of them deeper than usual. One or two left me reeling, and although I've mostly moved past them, there's still just enough of a distant ache that prevents me from feeling healed, or offering forgiveness, just yet.
Yes, there are moments from this year I will cherish the rest of my days. There have been achievements and moments of discovery. There were things I still can't believe I actually got to do. There were moments I experienced joy to the point of delirium, when I laughed to the point of tears. There were moments I felt truly accomplished. There were moments I realized how much I've grown. But, on the whole, I'm left with that feeling there has to be something better, so much better.
And so I hear those minor notes, and with them comes that yearning, the hope something better will come once the calendar page next turns. Perhaps in the coming year I'll do better about focusing not so much on wanting bygone moments to come back, but on looking for that next moment of fulfillment, and cherishing it when it happens.