Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Making Your New Year... a New Year

The wind kicks up and swirls the snow into my face. The sounds of the New year's celebrations have faded, the last of the partygoers have long since gone to sleep. I slip down the stairs of our stoop and walk to the bottom of the driveway. The street is quiet, broken only by the occasional whoosh of snow across my face. A thick whiteness covers the trees and cars and houses and in the dim light glow like some ethereal kingdom. It is a strange world we live in, and its absurdities and tragedies and moments of jubilation are all brought to the fore on this, the greatest of the man-made holidays: the last day of the year, and the first day of the new one.

What most people don't understand is that New Year's isn't simply a another commercial holiday. There is something in the demarcation between the old and the new; between fizzled hopes and fresh dreams; between wasted opportunities and second chances, something that strikes at the core of being human. It is the rare person who looks at their life and does not believe it could use some sort of improvement or change. (Even the very rich want more of something) For most of us, New Year's marks the time when we can look back, when we can step forward, and examine exactly how we would like to stretch our lives. Better portfolio. Renewed relationships. Moral improvement. We wonder what will catch our attention this year. In what way will this year be different from the last?

The wind has picked up, and I roll my hood forward as I head down the sidewalk. The snow puffs and than scatters from beneath my boots. I stop and glance back at my trail through the fresh snow. Mine are the only footprints in a sea of white. Like a great adventurer on some great quest or a great lone hero trudging through the snow covered mountains of Kilimanjaro. I grin at my silliness and push forward.

Within all of us is this urge or drive to live other than we are. Companies know this and the most effective commercials mention this drive, this need, in some manner. To counter that, some of the best selling books over the past decade do little but reassure us that everything is okay. (Don't Sweat the Small Stuff) They insist we should just ignore this thing within us that pulls us forward, to simply find the "moment in the moment" a Zen ideal made increasingly popular these days as a counter to the consumerist push to acquire everything. It is a view I often find myself leaning towards. We live in a culture that barks and roars, one that rips past us and through us at lightning speeds. Time is measured. Cut up. Doled out. If you're not fast enough, you'll lose your share.

"Hurry up! Don't wait! C'mon! Keep moving!"

In this environment, it is a wonder that we take the time to celebrate New Year's at all. But even the Zen ideal of finding the moment, as much as it reveals some buried truths in hyper-paced culture, doesn't answer the question of New Year's.

And of a New Year.

I turn the corner only to greeted by a fresh burst of wind of and snow that slips under my hood and onto my face and neck. I shiver and turn, walking backward up the hill. Don Mills, normally a bustling four-lane road, is nearly as quiet as my small side street. A lone car drives past, its headlights winking against the darkness and the blowing snow. I watch until it is lost from view as I continue to backpedal up the hill.

Like everyone else. I was determined that this year would be new in some way, that this New Year's would matter. That it would be different. What I didn't want, however, was to set myself up for greater disappointment. I'd written three books (still unpublished), two novels and a spiritual memoir, but after my respected literary agent of two years quit on me this past year I'd given up. The disappointment of watching my dreams dissipate into air, after believing I was so close, had been too painful. And so this past year I'd failed to write or work on a book for the first time since I'd set my heart on making it as a writer so many years ago.

But I still dreamed about it. I spent as much time convincing myself not to write a new book as I did persuading myself that the pain and disappointment just wasn't worth the hassle, that God had given me this blog and an occasional article and to stop trying to be something that I wasn't. Or that the destination didn't matter, only the journey. I'd done such a good job convincing myself that despite the radical changes, this past year had been marked by an unhealthy absence, a void that no amount of pragmatics or grad school could cover. I'd spent far too many nights on the stoop, wondering why I should sleep, or why the next day mattered, or how stupid and tedious the world was. I was especially vulnerable when I closed my eyes and laid down for the night, that time between wakefulness and sleep, when your actions can no longer will themselves in front of your thoughts.

And now it was New Year's, and it was time to make a decision. A chance to set the course for the entire year. I wasn't as goal driven as some, I'd seen too many people do nothing but work and work only to find themselves used and battered by life and others, and for what? However, to live only in the moment was to walk on a treadmill designed by someone else, and that wasn't me either. The journey was as important as the destination, I agreed with that, but it wasn't the destination. We still had to be heading somewhere, didn't we? Towards something?

I crest the hill and turn my face into the wind. The lights of the gas station brighten the corner with red and white lights like a spot of leftover cheer. I hustle the rest of the way and into the warmly lit store. The store clerk looks at me with a lowered brow, his eyes hard.

"Good morning." I say, brightly enough.

He inclines his head slightly but doesn't say a word. I sigh, picked out some snacks and leave the warmth, suddenly grateful for the cold wind and absence of humanity.

The snow hasn't abated, and I trudge back up the hill. I know I have to make a decision about this year, about my life, and whether or not I truly want the new year to be a New Year. I hear people talk glibly about change all the time, especially younger people, but as you get older you realize that change is not only extremely difficult, but that the most change we can hope for is a small shift in one direction or another. Over time, that small shift can have a massive impact on our life, but even for the smallest of life's changes, we must still choose our path.

I'd left my home in Ottawa in pursuit of my dreams and my God, and as difficult as my last year had been, by not setting a destination, I was responsible for my own frustration. Not again. Not this year. It was time to try again, to write another book, to continue hold up my dream in the face of whatever came.

The wind picks up, and I shove my hands deep into my pockets, suddenly excited at the prospect of getting home and getting to work. I am a block from my house when I realize that the street, a whitened canvas, is empty of marks. The wind and snow have already covered my footprints from twenty minutes ago. I smile and hustle up to my front door.

I'd made my decision, a small decision that would need to be reinforced by other small decisions. To write when I didn't feel like it. To send out letters no matter how often I experienced rejection. To eat healthy when other food was available. To exercise when I was tired. To save when I wanted to spend. To write and call when I didn't want to talk to family or friends, and do it anyway.

I take one last look from my door, listening to the quiet whistling of the wind, and finally step inside. It's easy to get lost in the tedious treadmills of life. Even easier to stop walking and caring, or to lower our own goals and ambitions so that we find ourselves complaining about small things because there's nothing bigger in our life to pull us past life's constant aggravations. Nothing larger to help us realize the world doesn't revolve around us. I am convinced that pettiness and arrogance are the echo of unfulfilled dreams and unheeded callings.

Whatever it is that calls us as humans, the thing that longs for more, for change, for different, is inside all of us... could there be anything more important than answering that call? Surely there IS something or Someone that calls us forward. Toward a life of purpose and hope and dreams, something to mitigate the tragedy of regular human existence.

This year, my prayer is that you would make your New Year's a New Year. Set some goals! Rekindle your lost passions! Don't be afraid! Do not let another year go by without trying something you haven't done. Love... pursue... hope. And most important, seek the One who gave your dreams in the first place. He made you for a reason. Formed in love and framed with purpose, New Year's is our second chance at our second chance. Why not make the most of your opportunity.

"Seek you first the kingdom of heaven, and all these things shall be added to you."