Over the past few weeks, we’ve been going through some of our old stuff and throwing the bitter-sweet trappings of history away. I think it must be the season. It’s a time for reflection on the past and saying farewell. It’s a time for acknowledging the present and expressing gratitude. It’s a time for thinking about the future and plotting a course by the dim light of the Southern Cross.
In our rummaging and clearing operation, Sherrilyn found an old letter written to her by a friend who passed away in a tragic car-accident in the late 1990’s. She read me part of it. Her friend mentioned a time when she swam in Lake Michigan with Sherrilyn and how everyone had thought that they were crazy for doing so in the cold. I was struck by what she said next. She said, “… but it was awesome.” Sometimes events in life fill you with such strong, conflicting emotions that your thoughts become difficult to express. All that remains of Sherrilyn’s friend is a letter and some fading memories…

… but it was awesome.

As work starts winding down, I find myself thinking back over the last year. How have you enjoyed 2017? I have spoken with very many people who have felt that 2017 has been unduly harsh. I have to say that I tend to agree. There seems to be a never-ending stream of accounts of personal tragedies coming from the people I speak with. Of course, these personal tragedies are set against the ugly backdrop of increasing international tension and politicians behaving more like retarded children than usual. No wonder there is such a huge demand for various forms of escapism. The movie industry is churning out low-grade fantasy like never before. The masses are seeking whatever opium they can lay their hands on to dull the pain, fear and uncertainty.

I can’t say that I have escaped 2017 unscathed. As I throw away old paperwork, folders and photographs, I must acknowledge that this year has become the polished coffin for a great many things. Dreams that will never see their day in the sun. Plans finally laid to rest that have been years in the making and that have cost us greatly. Dead now despite our best efforts to realize them. A tiny voice that will never be heard. I view their still forms as they lie in state awaiting burial at the dawn of 2018. A knife has pierced my heart this year.

But I look forward with hope to a new year. Because with death, comes the promise of new beginnings. You can’t have one without the other. Change and growth often cause pain and suffering. And without growth and change, we might as well be dead.

I don’t want to draw this article out too long. As you can no doubt tell, I am feeling raw and I am not going to articulate my thoughts in a comfortable way for you. Being a ‘nice’ person is not my calling. I was sent here to help people, and being ‘nice’ is no help at all. When I was at school, we all learned how to rescue a drowning swimmer and we were all warned that a drowning person may lash out in irrational panic and attack the rescuer.

I have experienced this in my life many times. I have grown accustomed to it. There is a price to pay for trying to truly help people. It’s easy to comfort someone and leave them in an unchanged situation. When you offer to help them change their situation, this is not comfortable for them. Irrational and in a state of panic, they will often see you as the source of their pain and suffering.

But this is also a time for considering the miracle of life and the gifts that we enjoy and often take for granted. I have learned this year that the past is forever locked behind impenetrable glass and the future is hidden behind a concrete wall. We can look back but we perceive only dimly. We cannot look forward. It’s a simple truth that has been watered down in hundreds of Facebook memes, but its truth remains. We only have the present moment in time. We can plan for the future but we should not live in it. We can learn from the past but we should not bury ourselves in it. The past and the future cannot sustain life. We must live here, now, or we do not live at all.

This is a time for prayers. And I will pray this prayer for you.

I pray that you receive what you need and not what you want in 2018.
I pray that you have the courage to choose your challenges and that your challenges do not choose you in 2018.
I pray that change and growth is unavoidable for you in 2018.
I pray that your pain and suffering become steps to a brighter future for you in 2018.
I pray that you find new hope in 2018.

“Remember swimming in Lake Michigan on SA Campout? Everybody thought we were crazy when we came back, but it was awesome… Happy new year!”

2017 was a hard year but it was awesome… Happy New Year!

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia