ROAR: Reckoning Our Actions Rigorously
by Chris Leslie
Reckoning – Archaic for the process of settling accounts.
When Jena Schwartz invited me to contribute to her ROAR sessions I began to muse about an acronym for the word “ROAR.” After considering several variations I settled on the one that means the most to me at this time of year and the title of this essay. Having grown up in the south, the word “reckon” is among my favorite southern words so this works for me. Maybe it will for you, too.
Over the last 15 years I have learned a fair amount about reckoning my actions rigorously. This has become a way of life for me, one that helps me address and remedy actions I have taken that were not in my best interest and/or in the best interest of others. It has also helps me to acknowledge and commend myself for actions that have been in my best interest and/or in the best interest of others.
Settling my yearly accounts has become a very healthy strategy for me that is fun, meaningful, and readies me for the next year. The origins of this practice are varied. In the business world it’s called “auditing the books” or “taking an inventory.” In some religions it’s called “the confessional.” I like the term “reckoning” because it carries both spiritual and practical connotations in one word for “auditing the books” and visiting a confessional booth.
Marley’s ghost, the character in Charles Dickens, Christmas Carol, has played a part in why this process of “reckoning our actions rigorously” makes good sense to me. Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner, comes to Scrooge on Christmas Eve laden in chains binding him for eternity. He wove the chains burdening his soul by being miserly and unconcerned for the welfare of those much less fortunate than he when he walked the earth. He comes to warn Scrooge that he will suffer the same fate unless Scrooge sees the errors of his ways, which he does with the help of three spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future, who escort him through the process of reckoning his actions rigorously.
Scrooge is very moved by revisiting scenes from his life when he could have made different choices, and then again, when he reviews choices he could make differently in the future. Scrooge awakens from his reckoning journey to discover that it is not too late for him and he can indeed live the balance of his life well by amending his miserly ways and by being kind, generous, thoughtful, and merry.
And so it is with me each year now. I take a reckoning journey over the choices and actions of my life at the end of each calendar year. I assess what was healthy and what was not so I can learn from and go on from my mistakes and, if possible, mend any harm done. I also love reveling in the good stuff!
2015 was a challenging year, as well as a pleasantly surprising, good year! The first six months of 2015 were filled with some very difficult circumstances that made life very stressful. My spouse and I were able to weather this stormy period by supporting each other and calling out the best in each other instead of the worst, for the most part. Yeah us!
We were able to do this because we tended our relationship. We started by going to an amazing couples’ retreat in the snowy woods of western MA over Valentines weekend. We laughed and cried a lot and we learned a lot. We left the retreat much more appreciative of each other. After getting through a glacial winter, we spent 10 exquisite days on the Gulf Coast of Florida in mid-April. In late May we spent six days in D.C. so we could attend the wedding of one of our nieces, visit with dear friends and family, and take in some of the sights.
In mid-June, the Supreme Court declared marriage legal for all couples wishing to wed in this great country of ours, relieving our considerable worry that our marriage might never be legal in every state of the union. At the end of June, we made the decision for Mary to end a job that had become very unhealthy for her and for her to retire.
Since making this decision, Mary has been able to rest, recuperate, and reinvent herself as we have reworked our priorities for the better. Yeah us!
Over Labor Day Weekend, we made our way to north Georgia for our annual pilgrimage to the south lands to spend time with family and to welcome a niece’s new husband to our clan. Dionisio hales from Maputo, Mozambique, so my niece’s marriage to him crossed international as well as racial lines never crossed before in our family. Mary and I were privileged to be present as my 88-year-old father conducted MJ’s and Di’s American marriage.
We were teary and joyful as they exchanged their wedding vows with the beloved words: to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do us part. That we looked like drowned rats just in from the swimming pool did not phase us at all. We were together. We were strengthening our family and we loved every minute of it!
To top it off, the birth of their triplets was imminent in early September so we were all giddy with joy in anticipation of their arrival. We were relieved and thrilled when our two newest great nephews and great niece arrived on 9/15/15 healthy and raring to go!
Last but not least, in October Mary and I spent a week on Cape Cod enjoying the warmth of the late fall, walking on the beach, taking in the beauty that is second-to-none on Cape Cod, shopping in Provincetown, and eating lots of really good food. Tending our marital tethers has been really good for us as has tending our familial tethers. We highly recommend it!
Over the last year, I have made healthier choices, in large part, because I have a goal of living well into my 90’s in good health, God willing as the saying goes. I have been more willing to go the gym and work out regularly. I have been more willing to eat organic and unprocessed food, thanks in large part, to my spouse’s devotion to wonderful, well-prepared healthy food! I don’t consume alcohol (stopped 15 years ago) and I don’t smoke cigarettes! I ride my bicycle to work when the weather is good. My spouse and I kayak in beautiful places in VT when it’s warm. I downhill ski when we have ample snow. Most important of all, I am taking more time to play, pray and meditate. As the above tells you, I am determined to be more intentional about spending quality time with my spouse, our family and our friends near and far. Every time I call and talk to my 88-year-old father, I thank God I still can.
Now that I am well into my sixth decade, I am very mindful that I have lived two-thirds of my life. This, too, is a reason I am more devoted to taking time to reckon my actions rigorously. My goal is to live what life I have left with gusto, grit, generosity, and gratitude so when the time comes, I can leave this world with as few regrets as possible, with as many fences mended as needed, and with the unbounded joy that comes from having lived long and loved well.
Marley’s message was not meant just for Scrooge. There is a Scrooge in all of us that, if left untended, can really wreak some havoc in our lives. Hence, the process of reckoning my actions rigorously — on some kind of regular basis — helps me keep the Scrooge inside of me from reverting to some rather unattractive and less than helpful patterns/habits that once plagued me and sometimes still do.
Auditing my life’s books at the end of each year, settling my accounts, makes good sense and readies me for what is yet to come. It takes a willingness, though, to be rigorously honest which is not for the faint of heart. Looking ourselves squarely in the eye and making the decision to stop doing things that hurt us and others takes courage and spiritual fortitude. In fact, I have found it necessary if I am to venture into the next year without the chains of mistakes and hurtful actions hanging all over me.
I will leave you with three mottoes that I strive to live by, ones you will probably know and perhaps take with you from this ROAR session: we reap what we sow, we are known by the company we keep, and actions speak louder than words. May the year ahead be filled with a bountiful harvest of love, gratitude, and joy; with people who are good for us and we them; and with actions that are thoughtful, helpful, inspiring, kind, forgiving, forbearing, and generous. Then, when it comes time to reckon 2016, we might not have so much work to do!
Happy New Year!
Chris Leslie lives in VT with her spouse, Mary, and their dog, Indy. Chris has been working as a Probation & Parole Officer with the VT Department of Corrections since May 2002. Prior to this, Chris was in the ministry for 25 years and served in various capacities that included parish ministry, hospital and hospice chaplaincy, drug and alcohol counseling, and running the Habitat For Humanity affiliate in Newark, NJ that she helped to found in 1985.
Chris and Mary are looking forward to retiring in five years and moving to the Eastern Shore outside of D.C. where the hope to spend more time with their family, playing in D.C., and walking on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. And eating lots and lots of good food!