I woke up this morning, too early thanks to jet-lag, to find Victoria lying under a rare blanket of snow and silence. We got home about 36 hours ago, a day late thanks to fog in Lisbon where we spent a week in driving rain while I tried unsuccessfully to fight a cold. Yesterday I spent the day packing gear for another trip back to Baja to spend time in the water with mantas and sharks before coming home just before Christmas and my 45th birthday. Things are full, and busy.
I don’t believe there’s a secret to life. Life is meant to be lived, not figured out. I’m happy now allowing others with the inclination to do so, to find the “answer to the meaning of life.” I think we make that meaning. Our contributions, the way we live and love and react to the tides of time and circumstance. That’s what gives meaning. Life is in how we react, because that’s the one thing we control. That’s where concepts like forgiveness are so powerful, they return control to us. They give us the dignity of causality in our lives, whatever un-controllables come our way.
I think that’s one reason many of us find the creative life so compelling, so impossible to say no to. It gives us a hand in taking what we’ve been given, what we see and feel deeply, all the hurts and un-explainables, all the joys and wonder – and it lets us respond.
If there were a secret to life, if we were to speak in those terms, then it has something to do with our creative response to life itself. Your craft might be writing, photography, dance, or philanthropy – that’s not what matters. It’s that you respond, that you engage, with life. That’s where we find, and share meaning. The tools of our creativity are not in the craft. They’re deeper. In just the same way the tools of the photographer are visual language, composition, our choice of moments – not the camera – it is courage and gratitude, among others, that are the true tools of the creative soul.
At no time of the year do courage and gratitude seem more needful than now as we head into holidays of all kinds. Courage to move forward into another year with unguarded hearts, even though this year and the loss it brought, may have given us plenty of reason to wall ourselves up forever. Courage to be more vulnerably ourselves than ever before. Courage to stand for, or against, things we once hoped we’d never have to stand up for, or in resistance to. Courage to let our voices be heard. To stop seeking perfection and start desiring so much more: humanity. And gratitude for the chance to do so. Whatever 2016 has been it has also been a chance to rub the sleep from our eyes, to wake up to our self-satisfaction, to be reminded of things vital and necessary, beautiful and horrific, and of our role in fighting for, and against the things we must. Art has always been one way we have done this.
We need courage and gratitude now more than ever, they are the way in which we will respond to the unknown and the ineffable. Without them we will perish in our boredom, our fear, our complacency, lulled to sleep and apathy by shiny trinkets and the rush of acquisitions that this holiday time so easily becomes. We can let it be that. We can let our art be that, too. Safe. Effortless. All things for which we need neither courage nor gratitude. But I think we can do better. I think we hunger for more, and for deeper, neither of which come easily.
This is often a quiet time for me, and it will be again. But I don’t want this time to go forward without thanking you for your role in my life and the chance you give me to do what I love. You push me to be the best I can be, to keep learning, to question my assumptions, and to practice what I can’t seem to stop preaching. You give me so many reasons to be grateful and so many examples of courage. 2017 is going to be a year to double-down. Without courage and gratitude that should scare the shit out of all of us, with them it should add joy and purpose – spark and fire! – to the struggle. I have no more idea what 2017 will bring than anyone ever does, but I can control how I react to every moment of it and the more of us that choose to love more deeply, to reject fear, to find and instigate reasons for laughter, to create more honestly (if less perfectly) and with more soul, the better.
The Christmas narrative, the original one without Santa, has the angels proclaiming peace on earth. I’m beginning to think it was less a promise and more a declaration of possibility. A hope. Maybe even a pipe dream. Maybe it just reflects the longing we all share. Or maybe it’s a question that hangs in the air, asking us what we’re willing to life, love, struggle, and create for. Whatever it is to you, it comes with neither courage nor gratitude. No good thing does.
However you celebrate this holiday, Merry Christmas to you all. I wish you deepest love and brightest light.
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