Jim Bishop: New year builds on the perils and promise of the past

January, typically the longest month of the year for me –financially, weather-wise and worldly-wise – seems to be moving at a brisk pace, at least so far.

The hardest part comes as I finally tackle dismantling our Christmas tree, which we always put up immediately after Thanksgiving Day and leave up at least until Epiphany. Two weeks into the month, I’ve only removed the electric candles from the windows, the glistening Douglas fir still has all its needles and I’ve yet to take down the outdoor lights (the bitterly cold temperatures doing little to motivate me in this regard). Dragging boxfuls of Yule ornaments back up to the garden shed seems to put the “final” stamp on the celebrations, and there’s not another holiday for me on the calendar until Easter, coming especially late in 2011.

The year 2010 was probably not the best of my life but one that unfolded in some unexpected ways and laced with learning experiences. And, still learning, even trying some new things as I stumble about on the senior citizen stage, is worth clinging to with all my slowly-diminishing strength.

I entered the past year officially an “orphan,” as my mom, Ann Dayton Bishop surrendered, peacefully and graciously as befit her person, breathing her last just before Christmas at age 88. I miss her – and Dad – immensely, but am so grateful for the close relationship enjoyed with her to the end, even while separated geographically. I continue to draw from her life and example even now that she’s physically absent, part of the legacy of unconditional love she bequeathed to our family and beyond.

During 2011, I also bid farewell to several relatives and special friends who departed this life for a better realm. Funerals help remind me of my own mortality and prompt me to offer bouquets, verbal and floral, to others while they are living.

In late May, we Bishop brothers took a five-day “road trip” that started and ended in Harrisonburg. The remarkable thing – in being together in an intense setting for that period of time, we truly seemed to enjoy each other’s company. We beat up on each other (figuratively, not literally) en route and were reminded that despite many similar personality traits, likes and abilities we really are quite different in many ways. Within that diversity we were able to celebrate those basic values that have kept us a close-knit, accepting family. What a gift. What a blessing.

Both Anna and I continued to enjoy our role as grandparents to six grandkids who all live close by. They are growing up all too quickly, becoming more independent with each passing day, and we find ourselves praying that we’ll be around long enough to see firsthand what each of them will become. We feel like we have a closer relationship to our daughters, Jenny and Sara, today than when they lived at home. And, every so often, they actually seek our counsel.

I somehow managed to acquire several new skills on the computer over the course of the year, even through repeated calls for help. We ended the year with a first-ever malware attack on our home computer, a scary experience. I am thankful for those who have come to the rescue of this technologically-challenged dolt, who still keeps a typewriter in the Office.

I was reminded many times how fortunate it is to enjoy what I do for a livelihood, even while facing the prospect of allowing the constant deadlines to engulf me. In addition, I give thanks for the opportunity and the privilege of this weekly open conversation, knowing that through this exercise I often benefit more than those who chance upon these musings. I feel unworthy of but am grateful for the many affirming reader responses that spur me on, often arriving when I need it most. Thank you.

Another highlight of last year: an opportunity to gather on what felt like an almost hallowed evening with about a dozen persons in Elkhart, Ind., that I hadn’t seen since we left that community the summer of 1971. What a joy to reunite, reminisce and celebrate some highlights from four life-changing years with a group of special people whom I realized anew had done much to shape who I was becoming (and who I am still becoming).

As Michael W. Smith rightly states, “Though it’s hard to let you go/In the Father’s hands we know/That a lifetime’s not too long/To live as friends.”

Time passes slowly for some, for others, too swiftly. With two weeks of the traditionally long, cold month of January already passed, the journey ahead seems manageable after a pause to reflect on both good times and a few not so pleasant from the year just concluded.

I claim Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is my strength,” and press on.

Safari, so good.

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.


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