What’s saving your life right now?

What’s saving your life right now?

I just finished an excellent book (if you don’t completely hate YA as a genre). It’s Nicola Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star, and it’s the story of two teens, Daniel and Natasha, thrown together the day before Natasha is deported back to Jamaica, her family’s illegal status having been discovered.

It’s a whole lot like two books I love: imagine The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, with an immigration plotline. Or Everything I Never Told You, minus the death in the family, because Yoon shows you the story from every character’s perspective. Yoon makes it work.

Very early in the story, we meet Irene. She’s not our main character, but she’s tied to them. Irene is a security guard at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services building in downtown Manhattan.

To look at Irene, you’d probably think she hates her job. But Yoon tells us she loves it. More than loves it—she needs it. She’s lonely, and so, as she sees it, “Every interaction with these applicants saves her life just a little.” It’s her connection to the world.

*****     *****     *****

This is a tough time of year for a lot of us. The days are short, and relentlessly dreary. Everyone has the flu, or if they’re lucky, the sniffles. Budgets are tight. And spring feels a long way away.

Winter is a challenging season for me. To preserve my sanity during the cold and grey days, I adopted a habit a few years back. I started keeping a list—an actual, physical, pen-and-paper list—of the things that were actively giving me life in my least favorite season.

The idea comes from author Barbara Brown Taylor. In her memoir Leaving Church, Taylor tells about a time she was invited to speak, and her host assigned her this topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

Most of us know what’s killing us, and can articulate it, if asked. Some of us are overwhelmed with hurry and worry; some of us face crushing poverty; some feel utterly paralyzed.

But few of us stop to note what’s giving us life. Taylor says it’s too good a question to not revisit every once in a while: what are the things—big or small—that are saving us?

A job—like Irene’s—seems like an awfully big thing to me, but sometimes the things that give us life are decidedly smaller. Sometimes, they feel so small I feel silly writing them down. Oh well. I’m choosing to notice them anyway. When I don’t, my mind drifts to what’s killing me, instead.

*****     *****     *****

Next Thursday is February 2, the halfway point of winter. For the third year running, we’re joining together to combat the winter doldrums by making our lists of what’s saving our lives right now and sharing them here. This list-sharing and life-sharing has been so wonderful in the past. I can’t wait to do it again.

On February 2, I’ll share my list—and you’re invited to share yours, too.

Winter is hard, but by pausing at its halfway point to share the things that are helping us through it, we’ll lighten the load.

I can’t wait to hear what’s on your list.

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66 comments

  1. Nancy Moffett says:

    Funny to me that you feel you are suffering through winter in the south. A winter vacation to the south is lifesaving for some Canadians!

    • Susan Ross says:

      You said it! It was the first thing I thought of when I decided I would be getting on this list right away. February 12th I leave for Palm Springs from Alberta and have been dreaming about it for the past month. We have had a deep freeze this year – yikes, eeee, can’t wait!!!!

    • Kristin Jamieson says:

      Louisville winters are no joke. Not as long and dark as Canada, to be sure, but it can get down to single digits (Fahrenheit), ice storms are common, and it is so gray. You have to go hundreds of miles more south to really escape winter!

    • thebookisbetter says:

      It is always a matter of perspective after all. I live in North Carolina and today it is sunny and bright, it is nearly 60 degrees, but will drop to 32 degrees tonight. I can’t choose the weather but I can choose what I’m reading! Reading and Book Club get me through this time of year, no big surprise there. I’m struggling through Swing Time, but have The Sun is Also a Star on the top of my TBR stack. So, glad you enjoyed reading it.

  2. Lk Ann says:

    I love everything about this post -& the question, “what is saving my life right now?” I am in the habit of keeping a gratitude journal inspired by Ann Voskamp’s book “A Thousand Gifts”. But your question just orients gratitude a few degrees and makes me look at my heavy life right now a little differently. Thank you! See you back here on February 2nd!!!

  3. Susan Todd says:

    I’m so excited about this book (that I think you recommended some months ago) that I can’t wait to share…Laurie Frankel’s This Is How It Always Is – definitely saving my life right now! Funny and thought-provoking. I keep nodding my head in agreement with her wry observations about parenting in general. She has such an endearing writing style that allows her characters to come to life.

    • Felicity says:

      OMG- I just finished this book and loved it! I like your term – endearing writing style. So true! So much to think about.

  4. Bridget says:

    HAppn blogreadingversary to me. I;ve been reading your blog for a year. It was this time last year that I found you. 🙂

  5. Lauren says:

    I’m not usually a fan of YA romance, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Sun Is Also a Star! Glad to hear you enjoyed it too 🙂

  6. Becky says:

    I’m actually reading Yoon’s first book right now (Everything, Everything), but The Sun Is Also a Star is on my TBR pile as well! Glad to see you liked it.

  7. Kay says:

    I just found you! I’m a Jane Austen “newbie”. Can you help me by recommending which book to start with? I’m just beginning your 2017 Challenge.

    • I loved Pride and Prejudice. I read Persuasion this month (for the challenge) and didn’t like it as much as Pride and Prejudice. But I know there are lots of others for whom Persuasion is their favorite Austen novel. 🙂 And many love Emma and Sense and Sensibility too. So it really is hard to pick! I just found Pride and Prejudice to be a really fun read after having seen the different movie productions (BBC mini-series and the newer movie with Keira Knightly) of it many, many times.

    • Chelsey says:

      I recommend starting with whichever plot you’re most familiar. That will help you adjust to the writing style and language. If you aren’t familiar with any of them, then I recommend Emma, just because it’s my favorite!

  8. Participating in the women’s march with my daughter and 14 year old granddaughter in St Paul, MN was life-saving. Gathering Sunday mornings with my faith community is life-giving. My morning meditation time saves my life on a daily basis. Those all feel like BIG life preservers, but there are many small ones, too. Hot chocolate, a new journal, a new book waiting as I turn the last page of a current book, the string of white lights around my garret window. And so much more.

    • Deb Cole Kelner says:

      I joined the women’s march in Denver on Saturday with my dear friend, her husband and their 14 year old daughter. It was a powerfully uniting experience and life-saving for me too. And then on Sunday, because the intensity of the experience was a bit exhausting to sensitive me, it was life-saving to give myself permission to spend the entire day curled up on the couch in front of the fireplace reading the most recently published Inspector Gamache mystery and drinking tea. Last year a girlfriend gave me a beautifully illustrated month by month 2017 calendar by artist Johanna Riley. My newly adapted practice of writing down daily gratitudes is saving my sanity and my life.

  9. Nicole says:

    What’s saving my life right now? My answers would be 1) an afternoon coffee with some sort of treat (sitting down and really enjoying it) 2) reading a book while sitting by the fire 3) Bundling up for long walks 4) winter meals such as soup or chili – always as a family

  10. Chenay says:

    Wow, this couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks, Anne, for reminding me that I’m not the only one dealing with this stuff. I can’t remember the last time we’ve had so much snow and so many cloudy days. I’m looking forward to your February 2nd post.

  11. Shar says:

    4 things are keeping me moving along during my least favorite season, regardless of how trivial they seem: 1. I got new dishes, they are white enamelware with black rims and I adore them! 2. The basil scent from Mrs. Meyers. It smells the exact opposite of what I thought it would and it is beautiful. 3. My husband is retiring from the military and we have a huge move/life upheaval with a return to civilian life. We will be moving back to his tiny hometown and are currently finishing up home projects before putting our house on the market this April. And 4 kinda goes with 3. I have been reading This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick and have had so much fun imagining our upcoming community and using ideas in her book to build a life in our new town.

  12. Marci says:

    Saving my life right now.

    Cold weather running. I love it. Faster. More comfortable. Training for several halfs I do every year. My favorite time of year to run. (Texas summers can do this to you).

    Iced coffee. In my Yeti.

    Writing down my books for once in my life. Yay!

    Meal planning for at least 3 meals a week. Makes such a difference.

    Crock pot yes. Instant pot no (it overwhelms me. Had to put it away).

    Happy Thursday!

    • Andrea C says:

      I am loving winter running! Keeps me going to accomplish lots more within a day and fight through life’s worries; also loving morning time large cups of coffee and Bible reading, as well as frequent time spent with two toddler grandchildren. Have to mention lots and lots of book reading, many recommended by MMD. Winters make me so appreciate and anticipate the redbuds when they bloom in KY springtime.

  13. Mary Kate says:

    I adore YA as a genre and would love for you to talk about it more!

    This January is difficult, not because of winter, but because of the current political climate. Fiction really is the only thing keeping me sane right now. I’m reading a lot of V.E. Schwab, who writes excellent fantasy, as well as diving back into my own fantasy novel (that I’m writing) which has taken a decidedly political and feminist slant. Sort of my own little way of fighting back.

    Other than that, lots of wine and time with friends around fireplaces.

    • Mary Kate says:

      Also PODCASTS! I love Overdue Pod in terms of book podcasts, and I’ve recently discovered a plethora of Buffy the Vampire Slayer podcasts–Dusted and Buffering the Vampire Slayer are my current faves. Also just did a rewatch of that amazing and timeless show, and I suggest everyone else depressed with the state of our nation do the same 🙂

  14. This linkup sounds wonderful and just what we need this time of year!

    BTW you mentioned “Everything I Never Told You”; I’m reading it right now in fact, and like you I took note of how well Ng shifts between different characters’ perspectives, even right in the same scene. Not many authors can do that and do it well.

  15. MT says:

    Roller Derby! Something new that I fell in love with watching and decided, “why not me??” It’s been awesome to have a hobby that has nothing to do with kids (3 of my own and a room full of first graders)

  16. Grace says:

    Great reminder to reorient our thoughts. I’ve definitely been focusing lately on what’s killing me. In fact, when just posed with the question of what’s saving me right now, I couldn’t even come up with one thing. That just goes to show you much I really need to take the time to focus on the positive. I’m looking forward to sharing on Feb 2nd and reading others’ lists as well!

  17. Becca says:

    Ann,
    Thank you so much for writing this post. As someone who is battling anxiety and panic attacks, this is a fantastic reminder to ask myself what’s good in my life. It’s also a reminder for me to practice good self care. I appreciate you and your blog so much. It’s literally been one of the lifesavers for me this past year.

  18. Kitty Balay says:

    I’m so glad to see others of you talking about the Women’s March and how much it meant to you. After weeks of sadness & depression, I felt inspired & energized to finally start moving forward again. The solidarity of so many women and all of that pink saved me! I know we don’t talk about politics here but,
    “Ah, how good it is to be among some LIKE-MINDED readers!”

  19. Samantha says:

    I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) so my second winter here in Mid-Maine has been brutal. Last winter was mild. Not so this time around. I think we’ve had 5 snow/ice storms already. My car has been plowed in twice by the city plows and because I’m disabled I had to depend on my neighbors and my awesome landlord/landlady to dig me out. Once the days started getting longer I kept telling myself that we are one day closer to Spring. I definitely need this perspective shift since I too have mostly been thinking about what is killing me. I look forward to sharing the list of what is saving me on February 2nd!

  20. Love this post Anne! And without realizing it, I’ve been keeping a similar list in my journal as of late. Given my health (living with advanced & disabling Rheumatoid disease) I learned a long time ago to keep the appreciating my blessings & the ‘little’ or ‘simple’ things because those are what get me through, but having had mono on top of everything else now for 4 months & counting, it’s been rough, to say the least lol My usual go-to’s aren’t exactly working so I’m having to find other ways to cope, which is maddening given the amount of brain fog I’ve got going on lol And while I normally love winter (except wind chill), I don’t love one without snow, and winter in our neck of the northeast has been all about no snow and being dark & gloomy for days at a time. Blah. So that hasn’t helped either! I started making my list this morning and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you and everyone! (And hopefully I can do a little catch up with the MMD bookclub in the meantime).

  21. Cara says:

    I love this post, thank you Anne! My dad (who was my favorite person in the whole world) passed away four years ago this April, and he always told me that when you were feeling down you should plan something you could look forward to. In my everyday life, I plan for walks in the park or a cup of tea from my favorite tearoom. The anticipation makes the experience even more enjoyable. Long-term, my husband and I are planning our honeymoon!! We had a tiny wedding so we could save up for a big trip, and will be traveling to Venice, Bern, London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. Does anyone have suggestions for books I can read that are set in or around those cities? I find that if I read books that are set in places I plan to travel I establish a connection to the setting that makes my experience that much more enjoyable.

  22. Anna says:

    Thanks for this — this is fun. I have an odd situation, perhaps, in that the cold seasons of fall and winter are my MOST favorite. I like August just a little because it means fall is just around the corner. I like June because it means August is on the way soon. July has to be my least favorite.

    This winter has been unusually wintery where I live in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve relished it. I did have a moment of anxiety though just recently when I realized that it is temporary, and that soon sweaters won’t feel good as they will be way too hot. So I started to panic and get down at the coming warm seasons. That said, I do try to warm up to spring and summer (ha! no pun intended). Trying to find reasons to like them.

    This brings me to my quandary — why do people like warm seasons? I’m so curious. Pretty much it could be that fall and winter are introverted seasons and they suit me well. But I know introverts who like summer, so maybe it doesn’t work the same way for them.

    This post inspired me to make my own list, even though I love winter. Thank you!

    • Shar says:

      Seems you and I are both introverts, but love the exact opposite seasons. Maybe that has to do with how/where we grew up? I am a Texas girl and we have been stationed in cold places the last 8 years (Germany and Colorado). I find that every year, once school starts, I begin bracing myself for winter. I tell myself “just make it through January” like a mantra and I often joke that I don’t even thaw out until it hits at least 80 degrees.
      You asked what it was that warm weather lovers love about summer months, maybe if you know what some of us focus on in Spring and Summer you will have more of an appreciation for it (please share your loves of winter, because it might do me some good too). I love summer first and foremost because my babies are home, no school, no schedules, no tests, no feeling of only getting a few hours with them each day. I start planning a whole list of fun activities for us to do at the beginning of May so it doesn’t just feel like we are all sitting around bored and staring at each other day in and day out. I kick this list off the same way every year, ice cream for dinner. We go to Cold Stone and get every topping of our hearts desire and just binge on it. I love flip-flops, skirts, and dresses. My goal is to wear them as long as possible. Maybe you could invest in a new warm weather wardrobe, complete with shoes, to at least put you in the mood for summer with all of your fresh pretties. Summer means we can travel home to visit family and we treasure that time so much. Cousins galore! We love BBQs and eating outdoors for dinner. Everyone brings side dishes to my sister’s house and we have huge family dinners on the weekends. We spend every warm day we can at the pool (there aren’t many warm days in Colorado that don’t also have rain). Our theaters here all run summer movie schedules both indoor and outdoor, so you see previously run movies for free or a $1 and then you buy whatever concessions. We love spray parks and water parks. You can’t forget snowcones! We love summer reading at the library. My husband and I take trips on his motorcycle and travel all over where we are currently stationed. Drive-in movies are a must. It gets dark here by 4 in winter, so I love that we see the sun more in summer. We love 4th of July, fireworks, and parades. There are a lot of festivals to travel around and experience in summer, maybe look up some of the ones for your state and make it a goal to attend them. And I think another thing I really love is how it feels like summer is the one time that kids just really get to be kids. There is of course more, but this post is getting quite lengthy and I am beginning to ramble. I hope this helped and would love to hear your response on winter. 🙂

  23. Diana says:

    I LOVED The Sun is Also a Star! One of the best YA books I’ve read. Looking forward to seeing what is helping others get through this (sometimes) miserable season!

  24. Sheryl D. Anderson says:

    I’ve been a member of Mrs. Darcy since the beginning, and it has been an enjoyable experience just to have this great connection with all of these wonderful people who love reading the best books as much as I do. Then on Jan 8, 2017 I experienced a painful heart attack. It just came without any warning! On Jan. 12th I had quadruple bypass surgery. Doing well—but the comment I want to make is that this connection I have with all these book lovers has become a lifeline for me. Just to read their comments and read their comments about new books they’re reading—it has all been an enjoyable experience for me. I had signed up to read War and Peace along with all the other crazy people, but that got cut off for me! I will probably never get caught up with everyone, but again, I am enjoying the comments. Thanks so much to all of these wonderful people–you have truly been a lifeline for me this winter in a way I never anticipated.

  25. Sarah says:

    Thanks Anne! This sounds a lot like the premise behind One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. She shares her story about starting to daily writing down things that she was thankful for. I read this for a class in college and started keeping a thankfulness list as I was reading. It was amazing how much more aware I became of things to be thankful for just by writing them down. You’re whole attitude changes when you are always thinking of things to be thankful for. The way that she writes is a little flowery, but it’s such a heartwarming read. Highly recommended!

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