“If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must be the one to write it.” – Toni Morrison.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Ghandi
People love symbolism. They love the symbolic gestures and images of religion, they love the symbols of their country and nationality, they love the symbolism of stories and poetry. It stands to reason why so many people see New Years Day as a symbolic moment of renewal, rebirth, a chance to start over with a new chapter in their lives. Celebrations happen around the globe at their respective midnights, or during their culture’s respective moment of revival, either ringing in their new year, or seeing the old year out ceremoniously. In 2020’s case, we’re seeing it unceremoniously out on its ass.
Naturally, at these moments of reflection of the past and envisioning the future, many people choose to make resolutions. Of how they are going to change the things they didn’t accomplish last year, or ways they want to improve in the new one. Common wisdom has it that making resolutions is basically pointless as most of us will break our resolutions within the first month, if not the first week. But I think that’s a narrative that is harmful, even if it’s realistic. Why give up on hope for the new year in place of realistic expectation? Because if we don’t think anything will change, it won’t.
Yesterday, my family sat down and reflected on 2020, and one of the definite themes of the last year is that we all did a lot more than we thought we did. With all of the worry and fear that came with 2020, we managed to do quite a lot of wonderful things. We went to Vermont and New Hampshire, we camped in West Virginia, we hiked dozens of trails, we made friends, we attended a few rallies for Black Lives Matters, one of which I spoke at, we spent a lot of time, socially distanced, with family, I got a new job, my wife relocated her job to New Jersey, and so much more. Most of this within the confines of the pandemic.
I also recognized that we were unusually lucky in a year when so many were not. My wife and I remained employed, nobody in our immediately family got COVID, though some in our extended family did, and even those who did recovered, and we were able to help some who weren’t so lucky. That is why when this new year came close, we didn’t know what were going to do to celebrate the unusually unique year coming to an end and to welcome the new one in. On New Year’s Day at the beginning of 2020, we went to the Jersey Shore and watched the sun rise on its first day, but this new year’s day was forecasted to be rainy and cold. We deliberated on what we could do with that same sort of symbolism, how we could start this new chapter on the right foot, and we decided that since we couldn’t see the sunrise, we would try to be the sunrise for someone. We thought about what we could do to help people who were not so fortunate, but nothing seemed appropriate for what we wanted to do. After awhile we decided that being able to help a few people well is better than a “grand” gesture of a small token to a lot of people we weren’t really connected to. So with the help of a few people in the community, we found a few families who really needed a little hope and gave them the money we would have spent on a day at the shore just to watch the sunrise.
It wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but in the past my wife and I had been in a place where that money would have made a huge difference. We were able to be a small bit of sunshine for those few families, but honestly I know we can do more. So this new year, our plan is to do something for somebody every week of 2021. Some act of kindness, something we can do for somebody every week. Not a grand gesture, but something to help somebody else instead of spending that same time or those resources on frivolity or leisure, because we have that luxury. We are lucky, and I recognize that privilege. This past year has made that abundantly clear how fortunate we actually are, that while we worked hard to get where we are today, I know an unlucky break at the wrong time and we’d be in a completely different place.
And to that end, this year I am also going to put something positive out into the world. I will post a written piece every week, and it may be stupidly optimistic to assume I can do that, but that’s my plan. It may be late one week, but there will always be the next one. I’m not making a resolution for the year, like I said, those don’t seem to work. So I’m making a resolution for this week. I will write this week, I will make a difference in somebody’s life, no matter how small, and I will appreciate every day. I will start a new chapter, literally or figuratively, every week to write the book of my life I want to read, and one I hope will inspire others to write their own as well.
Happy New Year everyone! Go start your own chapter.