One word mayest changeth everythingeth.

I read a word once. It changed my life.

First, an explanation of an extra large year. I learned the shit out of 2013, to put it plainly. There were hateful things done and said towards me that I took so very personally. There were hateful things said and done by me that I casually tried to forget. There were apologies to people I will never get apologies from. There a stomach knotted in frustration at the overwhelming heap of things and people I cannot change. There were relationships bruised and broken and then again, others neatly mended, and lots of microscopic daily happenings, slight ticks on a big clock, that set in motion a mighty change. There were the happy, confusing things like precious babies and chocolate, good writing and amazing support. It was a hot mess mingle of amazing and awful that I just couldn’t figure out. In the midst of such turbulent time, I stole a minute to reread my favorite book, Steinbeck’s East of Eden, and there it was. My word.

The book tells intertwined, modern interpretations of the story of Cain & Abel or as I like to call it “The Original WHY CAN’T YOU KIDS JUST GET ALONG? Tale”. For those of you who skipped Sunday School, here’s the basic gist: Adam & Eve had two sons, Cain & Abel. Both sons brought offerings to God, but God only accepted Abel’s. Cain, in a jealous bitch fit, killed his brother. God was super pissed, Cain got exiled to a land East of Eden, and he was all pitying himself while in eternal Time Out. I think that’s about right. I don’t know. I skipped Sunday School, too.

In Steinbeck’s recasting of the story, various characters attempt to pawn their bad behavior by blaming everything and everyone. Enter the one reasonable character, a wise, Asian servant named Lee, to set those hoodlums straight. A secret scholar, Lee decided to use his free time to pick apart the translation of the story of Cain & Abel. I would’ve spent my day off looking for a less Jerry-Springer-ish work environment , but that’s just me. In his studies, Lee discovered one word, one little word, that flipped the Life Script. And here is where one word changed me, stirred something up and settled something down. And here is where I hope this one word will change you, too. And I guess I should shut up and share it with you: TIMSHEL.


In his research, little Lee found that God didn’t so much lightning-bolt-n-hell-fire damn Cain as Cain damned his own damn self.  Essentially, God told Cain that he can (if he insists on actin’ a fool) hurt himself. So it was with this small term, timshel, thou mayest, that I started to do The Big Thinking.

Upon adding ‘timshel’ to my vocabulary, I pranced around for a couple of months smiling all smugly, internally bragging because I was the only person who read the book and thus knew all kinds of major life wisdom more so than anyone else. Ha! I’ve got the secret to life, suckers!

Lady’s being mean to the cashier in the grocery store. Acts like she would be nicer, if her kid wasn’t screaming?

Timshel, motha fuggaaaaa! (throws hands up like exploding bomb)

Someone mad at me for not being mad at other people?

Damn, girl, you done damned yo’self. Tim. Shel.

Guy sucking at life because his dad sucked at life?

WHEN I SAY TIM, YOU SAY SHEL. TIM! SHEL! TIM! SHEL! (must cup one’s hands for proper cheerleading clap)

Watching a news report on “Affluenza”? Gossip? Wars? Retaliation? Rude against your own will?

To hell & Timshel with all of it.

   Then I stopped being on my period, got my head out of everybody else’s business, and applied this new word to myself.  And what an interesting concept that was.

Timshel demands self-reflection. It is a blessing and a burden, more or less one or the other depending on how you handle yourself. Rip the Band Aid off and lead with the bad news. So, here goes it: the burden. If for good or bad I am the boss of my behavior, I must take sole credit for the uglier moments.  I must, literally, say “my bad”. Your parents might’ve been horrible. Your financial situation might make you cranky. The person you’re talking about might, in most minds, totally deserve it. But how did you live? How do you act? This side of timshel- this knowing that I am the one who mayest do bad all by myself- is, quite frankly, a bummer. I mean, wahhhh. I rather liked the philosophy of hitting back: that if you slap me first I can’t be held accountable for punching you in the nose. It’s only fun being as asshole when we can blame it on someone else. Can I get an amen from all my jerks in the crowd!

iwillbegood iwillbegood iwillbegood-ish

But fear not, depressed reader! The grand finale is good news. Timshel tells us that, while we have the power to be bad, we have the same power to not be. I have been told I’m this and that, mean, wrong, less-than, and plenty I have believed it. I’ve been told I’ve had such horrible intentions that I never knew I had. But all of a sudden, timshel. I may be good. If no one knows it. If know one acknowledges it. If it doesn’t feel like being the bigger person means winning. If everyone around me is aiming to hurt, to wound, to break. If the whole world wants to be bad and point a finger.   I may still and always be good. What a relief that is! What a profound magic trick! I can do good all by myself, too.

What I found is that the more I remind myself- timshel, timshel, timshel– the less, eventually, I’ll need reminding. If I am so focused trying to be a good person, I pay less attention to other people’s ugliness because I recognize their badness as their own and because I’m too preoccupied working on good to even bother. Their mess is their mess. My mess is my mess. I’d like to spend what time I have cleaning up my clutter. So with just one measly word I feel empowered, motivated to be kind, freed from the heavy misbehavior of those around me, and-simply simplified. Like a finely distilled, purified cup of the happy-flavored juice. Don’t let nothin’ taint it.

Whether or not  you need to call your old college roommate and apologize for blaming her for your body issues (it’s not her fault she looks cute in tiny shorts!), whether or not the holidays made you want to voluntarily get a transfusion so you can stop sharing blood with your kin, whether or not crowded parking lots and frigid winds feel like the perfect excuse to chew out an unassuming Target cashier, STOP IT. You can be better than bad. You may even be good.

On the verge of a fresh year (and perhaps every year, forevermore), I wish you a seriously new New Year.

Be good. I’m going to try to be. Because, by god, we’re allowed to.

What’s your word for 2014?


100 thoughts on “One word mayest changeth everythingeth.

  1. I can’t even tell you how much I needed to read this right now. Thank you.

    Seriously. Thank you.

    Time to reflect.

  2. Timshel – I love it. I’ve never heard it before and do agree it is most powerful when applied to your own thoughts and actions. My word for 2014? Not sure yet. But I like the idea of having one so I’m going to have a good think on it.

  3. So THAT is what that word means. And here I thought it was drunk Uncle Jack, complaining about the little silver strips on the floor under the Xmas tree! 😀
    Sorry, I never went to Sunday school. When I do wrong, I tend to do penance by doing things for others. I also am not Catholic, so I have NO clue where that comes from. Oh, and since I’m confessing, I also don’t have an Uncle Jack. But it’s a great joke, right? RIGHT?!? 😉
    Oh well, I’ll go for a definite win. “Happy New Year, to you and yours, Tori!”

    1. I really, REALLY need to write it and remind myself. It’s been a couple weeks of gritting my teeth and chanting “timshel, timshel, timshel”. Still hard not to punch back 😦

  4. Love it! I haven’t read the book, so you totally sound smart to me. Shazam!

    My word for 2014 is “ease”. I had a brutal year of striving and trying to make big things happen. It exhausted me. For 2014, I still want big, abundant things, but I want them in a way that feels “ease-full” to me. (Not easy– necessarily– but I’m tired of swimming upstream.)

    Happy New Year to you and your family, Tori!

      1. Steal away, dear. I just read a post from a big-time blogger this morning and discovered that her word was “ease”, too. I don’t have exclusive rights over ease… yet.

  5. I’m jealous.

    Because you have such a badass word. So wicked wonderful. So powerful.

    I’m going to have to settle for three words, none of which is anywhere near as awesome as yours. You’re going to have to come see my blog tomorrow to find out what they are.

  6. Timshel. I have never, ever heard this beautiful word, but this is so what I’ve learned in 2013, too. We decide what sort of people we will be independent of the actions of others.

    I feel like I’m 5 and God gets down on one knee to look me in the eye and says, “Darlin’, what are you doin?” And I say, “I was just…Did you see what they did!? They were being mean!!” And he says, “We aren’t talking about them. What are you doin?”

    It doesn’t matter what they do or how they live. I am me and I can be kind or I can be angry. I can be bitter or I can forgive. I can white knuckle my hurts or I can let them go.

    Timshel, girl. Thanks for sharing.


    1. And the 5-yr-old talk with God is about the perfect visual for timshel. I work really, REALLY hard to be nice or, at the very least, stay quiet if I’m feeling mean. That is the kind of hard work that doesn’t always seem to be appreciated or validated by other people. My major malfunction was caring so much about that superficial validation. At the end of the day, it feels good to be good, all alone or in a crowd.

  7. I don’t have “a word” . . . I have a slew of adages and aphorisms at the ready:

    * Accept the what is.
    * Here’s to being BETTER not BITTER!
    * Embrace all with joy, anything can be a gift of gold in disguise.

    And the one that would have saved Abel from Cain’s Ego:

    * When you have conquered the enemy within, there are no enemies left to conquer.

    Happy New Year!

  8. Wow. I don’t have a word; therefore, I intend to use yours. Hope you don’t mind. If everyone in the world would embrace that word – and its deep meaning – this world would be so very much better. I love your blogs, Tori. Thank you.

    1. Lucy!!!! That was the frustrating part of learning Timshel. I immediately wanted ALL PEOPLE EVERYWHERE to really follow it. It actually frustrated me a little. The best we can do is apply timshel to ourselves and hope that goodness is catching 🙂 Hope you are well and thanks so much for reading my little blog!

  9. My word? Sadly this last year my word was either chocolate or stress, with maybe a couple of side words like, weight gain and ulcers. No, I Adore your word, I am stealing it, embracing it. You have indeed done good, with this post you have helped me pull my head out of my butt. Many thanks, I was getting a crook in my neck. I have to go vinyl doohickey that word to my wall….

    1. Dear Kristal, You used the word ‘doohickey’ and now I love you. Let’s be frands 🙂 I was right there, head-up-arse, with you, girl! I got so many giant, slap-in-the-face lessons this year that I FINALLY had to pay attention. I needed timshel in a bad, bad way!

  10. Timshel is one of my favorite words as well. Learned it in high school and it’s a truly beautiful sentiment. Thanks for posting this and reminding us all that our lives are our own. Happy new year! xoxo

    1. I WISH I would’ve learned it in high school. Apparently I really didn’t pay attention reading these books the first time around. I’ve spent a chunk of time rereading books from my teen/college years and I am BLOWN AWAY at how much I didn’t notice/understand back then!

  11. You deserve some timshel, Tori. And a big break. I only know a sliver of what this year brought you, but it is dang hard to do the right thing in some situations, no matter how hard we try.

    My word? Live. I will live the hell out of my life.

    1. Ahhh Betty. I like that you added “And be very happy that you did!”. I’m still working on that part. No point trying and loving if I’m inwardly a little grumpy about it 🙂

  12. I hadn’t heard the word Timshel before. I love it! I even love the sound of the word.
    Thanks so much for this post.

    My word for 2014 should be “balance”. I need to remind myself of balance when I work too much or get too focused on one thing. It’s a work in progress. 🙂

    Peace and joy to you in 2014, Tori!

    1. Peace and Joy! I’ll take seconds! Balance is tricky, isn’t it? I always end up a little lopsided. I might need to use your word in 2014, too 🙂 Happy New Year to you, Jackie!

  13. Haha I was going to mention the Mumford and Sons song but I see somebody already did. It’s very powerful what one word can do when it broadens our understanding of something larger and opens the floodgates to a new way of living. You have an excellent grasp of self-awareness which is both a great gift but a burden because once we become aware of our action, our inaction and our behaviours everything becomes more intentional and mindfulness becomes ever present in our every decision. Which can be a tad exhausting and means we can no longer blame the world for our issues and just easily ignore our role in what happens in our lives. Still it is a richer and more fulfilling way of living!

    1. Ned! Your comments are always so perfect and thoughtful! You completely get the blessing/burden aspect of timshel. If anything that is more motivation for me to focus on being good. The more I am good the less of a burden it becomes. There are definitely those moments, though, when responding to someone else’s bad with my own bad sounds glorious. It is so tempting to fight back because I (like most people) have lived under the impression that if someone else started it I can’t be held accountable for retaliating. If EVERYTHING I do is truly, truly MY doing, I can’t quite get away with hitting back like I used to. In the long run, I know those bad moments aren’t worth it. We are better than that and have to act accordingly 🙂

  14. Deb said what I need to say. I needed to read this, needed to read it right now, right this moment in my life. Thank you for writing it. I didn’t have a word, maybe I do now, do you mind if I adopt your word?

    1. YES! I would love if everybody’s word was timshel. I know I needed it (in a desperate way) to be mine. The more and more I look around, I’m convinced maybe the whole world needs some timshel as well 🙂

  15. My word for the new year is courage. Courage to change, courage to stand, courage to be me, and courage to live again. Something I’ve been lacking in because of my past. I like your word but I’ve always known of free will and choices. Mankind is capable of such greatness and such evil. Our choices determine which we are. I see you heading for greatness with that attitude.

    1. Oh wow. You’re so nice. I’m not aiming for greatness. Just plain old good would be great! I LOVE your word for the new year. So many of my choices have been dictated out of fear or worry. I’ve been a little bit scared to be the “bad guy” or ruffle feathers so I’ve stayed in line quietly. Timshel, the idea that I can be the boss of myself but no one else, helped me get a little brave. I do what I know for myself to be right and stop worrying about how others will respond/react. Wishing you the bravest, boldest, most courageous 2014 🙂

    1. Thanks so much. Full credit to John Steinbeck because he was one smart, smart guy. Love your comment. The world DOES make a lot more sense when we separate the bad and good so simply!

  16. This is great. I saw the movie and read the book right after I got married, and I was really intrigued by that whole part with Cain and Abel. We all have that choice. Love that that is your word! (Mine is less intriguing – it’s hope. But it’s what I need this year! Stopping by from SITS!)

    1. Just saw the pingback asking for notification when reblogging. Sorry am new to the blogging world, I didn’t want to advertise here for my blog so didn’t mention that I had reblogged this post 🙂

  17. What an incredible piece. I loved East of Eden. I’ve been looking for my next book when I finish my current and you’ve inspired me to reread Steinbeck’s great book. Beyond the great message you send, your writing was awesome, humor put in at just the right spots. Lol at “Timshel, motha fuggaaaaa! (throws hands up like exploding bomb)” so freakin funny!
    It is high time for everyone to accept their own behaviors for what they are and accept that we will all always make mistakes but owning those mistakes is as important as the apology.
    It seems so many people had the same kind of sucky 2013 leading to personal growth which in fact may have made 2013 a great year. I am no exception and found this post really hit home. Thanks 🙂

  18. ” Their mess is their mess. My mess is my mess. I’d like to spend what time I have cleaning up my clutter. ”

    Yes, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous tells us to focus on our side of the street.

  19. So many intriguing responses, as a writer, that is what you hope for ! Sorry it took me until January 27th to see your post. I especially loved the way your post focused every reader to look inward and focus their attention on their personal goals, aspirations, and quite frankly self evaluation on how they deal with others and themselves.

    The 5 year old talking to GOD reference was very spot on, as well the Mumford and Sons song. A fan of Steinbeck and Robert Penn Warren, I was also unaware of “Timshel” and it’s nature. Yet everyone who has read your post has taken time to reflect inward on how we react to the ugly behaviour we witness daily in our “society”. As I have shared with you on many occasions, my personal exposure to the concept and the empowerment to overcome came from Miguel Ruis and his book “The Four Agreements”. We all walk among wounded and hurt people everyday. The question is whether or not you let them drag you into their pain by begging and begging you to interact at that level.

    I would tell all of your readers to be prepared to say “Timshel” to themselves each time before they walk into a Walmart, grocery store, a State agency, or other location where they are sure to run into the “wounded”.

    Most of all I would like to complement you on your excellent, slightly irreverent, yet poignant writing style. I knew when you won that State-wide writing contest at Grassland Elementary that you could be the writer I always dreamed of becoming!

    Love Poppi!

  20. Hahahahahahahaha I’m literally rolling on the floor with laughter right now after your TIM.SHEL chearleader routine description ^0^ I just loved this post, though I stumbled on it by accident – such serendipity!!! Thank you for giving me a moment to both laugh heartily and self-reflect!=)

    1. Hi there! So sorry I’ve taken forever to respond. A couple lazy days turn into three weeks 😦 Thanks so much for the award! Very sweet!

  21. I *HAD* to reblog this. 2014 is all about giving myself permission and making choices. THOU MAYEST is empowering for me. I and I alone am choosing who I will be, what I will be, where I will go. If you feel like rambling over to my blog to see why, timshel! (it may explain why I found this so profound). Wishing you love, peace & happiness!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing my post! Timshel is a real game changer, for sure. So glad you’re embracing your ability to “mayest”!!!!

  22. Pingback: My word for 2014.

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