The new year always brings us what we want
Simply by bringing us along—to see
A calendar with every day uncrossed,
A field of snow without a single footprint.
(From: “New Year’s” by Dana Goia, from Interrogations at Noon, 2001)
For several days now, I have been reflecting on the year gone by, 2020, the year of a pandemic, of social isolation, masks and lockdowns…a year unlike any I’ve experienced before, challenging my assumptions about life and living, daily reports of escalating cases of COVID and of deaths. An undercurrent of caution, of worry seeping into my daily life…hope, much of the year, seemed elusive, and I struggled, some days, to dig myself out of a persistent case of the blues.
Rewinding the mental tape of the year just passed, I recalled my intention, the choice of my guiding word, for 2020. “Calm.” It has been impossible to miss, this word, displayed, as I do each year, in a small frame on the bookshelf in my office. A word that confronted me every single day of the past year, but a one, given the landscape of 2020, that fell by the wayside within weeks of the first COVID case in Canada. Calm was all but absent in the context of this past year for me. I fall into the category of “higher risk” where COVID is concerned, and given the political tension and upheaval in the US too difficult to ignore, my days were nagged by a persistent undercurrent of worry and low-level anxiety. I tried, for a time, to live with “calm” daily, but despite frequent self-admonitions, attempts at meditation and extended periods of deep breathing, it didn’t work. Tension and anxiety were my regular visitors. Any pretense of calm was just that, utter and complete pretense.
With the daily onslaught of reporting—which I tried not to read and failed miserably—whether about new numbers of COVID cases and deaths or the nearly unbelievable reports of the circus surrounding the US presidential campaign and election, hope was nearly nonexistent, at best, a slender thread that seemed to be growing fainter each day. My notebook attests to the dark cloud that grew and hovered overhead. I wrote, as is my daily habit, but increasingly, I found myself going down the rabbit hole more than a few times. Gradually, I found a reprieve in the daily practice of making explicit my gratitude for those on the front lines, unexpected kindnesses, shared laughter, and little surprises or inspiration from others.
Articulating gratitude became the most important habit in my daily life, the one that balanced out the tension, complaints, worry or depression. It served to remind me of the gifts I have in my life vs. what I didn’t. Making gratitude explicit in a daily list, halted those self-defeating thoughts and forced me to be quiet, observe, and remember all that enriches my life. It’s what I want to carry into this new year, a spirit of gratitude.
2021. Hope, where the pandemic is concerned, is within reach, even though there is still much healing ahead of us in the coming months. Yet as I say good-bye to this tumultuous and difficult year, I do not want to forget all that has happened around the world and there is yet much work to do for the good of all people: eliminating disease, hunger, poverty, violence, racism, and wanton disregard for this fragile planet.
It’s no surprise that the guiding word I have chosen for 2021 is simply “gratitude.” It’s not only a way of remembering what is good in my life, but hopefully, makes me more aware and intentional in responding to others with kindness, generosity, and forgiveness. This is the only life I’ve got—gratitude also ensures I am intentional in how I live it, and the kind of footprint I leave in each day of the year ahead.
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
(“You Reading This, Be Ready,” by William Stafford, from The Way It Is, 1992)
. What is the word or intention you have for this new year? Write it down, exploring the reasons you have chosen this one word to frame your intention.
. I’m not one for resolutions, since I rarely followed through on the vast majority of them, despite my good intentions! But if resolutions for the new year are your preference, then write them out—and also spend some time exploring the reasons for each one you’ve chosen.