As I sat and contemplated the end of one year and the start of a new one, I realized the whole idea of New Year's resolutions wasn't working for me. It felt stale -- been there, done (or never ended up doing) that. It feels too much like a game we too often play with ourselves, gear ourselves up for another year by taking stock of where we are at, almost always wishing we were somewhere else in regard to certain aspects of our lives and making a declaration, often a list, of what we are going to change in order to fix what we want to be different. And it almost always contains the usual suspects -- weight, vices, excesses, our attitude, our un-reached goals, or our unfulfilled dreams. It feels like an old paradigm to me this year. And maybe it's mostly just me and where I am at. I don't have it in me to make a list, or make positive confessions, or even believe in the repetitive nature of that process. I feel like someone who doesn't believe in Santa Claus anymore.
The George Jetson treadmill of life has become surprisingly unappealing to me as of late. Going around and around in a kind of repetitive, "Groundhog Day" cycle but not really getting where I want to be is no longer an option. And next always comes beating myself up for it and then pulling myself up by my metaphorical bootstraps and making a clearer, longer, more specific list of how I will do better, be better, finally get close to where I imagine I would want to be -- and then add a few more tricks I've come across as to how I will really make it happen this year. Ugh, the thought of it all exhausts and depresses me. Next comes the dreaded "Do people (Do I?) ever really change anyway?" conversation in my head. Maybe I need a new approach. A fresh well to drink from.
Instead of making another list of New Year's goals or affirmations, not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you -- any form of moving ahead, getting on with it, being brave enough to set goals to change, is all right in my book -- I just think, for me, I might embrace one whole radical idea of living -- and hope that it will affect a lot of the other parts of my life I want to see changed.
You see, for me, when I make a list of typical New Year's resolutions, and I am white-knuckling through some of them, trying my best to keep on the straight and narrow, if something comes along that I know isn't such a good idea for me (sometimes out and out wrong) but isn't on my list -- well, I deserve it, right? All bets are off. The list becomes my conscience, or my "bible," and everything else is, at least, open for conversation in my head. In other words, I get legalistic about the list and miss the spirit of how I am trying to live and be a better, more evolved person. It's just human nature -- or at least my human nature -- I guess.
So here's what I am thinking. I have a little white rock next to my bed with these words from Rabbi Heschel inscribed on it: "In every moment, something sacred is at stake." Which to me is about the never-ending choices we make every moment of every day. They make our life more sacred or more putrid. And often, we are left wading through the wonder or the sorrow of those choices. In other words, it's a deeper way of coming at our various choices -- even the ones we often find on our resolution list, deciding not to smoke or drink as much or eat poorly or be unkind to someone or not forgive, or anything we wish we would do less of. All of it is affected when we live in such a way as to stay mindful of what all those choices can mean in the living of our lives. I have to live in my own skin. My question this new year is, what moment-to-moment choices am I prepared to make to make me more comfortable in that skin?
I was angry at my mother for a lot of of my life for killing herself slowly by chain smoking. I could see the "long run" so clearly in the last couple decades, especially as I watched her year after year, minute by minute, light one after the other, and it broke my heart. And when she got lung cancer and died within months, I had to let go of the anger I felt about her choice to do that and leave me and my daughter -- her beloved only grandchild -- and my brother, all of us, too soon. She was sad to go. She could have made a different choice any of those years when it still might have made a difference. It's a lesson I took to heart. Recently, I was Christmas shopping and looked up and noticed an estranged friend of mine was in the store. Our fall out was quiet with no turmoil, but as I looked up, I saw her young son notice me and a slight look of fear crossed his face. I decided in that moment I just didn't want to deal, I was tired and didn't feel up to it, and made my way out the door as quickly as possible. I walked up the street to the juice place to get some healthy greens, but as I went I had an uneasy feeling. And as I sipped my juice, which was so good for my body, I realized I had made a choice not so good for my soul. I walked quickly back to the store and hoped she was still there. It was Christmas, I so wanted to redeem my not-so-kind choice. Especially for the boy who knew me, maybe even looked up to me, and had seen so clearly the choice I had made. There she was. I smiled at her, and she muttered how she had wanted to call me but was scared. I nodded and said don't be scared, and we hugged. It was enough. It was a better choice. And I hope it made the baggage of my soul (and maybe hers) just a teeny bit lighter.
It's those choices that add up to make our souls almost too heavy to cart around. Sometimes that's when we need more bad stuff like too much alcohol or too many cigarettes or weed, or in my case, yummy sugar, to help us forget for a while. Or we dig our heels in deeper in our resentment and our assuredness of the other's wrong -- we allow ourselves the luxury of choosing to be right instead of happy. If I choose not to openly forgive you, it reminds me of how wrong you were, and I secretly hope it does the same to you. One of my choices this new year is to remind myself that I cannot afford those luxuries anymore. I choose to live as though my choices are indeed sacred. Even when they are hard choices, hard to make, and hard things to face.
Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." I pray for new eyes in 2013.
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