In my mind, I’m traveling across the South Carolina sand hills, driving the backroads passing landmarks so familiar each barely receives notice. The car glides over the blacktop and bridges while my mind reaches back through my memories, gliding just as easily down those neural pathways and jumping across synaptic junctions as if each a steppingstone to another year and place. I’m going home but only in my heart. I no longer have family in Orangeburg.
This Christmas is my sixty-third. Enough now, each new one becomes a rung on the ladder, a pause on the next step across a landscape where, as Maria Popova writes, “the best we can do is walk step by next intuitively right step until one day, pausing to catch our breath, we turn around and gasp at a path.” Maybe it is age, maybe it is a deep inhalation reflecting upon all those synaptic crossings and wondering if that path were either right or made a difference or if grief over my “what could have been” is worth pondering. But if reflection gives to me any beneficial wisdom, it is in looking back, I must turn and face again tomorrow’s uncertainty. But in doing so, I carry the lesson learned, the lesson Carl Jung expressed— “do the next right thing.” He is right. A bad decision yesterday does not prevent a good one tomorrow. Sometimes this means pain. Sometimes not. Each marks a step forward, a bridge crossed.
Evident to me, the right thing is embedded not simply in experience, but from those lives within me, those guiding relationships giving both permission and hesitation in taking the next step. I have often wondered why the right thing is at times apparent and then not at other times. Maybe, at least in my life, I suppressed those lives within me, lives inscribed speaking beneath my consciousness. I was either too focused on me or too much on the next step. But each was there, guiding me, finding presence in my struggles and triumphs when I knew what the next right thing was. There are a few of them. Going through a catalog of Orangeburg memories, Daniel comes to mind.
As I think of him, I become aware of his importance in my life when knowing what the next right thing was. I did not always remember him. I did not always think of him. But in reflecting, his friendship and his gentle soul found gravity in my journey. In some way, Daniel became a Christ figure in my life, a light unexplained. I’ve been told some people experience such a gift. Daniel was mine. While I spent my life wasting time seeking things true instead of truth, when truth did emerge, Daniel was there, whether I thought of him or not, along with the others. It’s so clear now, black and white, like Daniel and me.
These lives within me—Mom, Dad, N., my children, Daniel, and others—have been gifts, Christmas presents wrapped in each next right thing done. This is Christmas to me.