At the start of a new year, I like to ask three questions.

1. Who am I?

2. Why am I here?

3. What will I do with this year?

Simple questions, but hard to answer. Let’s start with “who.”

I’m basically the same person I’ve always been. A little wiser, I hope. A bit worse for wear. And definitely older. My “titles” include wife, mom, nana, sister, friend and She Who Forever Looks for Her Lost Glasses.

I’m also a newspaper columnist, a fact that after 27 years of weekly columns, never ceases to terrify me. Readers often ask how it came to be. Here’s the short version.

I grew up in a small Southern town where I fell in love with the power of stories. My parents and grandparents, my blind baby brother, the wind in the trees, the moon over the mountain, the dogs that slept under the porch, even the fleas that slept on the dogs – they all told stories. All I had to do was listen. And I listened hard.

When my teachers said I was a writer, I didn’t know what it meant. I’m not sure I do now. But I learned to look for stories everywhere and to keep asking questions to get to hear them.

You’d be surprised what the world will tell you if you ask politely and show you care.

I went to college on a scholarship, moved to California, married a basketball coach and had three babies. When my youngest started kindergarten, I took a part-time job in the library of the local newspaper. I also taught Sunday school, kept score for Little League and watched a lot of basketball. In time, I became a reporter and a columnist. After the column was syndicated, I worked at home in my pajamas.

Then my kids grew up, we lost their dad to cancer, and I found myself alone with five sets of dishes and no one to feed, but a cat that didn’t like me.

When life changes profoundly and we are no longer who we were, it takes a while to figure out who we are. One day in the grocery store, a baby gave me a toothless grin that seemed to say, “What are you waiting for?”

And I decided it was time to stop looking back and start moving forward with my life.

When I remarried, I kept the cat and gained two stepsons and a husband who makes me stop to watch sunsets. Our blended family includes five kids, their others and six grandkids.

That’s my story, more or less, who I am, and glad to be. OK, question 2: Why am I here?

I’ve been asking that for years and still don’t have a clear answer. But this is what I’ve learned: Life is a gift. It can’t be earned. It can only be lived.

I’ve lost my share of loved ones – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, my first husband, my younger brother, and friends, young and old. I try to honor their memories by living well. And I tell their stories to my grandkids and anyone who will listen. Doing that, I believe, is at least part of why I’m here.

Finally, the third question. What will I do with this year?

Do you ever get the feeling you need to be doing something, but have no clue what it might be? I get that feeling a lot. Luckily, if I wait a while, it always passes.

Recently, my grandson Wiley, who is 6, said, “Nana, I don’t like to run. I just like to chill.”

Actually, Wiley runs plenty. Sometimes I chase him. We all need exercise. But I know what he means. I don’t want to run through my life. I want to chill. I want to be present with myself and the world and people I love. To be alone with my thoughts. To watch sunsets with my husband. Laugh with my kids. Be a friend to my friends. Make grilled cheese sandwiches and memories for my grandkids. And keep swapping stories.

There are other things I’ll need or want to do this year. But most of all, I want to be truly alive for as long as I have breath. If that’s all I do, it will be enough.

So. Who are you? Why are you here? What will you do with this year? What’s your story?

– Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950, or on her website: www.sharonrandall.com.