I seem to be the only person who is unmoved by the apparently universal urge to bid farewell to the past and look expectantly towards the future during this time of the year. People are making resolutions, setting goals, taking stock, evaluating their lives. They are full of hope, relief maybe, expectation, motivation.
To me, the turning of one year to another seems such an arbitrary and artificial time for marshaling such intent. I’ve never been particularly compelled by the turning of a calendar page; my moments of resolve have always come from personal revelations that have engaged my will and demanded a change of course. Often – no, always – this has coincided with a period of pain and personal struggle, when my natural inclination towards holding an even keel and avoiding conflict and upheaval is overwhelmed by the undeniable realization that things can no longer go on as they are.
On the other hand, perhaps there is some deep wisdom in assigning the task of introspection and self-improvement to the month of January. The whirlwind of holiday parties and family togetherness has past, and graduations and barbecues and pool parties are still months away. Where I live, the long dark nights and cold grey days, the swirling frigid winds that chill to the bone make it unlikely that I will be heading out of my house more than is absolutely necessary. I’d much rather stoke the fire, put on some warm socks and a nice big sweater, and curl up with a cozy blanket and a good book.
Just as the ground that begot sunflowers which towered over my head and sported blossoms that could easily have fed a flock of ravenous cardinals now lies fallow in preparation for the work of spring, perhaps this is the perfect time for me, too, to rest and prepare.
Still, though, I am unable to imagine this as a beginning. Perhaps while I take the time to read, reflect, and journal I will begin to think different thoughts in different ways. But the concept of “beginning” that implies a crispness of edges as if one thing stops here and another starts there, this does not exist in the world, or at least does not exist in my experience of the world. When a moment of clarity occurs, or an experience or opportunity presents itself, there is a sense of newness about it. But this simply represents a bend in the road that takes me away from the direction in which I was headed, an exit ramp taking me from Route 80 to Route 46. I am still moving right along, though the destination may have changed or become unclear.
A river may seem to start from a trickle of snow melt in the mountains and end in a vast delta as it empties into the sea, but of course this is not true. The snow falls from clouds full of water that evaporated from the ocean, and back to the ocean they return. The molecules of hydrogen and oxygen never change; they held buoyant the earliest microbes, they nourished the dinosaurs, they watered the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat, they kept Cleopatra’s barge afloat and they baptized Mother Teresa. It’s a cycle; we may perceive a place of beginning and end but that is simply our interpretation.
I feel an urge to lighten things up a bit here; to inject a rousing chorus of “Circle of Life” or maybe break out the guitar that Santa brought my daughter last month and lead a rendition of “Turn, Turn, Turn”. I won’t, because the kids are sleeping and I would rather sit here bogged down in my thoughts like shoes stuck to hot tar than risk a request for water or for the comfort of Mommy snuggles in the cramped twin bed. Even while my thoughts lack direction and purpose, I am enjoying the freedom to muse in my office, alone, on this snowy night.