Posted by: Mark Nielsen | January 1, 2016

Random Resolutions, Regrets and Reboots


I’m just going stream of consciousness here, people, with as little self-editing as possible, since after a crazy start at midnight it’s finally become a quiet night at work, and I feel this potent combo of silliness and existential angst bubbling up trying to express itself.

Dear Diary:

It’s New Year’s Day, and I’m looking back over the past year (or even the past 50 years, though that dam of denial seems to be holding back the nostalgia and regret pretty well today, with my finger stuck in the dike quite firmly).

2015 was year one of my engagement to Susan, year two of our relationship, year four in my cozy/dinky Chicago apartment, year five (though legally only year three) of being a divorced dad, year 29 of my struggle to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up”, and year 32 of my alternately leaping, staggering, dancing, crawling, limping, walking, but always remarkable journey in the Way of Jesus.

I’m looking for signposts along that Way today, but my vision feels blurred by fatigue, depression and busy-ness. I’m not lost, but I don’t feel especially “found” either.

So I keep searching. Or what is faith for, if not to give stamina and hope when certainty is in short supply? At the signpost I spotted last night, I listened to a favorite public radio program  –“On Being, With Krista Tippett”. The show always features some terrific, going-deep interview with a public figure on their life and work, and especially the spiritual roots of their life and ideas. Recent “On Being” broadcast/podcast offerings have featured L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, Quaker educator Parker Palmer, Buddhist contemplative Thich Nhat Hanh, Jesuit astrophysicists building a beautiful but tenuous bridge between faith and hard science, actor/activist Martin Sheen, and the late Irish Catholic poet John O’Donahue. But my hand-picked selection from the archives for this week was a show featuring the King and Queen of Banjo, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn (who are married).

The radio show hit all the sweet spots for me: 1) art and/or music (with and without lyrics) as God’s spiritually hard-wired second language; 2) exploration and human connection (as opposed to ego) as the reasons for any creative endeavor (if not any endeavor, period); and 3) simple, loving relationships (like this musician couples’) as the foundation of all that is or ever could be right with the world.

But I’m sort of melancholy now after the show– since if I’m being honest, all is not right with the world… not on the Big Blue Marble, and not in my tiny little world either. Yes, I’m in love (which helps a lot), and I have lots of great things going on in my life, but I’m still disillusioned and tired of this waiting around for who knows what, so that when it “arrives” I can feel satisfied instead of feeling like a loser living in a dinky apartment and working a graveyard shift as a security guard while working on a half dozen creative projects that will never be completed (let alone published or distributed). I’m nowhere near as “actualized” as Bela or Abigail. And I’m sort burnt around my edges by now, much more tentative than I thought I would be at this age. If knowing who I am is to be self-actualized, then perhaps I’m not even as enlightened or actualized as Archie Bunker.

But then I swing the pendulum back toward optimism, and I get over my stupid American exceptionalism where I think I deserve a comfortable life, and I can say I’m doing just fine. So then the question is, when I have to make a choice (like changing jobs, my current hope for the next six months), is it right ENOUGH? Am I at least heading toward my intended destination? As the wise man once said: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” So with that in mind, detaching from a sick expectation of perfection, and valuing what (and whom) are good and viable and “close enough”, is a smart place to start for 2016.

Susan and Mark, our first photo together, New Year's Eve 2014

Susan and Mark, our first photo together, New Year’s Eve 2014

Since this week marks the second anniversary of when Susan and I first met, that #3 item above has been on my mind a lot lately anyway. Without getting into too many personal details, we’re at a sort of crossroads together. And while that sense of possibility for us is usually exciting, sometimes it has us scared shirtless, as if the crossroads we’re at is the corner of Sesame Street and Mad Max’s Fury Road. With an eighth of a tank of gas.

Suddenly the image of Clint Eastwood comes to mind, in Every Which Way But Loose, telling the best simian actor ever: “Right turn, Clyde.” So… I’m gonna stay wide, well out of range of that orangutan’s right cross, and go ‘head and make that right turn, see where it takes me. It beats standing still.

Love, re-marriage and career reboots at age 50 (for both Susan and I, not to mention a total transplant to a giant, road-raging new city for Susan) will be nothing like the easy, unencumbered, optimistic, energized way that we took on these challenges in our twenties. Yes, St. Paul said that love casts out fear, and it’s true. What he didn‘t say, however, is that it may take decades for that love to marinate and sink down into the deep tissue of my soul, where that fear lives and hides and does not WANT to just dissolve without a fight. It’s only the rare person who gets one of those big epiphanies that eliminates all fear and self-doubt. For the rest of us, it’s the old “fear and trembling”, until we master the art of love (of both ourselves and of others).

None of that above came out as clear, honest or brave as I had hoped it would be. But vague yet hopeful, indecisive yet prayerful, worried yet persevering is all I can manage these days.

My one resolution for this year is pretty simple: to better plan my vacations and overall leisure time off work– in order to enjoy my loved ones while I can, maximize resources, and reduce stress and confusion (especially for others) about what the plan actually is. And the plans may still not turn out as we had hoped, but at least we won’t have as much blind last-minute grasping,  and missed opportunities, which we still have far too often with “half-assed” as my default setting for future goals and reasonable timelines.

If you see me along the way this year, flag me down and let me know if I’m still on-course. I’ve had enough detours in this life. If I ever get to where I want to be, where I feel I belong, hopefully some of you will be right alongside me.




  1. Hey Mark,
    Thanks for this. Nice to catch up (sort of) with what’s going on with you. Miss you around Redeemer, man. Don’t be a stranger. Hope to connect up soon in the new year in person.

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