As soon as we returned from our New Year’s Eve dinner, Holly hurried upstairs and pulled out her journal. “What are you writing about?” I asked her. “I’m writing my New Year’s resolutions,” she said.
Earlier this week, a friend mentioned in an email that she was thinking about making a New Year’s resolution and wondered if I was making any.
I used to make New Year’s resolutions, and then in more recent years I started thinking more in terms of New Year’s goals: not things I was certain (rightly or wrongly) that I would do, but things I was firmly committed to trying to do.
But this year, as soon as my friend asked in her email whether I was making any New Year’s resolutions, I realized how different I was feeling this time around about starting a new year, and how somehow both resolutions and goals seemed somewhat irrelevant.
It’s not that I don’t have plenty of room for self-improvement. It’s just that when I look back on the preceding year and especially the latter half of it, it seems like so much of what governed the course of my life was nothing I did or didn’t do but things that happened to me, or around me, or to all of us. Events beyond my control over which neither resolutions nor goals would have held much sway.
After all, you can’t make a New Year’s resolution not to lose any friends to cancer. You can’t resolve that in the new year, you won’t have to explain to your kids that children sometimes lose their parents, or that parents sometimes lose their children. You can’t resolve away poverty or despair among people who have even less control over their circumstances than you do. You can’t make a New Year’s resolution not to live in a society where people crusade for the accessibility of submachine guns.
I don’t mean to sound despairing. It’s not that we had such a bad year ourselves, not at all. My family, both immediate and extended, stayed safe and healthy and well. We took some great vacations, accomplished some satisfying work, and saw the kids be both happier and more academically successful in school than we ever would have dared hope.
But I’m afraid for the most part this is just the reality of middle age catching up with us. Statistically, we are destined to lose more friends in the upcoming years than we did in the preceding ones. And the world doesn’t appear to getting safer or saner or fairer, either nationally or globally.
If we are as fortunate as we’ve been in the past year, 2013 won’t bring tragedies or losses too close to home. But that’s not a resolution; it’s a fervent hope. Things will happen, both good and bad. And while I don’t mean for my lack of resolutions to sound like, well, a lack of resolution, or a sense of passivity, I think better than making resolutions or setting goals for the upcoming year will be thinking about my reactions and responses.
I can’t resolve to keep these things from happening; I can just hope to keep improving in the way I respond to them: to be ever more helpful, compassionate, understanding, proactive.
It’s not really what I’d call a resolution. But right now, it feels like the most useful thing I can do.