I love the concept of a New Year… the idea that we have the opportunity to put the past behind and start fresh. I like to imagine myself a kindergartener. I have a new dress (my mother made it and my matching panties), new shoes (regrettably brown, lace-up oxfords), a new pencil box with yellow, number two pencils, and most importantly a perfect gum eraser – as yet unused. (I will be called on to use that eraser before many days pass, but as I enter the doors on the very first day, I do not know that yet.)
The first day of kindergarten was exciting. I would rather have store-bought panties (at five-years-old I did not know about desire, but I dreamed of owning seven pair of nylon panties with the days of the week written on them), but I already knew about thrift and my mother had warned about nylon panties and the possibility of their leading to infection, so I was pretty realistic and accepting.
Aside from these minor concerns, I looked forward to starting school. And it was exciting until I discovered that life was not fair. I really wanted to play tambourine, but when the music teacher handed out the instruments, I always got the sticks.
Getting the sticks was an instructive life lesson. We don’t always get what we want. Our choices are to fall into despair or to look to a fresh beginning.
Typically, I begin my day in bed with a pot of coffee at my side and NPR’s “Morning Edition” on the radio. Although National Public Radio works hard to balance the good, the bad, and the ugly, too often I drink my last cup – down to the bitter dregs and those dregs seem to symbolize the state of the nation. It is easy to get depressed. Today, not to taint the notion of new beginnings, I chose to ignore the news. Rather, my husband and I walked Park-to-Park and marveled at the sun’s ability to sequin the fresh snow.
One of my favorite poets is W.S. Merwin, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. A practicing Buddhist who moved to Maui in the 70s where he has been restoring an old pineapple plantation, Merwin writes of nature and ecology and by extension, politics.
The final stanza of his poem “To the New Year,” reads: This is the sound of you / here and now whether or not / anyone hears this is / where we have come with our age / our knowledge such as it is / and our hopes such as they are / invisible before us / untouched and still possible.”
I like Merwin’s realism. He doesn’t sugar-coat his optimism (whether anyone hears this… our knowledge such as it is), but he hopes. A life without hope is pretty hopeless.
The Poetry Foundation http://www.poetryfoundation.org quotes Merwin on the subject of hope: “The world is still here, and there are aspects of human life that are not purely destructive, and there is a need to pay attention to the things around us while they are still around us. And you know, in a way, if you don’t pay that attention, the anger is just bitterness.”
Do you make New Year’s Resolutions? I do not. Years of broken resolutions (sometimes within the first week) have taught me the futility of making them. I can vow to cut calories, exercise more, and make time to write, but year after year I fail to follow through. The resolutions seem counter-productive. Resolutions that should be affirming and constructive only lead to self-criticism that comes with my inability to realize my goals.
This is not a resolution, but I think Merwin is right: I need to pay attention to the things around me while they are still around me.
Happy New Year from Custer County, Colorado where all things are bright and beautiful.