Many of us are familiar with the idea of choosing a word for your year, which I believe was a process that Suzanne Conway began. On her website, she says,
"Choosing a word as a guiding light for the new year works for me because it feels so much more expansive. A word can be embraced as a mantra, a meditation, a reminder, a promise."
Did you choose a word? Mine was there at the beginning of the year, and it's one that's been there for a while, but I'm still circling around it in many ways. My word is: Uplift.
I want to take it outward, I want to be uplifting. But I also want to be uplifted. Put myself in the way of that, somehow. Though I haven't quite figured out the how of that, I think part of the answer is that when one is uplifting, one draws same. It's my working theory for now, anyway.
So, I've been thinking about these words by Albert Schweitzer. He says, “Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.”
And he also says,
"As soon as you notice the slightest sign of indifference, the moment you become aware of the loss of a certain seriousness, of longing, of enthusiasm and zest, take it as a warning. You should realize your soul suffers if you live superficially."
What I want is to be aware of indifference creeping in, I want to be aware of my level of enthusiasm. And zest! Isn't that a wonderful word.
“The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway. Those things are beside the point. The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.”
- Sarah Manguso
Maybe this is another way of coming at the question. How to uplift? How to keep people from despair?
Also, I think it's important to remember that uplifting things might be challenging, unsettling, radical, or tough, and might contain elements of despair, but that when the work is profound and the writing deeply authentic, then we are in the presence of art. And art is uplifting.
To return to Henri Nouwen,
We need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.
- Henri J.M. Nouwen
And maybe (I'm using the word maybe too much, but uncertainty isn't always a bad thing) an active compassion, a tendency toward being angelic, could be part of the way toward being uplifting.
When I first heard of this craze for choosing a word for the year a few years back, I admit, I was a bit sceptical. I thought it was a bit flaky. But then a word came to me, and I lived with it for a while, and I liked thinking of it as both a reminder, as Conway says, and a mantra. Even a bit of a manifesto. This year, the word "uplift" arrived, practically un-beckoned. Me, being me, I tried to figure out where it even came from, and I realized that I'd been thinking about Marina Abramovic's powerful manifesto. One of the many things she says in it is:
"An artist should have friends who lift his spirit."
(She also says valuable things about the importance of enemies).
I've yet to come up with anything conclusive, but my inquiry, my following of this word, has so far resulted in questions: How to put oneself in the way of what is uplifting? How to be uplifting? How to be attentive to a lack of what is uplifting?