As we approach the cusp of a New Year, I’m not thinking about parties and champagne corks popping, although I definitely enjoy both. For me, the excitement and celebration begins much earlier than 31 December. It enters quietly and gently, like poet Sandburg’s description of fog that “rolls in on little cat’s feet”.
With the longest-darkest night of Winter Solstice (and often, of the Soul as well) past now, my own metaphors for the new year appear in the end-of-year mist: a clean, white canvas ready for painting; a crisp new Journaling book; a wide, white beach sans footprints. These images in my mind and heart create anticipation and enthusiasm that gathers momentum with each passing day. What do I want to Create? Who and What do I want to Be? What kinds of Experiences do I want to line up, so that my Desires become Reality? One thing I don’t do these days is look back, at the road behind me. It’s been hard, training myself over the years, to not dwell on what’s over and done with; but it’s been well worth the effort.
The French chanteuse Edith Piaf (an amazing life story, there) made famous a song (her second-most lucrative, after “La Vie En Rose” by composers Dumont and Vaucaire) titled “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien”. It loosely translates as, No Regrets. A lot of songs, poetry, essays and classic literature have as a common theme, “A Life Well Lived”. Piaf’s song is heartbreaking, yet also a bold and even defiant clarion-call for courage, despite the crushing setbacks Life delivers.
In my own experience of living onward in a New Year — not just ‘coping’, but feeling determined to thrive — I first looked to my elders: how they attempted to make sense of eighty or ninety years of Never-ending Opportunities. Did they see Life that way? Not always. Some of the hard knocks that assaulted generations before me were – from my relatively ‘cushy’ vantage point in the here and now – pretty hard to get past. I know this because two of them – my father and maternal grandmother – had the strength and presence of mind to chronicle their lives in writing, while their minds and fingers (typewriters, not computers taking notes) were still able.
Both family members (teachers, by the way) documented the horrors they’d lived through – two world wars, financial disaster, poverty and the raging disease of the time, tuberculosis — just to name a few. But in both Personal Histories, there was a hopeful little “nugget” that I latched onto, and haven’t let go of since.
Life’s going to be what it’s going to be. From the ‘outside’, some people seem incredibly lucky; others seem locked in an ongoing struggle to attain well-being. How much is Fate, and how much is Free Will, as we live our lives each day? Is ‘looking back’ necessary to living forward? Is Regret ever helpful? And one of the toughest (IMHO) philosophical ‘nuts’ to crack of all, Life often seems so random, or arbitrary. If this is so, then what’s the point of all of this efforting?
The answer, according to at least two of my relatives who’ve since passed-on – and according to another, who celebrates his ninety-second birthday in two days – is, “That’s totally the wrong question.” Life’s going to be what it’s going to be. The only thing that matters is Staying Curious, in the process. As my oldest living uncle told me in last night’s phone call, getting out of bed and greeting the day not knowing, but curious about what might happen is the only way to truly live. Which doesn’t, he stressed, mean not being engaged and energetic (he still does pull-ups, using a bar I sent him). I thought more about this, after we rang off.
As 2020 swiftly approaches, I just might do what I’ve never, ever done: proclaim a New Year’s Resolution. The Resolve to Live a Curious Life will, I think, unfold as unique; and also be a blend of relaxing into not-knowing, while feeling happy and content in anticipation. As I think about the ease and universality (appropriate for each New Year) of this resolution, I feel my shoulders relax. ‘Curious’ feels open, receptive, joyful and peaceful: everything that I want my New Year to be.