Whether it’s the start of a new year or a milestone like a birthday, we all need a fresh starting point from which we can say, “From this day forward, everything will be better.” My starting point is New Year’s Day, when I open my new, tightly wrapped wall calendar. Each page holds so much promise. My calendar is a threshold to a clean slate: memories to be made, opportunities to grasp, and resolutions to be fulfilled.
However, the older I get, the more I realize that opening up my new calendar only changes the month and year, not life itself, at least not on a human level. The sun will continue to rise and set, the moon will move through its phases, the weather will be whatever it decides to be—all independent of human intervention. As cliché as it might be, the only thing we mortals have the power to change is ourselves and how we react to those around us. Maybe though, if we step into this new year with a fresh attitude instead of the blind belief that, somehow, this year will be better, we might actually generate the change we so want. A simple ripple in the pond can grow into a widening circle.
Change is hard. Recognizing the fact that it’s often ourselves, not the other person, who has to change is harder. Baby steps. We can start small by consciously being kinder and more tolerant. We can be slower to anger and temper our reactions to a perceived slight or cross word. We all have flaws. Yes, I do mean you, but I also mean me. Flaws will show themselves in even the tightest weave, and cutting some slack just might keep the peace instead of causing everything to unravel. I know you’ve all been there. Makes me think about that old maxim I heard over and over from my mother: those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Holds as true today as it did when I was under my parents’ roof.
I think we need to step backward to move forward. What if we raised the bar on our everyday social interactions by bringing back the lost art of civil discourse? We could make a collective resolution to move into 2021 practicing something as ridiculously simple as saying “please”, “thank you” and “you’re welcome”. I’ll go one step further and add “excuse me” instead of “what the hell?” or “get out of my way, jerk.” That doesn’t sound so painful, does it? We can learn to bite our tongues, swallowing that critical or defensive thought before we let it fly into the ethers. It’s not a boomerang. You can’t get it back. Stilling our fingers on the keyboard (or thumbs on our mobile devices), and having that second think before we hit ‘send’ could make our small corner of the world a kinder, gentler place. I’m showing my age here, but I truly believe there were fewer misunderstandings when people hand-wrote letters, talked on the phone, or better yet, conversed face-to-face. You can’t insert intonation into a text no matter how many emojis you plug into the message.
Smiles light up our eyes. We can try smiling more underneath our masks, which we all WILL wear because this nasty virus can’t survive without a human host. And maybe, if we are lucky enough to find ourselves with a bit of extra cash this year, we could gift a bit to the food bank, the diaper bank, a pet rescue, or someone you know who’s doing their best but having a damn hard time anyway. Practice kindness and stop judging.
I opened my new 2021 calendar this morning and found a Facebook friend’s dog (one of his Australian Terriers) featured on the January page. Such a lovely surprise. Now to put all my words into action, I must remember to tell him how special that was. Being an optimist, I truly do wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year, filled with joy and opportunities to make wonderful memories. But I stick by my pragmatic guns and have to say that if we want 2021 to be a better year, making it so is on us. Collectively, we can do it.
photo: sun reflecting on the Santa Catalina Mountains, New Year's Eve, 2020