This year has, quite frankly, sucked the big one. And the turning of the year is the time when I usually, like most people, sit down and give myself a good talking to about all the failures of the year that has just passed, before coming up with a punitive list of New Year’s Resolutions. You know, the kind of Resolutions that are really about noting the flaws I see in myself, and designing a fixer-upper program that no real human being–well, no flawed human like me–could possibly stick to like a saint for a year.
- Eat less
- Drink less
- Exercise more
- Write more (and better)
All those ‘less’ and ‘more’ bits are the bits that tell you they’re actually punitive resolutions. They mean: last year you didn’t do it enough, or you did it too much, but NEXT year, you’re going to be a good girl and eat all your greens. Aren’t you?
This year, I’ve decided to do something different. Well, a lot of things, but one of those things is to start the new year in a new way. Not with self-flagellation or bitterness, but with forgiveness. Not with regret, but with hope for the future.
I was challenged, a few months ago, to do an exercise that involved trying to work out what my core values are. The idea is to work out how you want to be living in the world, to name it, and therefore be able to live consciously. If you’re in a place of doubt, or fear, or anxiety about what to do, or how to act, you can go to these values, and think about what you would do if you acted in accordance with them. (If you get those words ‘right’, you’ll know it because, if you act or speak in some way that contravenes that deep sense of self, you’ll feel awful, and regretful, and all that bad stuff).
Pure cheese, I know. But still …
It has taken me months to finish this task. Mostly because I had to find the right WORDS to name this deep landscape in myself. Not who I am, or have been, but who I want to be. And words are my prayers. They are the temple where I worship. I need the words to be right. Not approximate, but precise.
I generated monster lists of words. Lists that made it seem like I was writing a character list for a seventeenth-century novel. You know the kind of thing: Temperance, Honesty and Patience meet in a bar …
I made little cards with one word on each, and sorted them into piles. Laid them on the floor in columns, clusters and piles. Coloured them in. Painted on them. Collaged them. Looked up and wrote out dictionary definitions and quotes. Put the Scrabble letters on my desk and on my bookshelf. Wrote them on my hands. Wrote them on the shower wall with soap.
Finally, out of all that confused and desperate seeking, I found them. Two words to anchor myself. Two words to orient myself as I try to live in this confusing world in a way that’s meaningful and right.
Courage: The determination and the will to do what is right even when it’s hard. To face up to what comes, and to what has been. The courage to stand, and not break. Or, you know, to break if that’s what comes. The courage to give without fear of losing. Love without fear of being hurt. The courage to go forward without knowing where the path may lead. Not the courage of soldiers: no grandeur or grandstanding in the name of some cause that’s just a synonym for greed and the desire for control over others. Courage that is simple and daily and persistent and honest with itself about who, and what, it is fighting for.
You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give.
You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
(both quotes are widely attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt)
Kindness: Acting out of a sense of the value of others, and of one’s self. Recognising that, just as nobody sets out to write a bad poem or a bad story, nobody consciously sets out to be a bad person, or to do the wrong thing. (Look, that may seem all Pollyanna and all, but I loved Pollyanna as a girl [the book and the character]. And I thought she was courageous and kind). So, you know, it matters to me to recognise the desire to be and do good in others. And to be kind to people both when they try and when they fail. And to be kind to myself in the same circumstances. Because I will try, and I will fail sometimes.
Being kind is not necessarily about putting the needs of others first, not if it isn’t in my power to do so or would mean denying my own needs (as opposed to my wants – it takes courage to acknowledge and honour the difference), but recognising that others have wants and needs, and trying to recognise and honour them. Not selflessness (not the abnegation of duty to the self that ‘selflessness’ suggests to me) but something more balanced and concrete.
I am going to take the advice of Og Mandino:
Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.
Oh, and George Sand:
Guard well within yourself that treasure, kindness. Know how to give without hesitation, how to lose without regret, how to acquire without meanness.
I’ve got a new pair of boots. They’re for 2013. The year of journeying. The year of new beginnings. The year of walking. And one of my friends suggested I write these words in them, or on them. One word on each boot. Good advice, I reckon. These are my walking words. My companions. My guides.