an open letter to new years – a guest post by shea petaja


I have known her since the day I was born and she has been by my side ever since, even though we live 900 miles away from each other. She texted me last Monday to say: “I’m in Florida, at a retirement community with ample time to write. Give me a prompt please.” And I replied with these five words: “The hard road to beautiful”.

She accepted my challenge and two days later I received an email, which she permissioned me to publish here.

Then I remembered that a year ago she wrote a guest post for me titled, “I said Yes.” which ended with “to be continued…” Because she was writing her story dead center, without a conclusion, without a neat bow for her loose ends. A year later, she still doesn’t have closure. Her body is still broken and there are more questions than answers. Through various stages of grief she has finally landed on acceptance, which oddly enough has given her more power, less fear.

This post is vastly different.
This post happened on accident.
This post is a permission slip, a way out of resolving her life by January 1st.


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I’m an entertainer. In this world full of over-shares, political opinions and “news” (p.s. can we please stop talking about Rob Bell?), I prefer to present the lighter side of things through humor.

Lucille Ball said it best when she observed, “I’m not funny, I’m brave.” Humor is my way to release the pressure of this life. I’m not being trite.  I’m smart.  I know what I’m doing – I’m showing you what I want you to see.

All is not well all of the time – you and I both know that. For those of you who are willing, let’s start 2015 by taking a dip into the deep end.

I live in a town with very little elbow room – a town of shared air and one degree of separation.  Over the years, I have learned that time folds. My past meets my present daily, and for every two steps forward I take one look back.  Because of this folding trick, I have learned to become all things to all people (but then again, don’t we all?).  To quote the Verve, “I’m a million different people from one day to the next.”  While I wear many hats, I never wear a mask.

I’m your friend, your acquaintance, your neighbor, your daily dose of humor, your muse, your frenemy, your client, your “Petaja”, your coach, your ex, your family, your coffee date or your [fill in the blank].

Like a woman on a diet rationing her butter on toast and spreading it thin and even, I only have so much to give.  The secret to surviving as a Giver is to gather yourself up at the end of the day.  I bring back what I have spread out and feed myself.

This lesson was brought to me by 2014 after I said, “Yes” and before the ball dropped.

Mary Oliver sums it up like this:

We shake with joy,

we shake with grief.

What a time they have, these two

housed as they are in the same body.

On Facebook, the reality of time folding and manic tricks will become more true more quickly. Recently, the newsfeeds are back-to-back New Years Resolutions, celebrations, and a few middle fingers facing 2014. One post in particular caught my attention.  In fact, when I read it, I wept.

My friends posted a raw, honest and heartfelt update.  They have faced not just several difficult years recently, but they are also facing a difficult new year.  They can’t flip the switch between today and tomorrow in order to “make it all better.”  The ball is dropping, time is folding and they are forced to stay in the reality of now.

The contrast in posts brought me to this conclusion: I don’t believe in New Years Resolutions.  Why? Because they turn us into record keepers measuring the good and the bad and people who draw a hard line between the two.  We vow to have more good than bad next year, but:
We can’t make that promise.

We can’t manipulate the gods in our favor by mental hula-hoops of positive self-talk.  We can’t will a good year into existence with mantras and status updates.  We can’t discipline ourselves by naming all of our ugly parts and placing them in a corner, flocking them into submission.  We can’t even choose not to die.

What we can do though, is choose to stay.

This past summer, my friend Christina called me from Boston.  Her mother was admitted into the hospital in our hometown (where I still live).  Christina asked me to be a surrogate daughter for her mom until she could make it home in a few days.

In the hospital I gave her mother a back massage and she gave me dating advice.  I gave her a hug and promised to return on Sunday with Christina.

I did return on Sunday with Christina, but her mother, without so much as a diagnosis, suddenly passed away. Walking into the hospital to say goodbye to someone who was already gone left us both in shock and speechless.  As we entered Christina said this, “I’m glad you’re here Shea.  I’m glad you live here. Sometimes being the one that stays is the best ministry.”

Life happens because of us and life happens to us.

My hope is that because of both, I will become a better version of myself regardless of the time or date.  We can’t control what is brought to us, we can only respond with varying levels of grace.

I am convinced that in this life, on this side of things, we are better for choosing to stay.  We are better for opening our arms to the good and the bad alike, accepting both like a child who can’t win or lose.

My friend Amy lost everything and afterwards her first revelation was this: I don’t have control.  Her second revelation: I don’t want control.

So many people write resolutions to regain control.  But it is a fine line, isn’t it?  That line between being a control freak and living intentionally?

For me, being sick and waiting for the next ball to drop has taught me this:  This year will be like the next and the rest.

We will gain and we will lose.
We will love and we will hate.
We will forgive and be reoffended.
We will be broken and put back together.
We will get sick and we will heal, eventually.
We will make friends and lose them.
We will fail and try again.
We will laugh with tears in our eyes and cry doing the same.
We will be born and we will die.

The ball will drop.  Time will fold.  In response, let us do this:

Let us choose to stay in sickness and in health, even when we have an out. Let us stop drawing hard lines.  Let us quit hiding in corners.  In response to getting ahead by making better resolutions, consider this: “You might make it further if you learn to stay.” -Brandi Carlile


Shea Petaja – Life Coach : Humorist : Writer

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