The Essential Step (or 18)

It is not as important for the world to claim it as it is to claim it for ourselves. That is the essential step.
— Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

There are so many ways to talk about taking steps.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery said, "What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step. It is always the same step, but you have to take it."

Anne Lamott wrote in Small Victories about waking up "in pitiful and degraded enough shape to take Step Zero, which is This s*** has got to stop. Fortunately," she says, "with twenty-six years of church, twenty-five years of recovery from alcoholism, twenty years of brilliant if intermittent therapy, and the loving friends in my inner sanctum, I got to Step Zero in only a year. Well, maybe a year and a half." 

There are dramatic steps like Annie's and then the kind of steps Alexander McCall Smith speaks of when he writes, "As long as you have one fine place to sit and review the world, then that will suffice." You sit and think, and then you make your move. 

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Gretchen Rubin, whom I would be remiss to leave out, writer on habits and happiness that she is, says often that "What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while." She is a step-taker if ever there was one. I think the most helpful bit from Gretchen on habit formation is owning who we are, or in her words, "We can build our habits only on the foundation of our own nature." 

Being an Upholder (read Gretchen's The Four Tendencies to learn more), I jump quickly and wholeheartedly on ideas such as making a Ta-Da list, or a list of "18 for 2018," or any other list she (or I) arbitrarily think will be fun. 

It is fun to know myself better, to "Accept myself, and expect more from myself," as Gretchen encourages.

It is fun to take a step that requires thinking first, then acting. Alexander McCall Smith, in his novel The Italian Bulldozer, wrote of a man who "would return to his manuscript later that day, but for now he would sit...and simply watch the life of the town. He would order a coffee and think. He would let life happen to him rather than make it happen." 

But then, my friends, the time comes around when it is fun to make life happen. To make a list of goals for the new year. To think of ways I will change my identity, my priorities, my wardrobe, my memory, my health, and even my modes of having fun.

Gretchen's suggestion, on a recent podcast, of making an "18 for 2018" list is all the push I needed to get the swirling thoughts in my head onto paper. I am excited for the new year to begin and for my life to take on new dimensions. 

In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard says, "The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules." I am not afraid of schedules and resolutions if this is how lives are changed and depth is gained. I am also not afraid of the mundane, of setbacks, of unreached goals, of changes in course as needed. Dreams dance with those who dig deep.

The celebratory part of a new year for me is pondering where I want to go and pacing myself to get there. Small steps do add up. My heart fills with hope to think we have years to keep tweaking our lives, until one day our lives culminate in new bodies and new minds and all will be well. 

Until then, I give you my "18 for 2018," with a promise to explain the list further in a forthcoming post.

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.
— Jonathan Edwards