Looking ahead by looking back at ‘bests’
My Vocation is Love l Lindsey Weishar
I’ve begun this article to the swish and whisper of blowing snow. It is officially winter, and this grey day invites contemplation, a chance to rest.
Recently, a friend shared an article from The Catholic World Report titled “The Best Books I Read in 2022.” Published annually, this book list contains the reading lists of a number of Catholic World Report contributors, some of whom are professors, editors, and/or writers. I like perusing this list for reading inspiration, but also appreciate the concept — looking back on one’s year through the lens of books.
As I look back at 2022 and forward to 2023, leisure has been on my mind. In an amazing essay titled “The School of Leisure” which appeared in Word on Fire’s recent book, “With All Her Mind: A Call to the Intellectual Life,” Jennifer Frey says “leisure is explicitly connected to contemplation, which can be defined as beholding, in vision, an object of love.” It “require[s] silence and solitude” and helps us become “less bent over the brooding self and more open to beauty.”
In a word, leisure is the gateway not only to wonder, but to prayer.
Taking inspiration from “The Best Books I Read in 2022,” I’d like to share with you my “bests” from this past year. They are invitations to leisure, moving me toward wonder, toward God.
Literature: “My Ántonia” by Willa Cather. This was a reread. I enjoy Cather’s ability to paint with words the lives of her characters. For me, the beauty of the novel is tied up in the resonance of childhood memory on adult relating. Reflecting on their shared history, narrator Jim Burden reflects, “Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.” What a hopeful way of seeing the dynamism of relationships with others.
Poetry: “Magnolia” by Nina Mingya Powles. I loved the “sensory feast” these poems offer, as well as the invitation to learn about Powles’ study of Chinese. Throughout this 2022 collection, I found myself dazzled by the details and the way I could almost taste these poems, as in these lines from the poem, “Breakfast in Shanghai”:
“Layers of silken tofu float in the shape of a lotus slowly opening / under swirls of soy sauce. Each mouthful of dòufu huā, literally tofu / flower, slips down in one swallow. The texture reminds me of last / night’s rain: how it came down fast and washed the city clean.”
Animated: “Encanto.” This 2021 Disney film moved me with its fast-paced songs composed by “Hamilton” writer and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, but most especially by its spirited main character Mirabel Madrigal. At one point in the film, Mirabel reflects, “Even in our darkest moments, there’s light where you least expect it.” By shedding light on areas where her family needs to grow and heal, she learns — and teaches her family — that the greatest gift we can give is ourselves.
Documentary: “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” This 2018 documentary about the life of Fred Rogers (of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” fame) is a balm when I need a reminder about the goodness of humanity. The most profound lesson I’ve pulled from my recent rewatch of the film comes from a musical exchange that takes place between Daniel Striped Tiger and Lady Aberlin. Daniel brings up a doubt, Lady Aberlin meets his doubt with encouragement. As one of Rogers’ former coworkers notes, “it’s not so easy to quiet a doubt, but make it a duet so it’s not just your fears, but you’ll hear my support.” I am heartened by the fact that our doubts and the encouragement of others can exist together.
“Free” by Florence and the Machine. The music video for this song is amazing. Multi-layered in the fact that the video is set in Ukraine before the war broke out and contains a tribute to this country, the lyrics speak of the battle with anxiety on both a personal and (because of the setting) national level. With Bill Nighy personifying her anxiety, Florence’s anthem is a call to recognize and meet our places of pain: “Is this how it is? / Is this how it’s always been? / To exist in the face of suffering and death / And somehow still keep singing?”
“Like the Dawn” by the Oh Hellos. A number of years ago, an acquaintance shared that this song played during her first dance with her husband at their wedding reception. This year, I finally listened to it. A folk rock composition that details Adam’s first beholding Eve, I have been captivated by the lines: “You were the brightest shade / Of sun I had ever seen / Your skin was gilded with / The gold of the richest kings / And like the dawn / You woke the world inside of me.”
What are your “bests” from this past year? It would be a joy to hear what inspired you in 2022. May 2023 be a year of rich inspiration and ample time for leisure.
LINDSEY WEISHAR is a poet, freelance writer, and native of Champaign who has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is executive assistant to the president at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.