So it’s New Year’s Day again, that big, bright intersection of starry-eyed intentions and real life, the vantage point from which last year looks tired and shopworn and this year, still unsullied, seems full of possibility.
At least for a moment it does, here in the morning quiet. At least until I turn on CNN, or open the paper, or boot up the computer. There are those who believe that survival depends on a daily ratcheting up of denial, but I’m not there yet. I know what a single click of the remote control will unleash. I can repeat the dire economic predictions and list the world’s trouble spots as fluently as any cable news anchor. I know the operative word for 2009 is Pain. Sometimes they try to tone it down to Challenge, but the net result is the same. It’s bad out there, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Which is why I have decided to break an ironclad personal rule and make some very specific New Year’s resolutions. I’ve resisted this practice for most of my life, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Here’s how I plan to combat the pain and rise to the challenge:
If there were ever a moment to dip into capital, this is it. I’m not talking about my dwindling material assets. I’m thinking of that other carefully hoarded commodity, time. My lifelong friends, most of them far away, aren’t getting any younger. Their Christmas letters brought news that echoes my own: Aging parents in poor health. New grandchildren on the way. Loss. Joy. The search for wholeness in a fragmented world. Every year, we write each other these words: Any chance of a reunion soon? Next December, I want to write this: It was so wonderful to see you again.
Be Here Now
I’m good at suiting up and showing up. I value punctuality and correct attire and a sense of occasion. My problem is staying put. It may be Thursday on the calendar, but for me, it’s next week, or last month, or tomorrow. I’m busy rewriting the past or projecting bleak outcomes for the future. If there were a pop quiz on the last half hour, I would flunk. I’m weary of drifting into distant and uncharted waters. I want to drop anchor in the present.
Someone wise once told me to designate 30 minutes a day for obsessing over my problems. Set a timer, he said, and go at it. When the bell rings, you’re done. Each time your mind returns to the troubles, tell it firmly that there will be another time slot tomorrow. Right now, you’re off the clock.
Perfect, I have often been told, is the enemy of good. And good is the object of my new year’s quest, after a lifetime of driven perfectionism. It’s a risky compromise. I’ve found that the same people who advise chilling, relaxing, and letting go really, really like perfect end products. Good is different. It’s slower. It’s less flashy. The intensity level hovers around eight, instead of the perfect 10. The soup needs salt. The silver is polished, though not dazzling. The flowers are pretty, not breathtaking. The cup is full, but not overflowing. The earth continues to spin.
Give comfort root room, wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins. Let joy size. Clearing a space each day for silence and reflection sounds like a reasonable antidote to the 24-hour news cycle. In the stillness, it may be possible to focus on a different set of operative words for this new year. Words like honor, and generosity, and courage. And even now, in the face of all that lies ahead, peace.