Endings, Beginnings, and Imagining

Hello from my comfortable little space in Sébaco, Nicaragua,

It is midafternoon on the 30th of December, and, of course, many people are pondering how to bring in a new year, to close out the remaining hours of an old one, and perhaps, imagining what that numerical change to 2023 means. The things people do, the traditions, the ceremonies, and the celebrations that typify our rolling over of a new year are actually mystifying to me. I have never been one to party (and regret) the first day of January, with a couple of exceptions. When I did manage to stay awake until the early hours of that midnight craziness, I was usually bartending in my early twenties, so I experienced the reality of what I called “amateur night” first-hand. It was nothing that I found worth reveling in, that’s for sure. I worked in restaurants more than once and a couple of pre-fixe dinners, even though I was a server, were perhaps more fun than most things I recall. In fact, I think spending NYEs at my grandmother’s home, which was normal for me growing up, are among my best memories. Knowing how much I treasure those times, I should not be surprised to come to this conclusion. I would note the experiences a few years in Kraków are a close second, and those experiences sort of run the gamut. Dinner at Urban Garden, with my friend and academic colleague, Ruth, was certainly a wonderful bringing in of a new year.

We certainly buy into the concept of ending something, but too often it seems we hope to turn over the new leaf, to make promises about self-improvement, of making some optimal change that will provide us health, happiness, and a sense of hope that has been somehow missing. We want to believe whatever has happened is behind us, and we can pack it away in some Christmas tub of decorations, cleaning up and straightening or tidying up for the new year (more on that in a moment). From our own individual perspective to that of our country, and even our world, this sense of tabula rasa seems to come to life believing we can just fix it all. And yet, is there something positive in the sort of annual resetting?

It certainly seems there should be a do-over of sorts. Perhaps there is something efficacious in our willingness to take stock and attempt improvement. Often those improvements or changes are connected to health or lifestyle, and if those decisions are there to provide significant improvement in life quality, why would that not be helpful? I am pondering what sorts of resolutions I have attempted over my almost 3 and 1/2 score years. I am not a big resolution person, perhaps because because I know myself and I do not like failing at things – and for me resolutions most often end up like a broken toy that would not endure the stress to which it was subjected. Am I admitting a lack of discipline? Yes; indeed I am. Perhaps, more so, I realize no single day on a calendar will change the reality of who I am. I am a person with profound ability in some areas, and equally profound weakness in others. So the question is much more about who we are versus what we do or decide at the turn of a day.

When I imagine or reflect on the similarities or differences in the older version of myself from either the child or the younger/middle-aged adult, I not sure there has ever been some earth-shattering coming of age. I think there has been a metamorphosis of sorts. Much more like a really (and perhaps painfully) slow learning process that has moved me to where I am. For example, my mantra to a number of people over the last couple years plus has been simple. I wish for you health and happiness. That is a clearer articulation of the person I have always been. I remember my Great-aunt Helen telling me what by the time I was two, I was a happy person that hoped those around me were also happy. Additionally, I believe I have always valued friendship, but it has taken me most of my life to understand what that is. While I have many acquaintances, being a friend is something that takes time, experience, and a wealth of other things. I remember a person in college once questioned my need for friends. It was an unpleasant encounter at the time. What I realize all these years later is he was accurate in his assessment of me to some degree, of my early 20-something self. I struggled mightily with others felt or believed about me. I think this is one of those elements of my life, an aspect of growing, which is necessary if you are going to find some comfort in being true to yourself. As I noted with someone I know (or knew) well as they lamented a repetition in their life, you cannot expect someone else to make or keep you happy. Happiness comes from within us . . . certainly affected by the external, but it springs from somewhere deep inside. Much like the 3-Rs I learned about in elementary school (and I realize the anachronism being employed) my life now is about 3-Hs.

Two of them, health and happiness, have been mentioned pretty specifically, but the third, mentioned in a list, is hope or hopefulness. Being able to hope for something or about someone is a characteristic central to happiness – at least that is how it seems to me. This central, and significant, aspect of our humanity has been something I have pondered regularly, and more so in the last decade. Why? Might you ask. It is the consequence of what I see everyday in my classes. It is because I fear that many of the young amazing people I teach have lost the ability to hope, or believe in the promise of tomorrow (the metaphorical one). There seems to be a general, and growing, belief that they will not be better off than their parents (and yes, much of that is in terms of economic stability and opportunity). The consequence of such a scenario is a loss of hope, an inability to imagine something realistically better. Certainly, that affects one’s attitude, the possibility of having a happy demeanor, and by extension, it can adversely affect one’s health. So much like needing all of the Rs to be an educated person, we need the Hs to lead productive and successful lives. Without them we are more likely relegated to a life of going-through-the-motions, a life of mundane existence. Over the past two days, we have all heard of the passing of those people who were famous and rather earth-changing, but they are no more important than those who changed lives on a smaller, but nonetheless significant a manner for those who knew and loved them.

While the passing of Josef Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) will be in the news cycles rather continuously, but someone as famous and amazing to me also passed in the last few days. Elizabeth Nielsen, the partner, wife, mother, amazing teacher, artist, and perhaps one of the most elegant people I have ever met, passed from this life to eternity. I met her first as one of the incredible support people in Parnassus, the humanities study area in Pioneer Memorial when I was a student at Dana College. She was gracious, intelligent, charming, and talented beyond words. She seldom drew attention to herself, but in every visit I ever made to Grant Street, her presence was evident everywhere you looked. When I think of an incredible couple, the pair of both she and my former advisor will always come to mind. While we know that life will come to a close, both she and Dr. Nielsen were sort of immortal to me. I could not imagine the world, and more specifically Blair without them, but the legacy they leave is certainly larger than life. 

Perhaps that is what the change of a calendar means to me. It is a time to remember those who graced our lives with their unparalleled abilities, their brilliance, and their example, lights to the world who is in desperate need of such light. The Pope had a way in his Christmas messages to push us to look for the better angels, and the art of Elizabeth illustrated those angels. As I look at the last day of one calendar year and imagine the next, as I have noted in another place, I am not a resolution maker. I am simply one who moves forward hoping that I can make some small difference in the lives of so many who have blessed me by theirs. I wish all who read this a blessed and joyous new year. I wish you health, happiness and hope that the world we have been tasked to care for becomes more like the place we need . . . a world of care, a world of believing, and a world of peace. 

Thank you as always for reading. Blessed New Year!

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

5 thoughts on “Endings, Beginnings, and Imagining

  1. It is the constant repetition and commitment to a life of effort and deliberation, not merely one day or one week or one year, that defines our true character. As I reflect on your words, I am reminded of Nietzsche’s concept of Eternal Return; repeating our lives over and over again, exactly the same way each time can either terrify or delight us. Eternal Return feels comparable to the passing of one year to the next. Will we continue to live the same way indefinitely, never truly changing our ways, but declaring we’ve made some superficial commitment to a habit that doesn’t feed our souls? New Year’s resolutions strike me as shallow. Our satisfaction with life should be about the accumulation of each day, each experience, and each decision that we make with intention. Our lives should not hinge upon temporary shifts we make once a year, which are often centered around things that merely appeal to the expectations of our troubled society. Perhaps instead of settling on a goal to lose weight or to eat less sugar or spend more time with family members we don’t even like or making more money, we could focus our everyday efforts on actively living a life we enjoy, that we are proud of and invested in, that makes us feel less distraught by the idea of an eternal return. While I may be a skeptic when it comes to these types of resolutions, I have made a few of my own. They primarily center around creativity. Creating feeds my soul, and a year, or better yet, a lifetime, committed to creativity is something I would willingly return to for eternity.

    I find value in what you say of hope, and often hopefulness is left out when we make our annual resolutions. As I read your thoughts, I was forced to check in with myself and the quality of my thoughts and feelings as they relate to this idea of hopefulness. I find I am often hopeless, if I am being honest. I feel disappointed in the people around me for not accessing their potential or applying themselves. I feel despair when I see trash littering my city and when I see hatred being empowered by the media. I feel hopeless, as though I am wading through a dystopia where I ask myself repeatedly, “Does anyone truly care about anything anymore? Am I the only one who feels this way? Can’t the people around me see what we have done to each other? To the environment?” I get lost in clouded vision, only seeing what is absolutely wrong with the world around me, and as a result forgetting my own power. You state that the loss of hope results in a loss of the ability to dream. Our capacity to dream and envision something greater, is our most profound gift as humans. I refuse to lose that ability. I must commit to an existence of hopefulness.

    I don’t want an eternal return of dissatisfaction, hopelessness, and despair. I want my return, my resolution, to be a story of finding light in a world that feels empty. Without hope, we cannot imagine something better for ourselves, for those around us. We begin to believe that what we are offered is all that we are deserving of. (I imagine something like George Lucas’s THX 1138.) I’ve noted in the past couple decades of my life, my chronic awareness of the flaws of humankind. I am affected deeply, but I am also a participant. As much as I feel detached from the culture around me and frustrated by the values of this society, I recognize my own ability to apply myself intellectually, creatively, and compassionately in a way that can elevate hopefulness and lead to significant changes in the world.

    You say that the New Year can be a time to remember those who have offered their brilliance to this seemingly dark world, and I aspire to be someone who can do just that. I wish to be someone who can offer a glimpse into hope. Defeat perpetuates suffering and the last thing I wish to become is apathetic. My lifelong resolution is to free myself from complacency, to permit my soul the joy it so craves, and to commit to hope, even when it feels so difficult to find.

  2. Dr. Martin,
    I spent the last few hours of 2022 and the new hours of 2023 surrounded by friends from Bloomsburg and a hometown friend. We brought in the new year with the tradition of making loud noise and popping confetti. There were multiple places that I wanted to visit that night, and I can say it was craziness. While growing up, I spent NYE at my house with my immediate family and extended. Some of my best memories were from those nights. However, we are all grown up and people have moved away from home. It makes me sad to think about, but life goes on. I am glad you also had great NYEs and the most recent one with Ruth.
    You bring up a great point. When I truly think about it, the concept of “new year, new me” is very absurd. I wish I could leave every bad thing that happened in 2022 behind. However, that baggage also comes with lessons learned that I need to move forward. If this is the mindset that people need to be able to move forward and have resolutions, then go ahead. I still believe in the promise of tomorrow. Each day is a new opportunity for myself.

  3. In reflection on your post, I never understood the concept of utilizing the passing of one year into the next to be the motivation for crafting a resolution to make oneself better. My opinion has always been the real ignition for change needs to stem from an internal understanding of one’s lacking in the area that needs focus. This realization needs to be acted upon as soon as the realization is made and putting it off until an arbitrary event occurs (such as a new years birth) is distillable to procrastination at its finest. This intrinsically ties in with two of the H’s you have listed; happiness and hope.

    Self happiness defined as contentment in your current situation and/or state of being provides us with a useful framework for enjoying life. A lack of happiness and a deep hope for change sets up the best motivation for resolving and striving to become better versions of ourselves. This is not to say we shouldn’t feel happiness in who we currently are to ensure we constantly evolve and seek to be better. Being stuck in a cycle of “feeling we should be better” often paints an internal picture that our current value is negligible. Instead, we should understand we have great value in who we are but shouldn’t use this as an excuse to rest on our laurels.

  4. Dr. Martin,
    I am also not much of a resolution person. The idea that one can magically become motivated to make a large change in their life just because we entered a new year is crazy to me. There is a reason that many people end up quitting on their resolutions and it is because they simply don’t want whatever it is enough. What I mean by that is there is a high level of discipline involved with making whole sale changes to ones life. Discipline is the key driving force behind accomplishing any of the goals we set in life. Without it our attempt at achieving that goal will ultimately fail. This is where I believe the disconnect lies with myself and New Years resolutions. One simply does not become disciplined over a new year. Discipline requires continuous hard work, and mental fortitude. Notice I said continuous as well. Just because one was disciplined doesn’t mean they still are. It’s all about having the correct mindset and that mindset takes a while to build up.

  5. Dr. Martin,

    While reading your blog “Endings, Beginnings, and Imagining”, I could not help but agree on your thoughts on the New Year. No day can make me change — I do it. If someone is looking to improve themselves because its a tradition of a New Year resolution and not because they want a healthier and happier lifestyle, then they will fail. True motivation doesn’t come from a calendar but more so is generated through the castor that wants.
    You have stated about not experiencing a New Years party and my experience makes me want to never go to one again. I have gotten jumped on New Years of both 2019 and 2020 without being directly involved in conflict. New Years parties have more so motivated me to stay away from negative situations, especially if no true benefit. Yeah the socialization and the experiences other people have are cool, but I was happy with simpler things before caring about matching my experience to others.
    I agree that the idea of hope is gone. Hope has left the same time the country’s faith in God has. We think big picture and get exhausted and do not even attempt. Hope is creating a goal and making small steps everyday with a positive mindset. People get that hope on New Years, but it should be everyday.

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