The notion of choosing a word a year to study, exercise, and mull occurred to me especially this January, when upheaval and a sense of foreboding might have buried me in depression. Vigilance as refuge. Vigilance as resilience. Vigilance as agency. “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” has been repeated by several luminaries, including Thomas Jefferson, but in researching the phrase, I find no first mention. Maybe it appeared in our consciousness full blown like Athena, the goddess of wisdom, from the head of her father, Zeus. As a natural law and obvious fact, granted, it is invoked by disparate groups in their collective marches toward respective ideas of freedom.

Enter my word for the year. The quality of vigilance begs for watchfulness, attention, awareness, and mindfulness. By choosing it, I hope to set my intention firmly enough that my internal “observer” will allow me to rest more fully and in peace when I need to. At least one burden has been removed, but another remains (the virus), and while it is easier to haul two buckets of water, one in each hand, internally, I seek a working balance.

Decomposing the spectrum of Vigilance begins at the root. I see the vi as having to do with sight, with vision. The ritual of vigil has long informed our mythical side. From days of yore, as means to concentrate the mind of a soldier before battle, it came to be conflated with “wake,” related to vigil, inasmuch as remaining with a loved one until burial. And to make sure the deceased did not awaken. The wake evolved to often include a rowdy send-off, either in place of, or before the more solemn funeral.

The first exercise in making a year-long study of this word is in writing this piece. Invoking a word and imbuing it with meaning casts a spell of intent. Naming a thing settles the mind. Accepting a charge (in the old sense of the word) settles emotion. Practicing vigilance might entail myriad actions, as well as non-action, i.e., a daily period of meditation, to learn to listen with the ear of the heart. (If I harp on this one, it is because I require the constant drumbeat of its message—no inference to you, dear reader.)

Having published three novels over the last thirteen months, I might be tempted to confuse due diligence with vigilance, but they are not the same thing. Assiduous effort has forestalled the possibility of an existential break, as it were, and I am grateful for the work, and the support of loved ones. Vigilance becomes a discipline when followed with love, an internal message of love from my head to my heart.

The Simpler of The Riven Country Series and the author at home.