Sunday Morning ~ A New Net

Sunday Morning ~ A New Net

Ukonde uyambira ku bwakale. ~ You start weaving a new net using the old one.

~ Chewa proverb

January 3, 2020

Hi Everyone,

I’m at my desk surrounded by notes I scribbled at various meetings. I jot things on scraps of paper and later piece them together into a coherent report. My haphazard style of note taking consists of columns up the side of pages, fragments of sentences tucked in a corner, a stray word here and there. They’re a portrait of my brain trying to conglomerate factions. It’s like I dumped a jigsaw puzzle of thoughts around my laptop and piecing it together is oddly satisfying. Once a whole picture, I crumple the scraps, thank them, and watch them go up in flames as a second offering. My thoughts about the past year don’t seem as easy to assemble.

Walking through the woods, noticing the decidedly longer day (even fifteen minutes seems remarkable), I laugh, thinking the trees and animals just go about their routine without fretting about bad habits or new goals. This man-made mark on the calendar doesn’t affect them. They just adapt to the landscape around them. As I see more and more windblown trees on the ground I notice the saplings ready to take advantage of the open sky and improved light. The decomposing elders feed them and there’s no ceremony or regret.

Did someone plan to end the calendar with back to back celebrations or was this coincidence?  Christmas and New Year were certainly celebrated when I was young and I have happy memories of the week marked by such bookends. Looking back it all seemed so simple, though, I wonder if my mother thought so. Expectations were realistic. I felt the magic but it was modest. My most exciting gift was the girl scout uniform Santa brought when I was nine years old. I remember my mother laughing when I screamed “I got a girl scout uniform!!” like it was a million dollars. To me that uniform, which I had begged my mother to buy for months, was the absolute living proof that Santa was real. My mother had told me she wouldn’t buy a uniform until I had shown I would stick with the program. (Were they really that expensive?) But I was desperate for the gloves, the sash, the patches and badges. The beret! The longing was too much! When Santa brought the delight my mother had so ruthlessly withheld, I couldn’t contain myself. It lay so perfectly folded in the box, perfectly framed by tissue paper. The yellow bow tie was perfectly tied and centered. Even the Hudson Dress Shop box was beautiful. I remember jiggling the top with my fingers wedged underneath until the bottom fell out, peeling the tissue paper back revealing the absolute masterpiece inside. I was so happy. I loved that my mother loved I was happy. That was magic.

We did not travel for holidays. On Christmas Day my father would stand in the hallway, elbows resting on the bookshelf beneath the phone attached to the wall. He held the receiver to his ear and spoke loudly in Italian to his mother as we played nearby, ignoring his conversation, understanding none of it. At one point he would tell us to line up, hold the phone out to our little faces, and order us to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. We complied like little chipmunks but hearing no feedback from the receiver the size of my arm, were not inclined to prolong the performance. Obligation fulfilled, we’d turn back to our toys, praying there would be no encore. Throughout the day, the phone would ring as calls came from other relatives. My mother would dash from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron before taking the phone to her ear. In her wool dress, pearls, and high heels she looked as if she were on her way to a formal event instead of cooking for her family.  She’d smilingly greet the caller with a careless laugh and I’d watch from the living room, happy to see her happy. Kids were not allowed in the living room fifty-one weeks of the year, but the week between Christmas and New Year the colored lights and tinsel made it a sacred wonderland. Maybe such simplicity was my childhood viewpoint. A phone call was expensive and the calls were gifts from extended family. No one expected anything else. 

New Year meant football, a buffet, and the end of school vacation. No one spoke of resolutions or the joy of saying goodbye to an era. Even during the tumultuous 60’s of my childhood when social upheaval was the dish of the day I don’t recall a notion of changing the fourth digit meaning anything was going to be different. Is it really this year in all of time that people have suffered such? Or have our expectations changed along with Christmas lists? In the 1980’s the population of Malawi was nearly wiped out by HIV. I doubt they turned the calendar each New Year and thought how glad they were to start anew. It’s a continuous circle and we keep weaving with what we’ve got. I am excited by the youth and energy bubbling up to fix some ancient wrongs. There must be a way to hold on to what was good and true, acknowledge what was not, and create something fair and just. Making it a happy new year is up to us.

Wishing you all a fair and just year ahead.

Love to all,


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