You can get excited about the future. The past won’t mind.Hillary DePiano
Forty years ago, my parents left me at home while they went off to church to ring in the new year. They chose to celebrate through contemplation and prayer, while I, behaving in a more quintessentially teenaged manner, invited over a modest sized pack of pals from Lake Forest High School, ones I hadn’t seen in years as I’d been away at boarding school.
Our zany connections through music, acting and sports had changed little, but now most of us were a bit taller, the boys’ voices deeper and every last one us carried fake ID’s. The evening got, shall we say, a bit rowdy. We sang, we danced, we made out, but my strongest memory still is of scrubbing the floor after an errant spill and my mother’s exasperated declaration to just go to bed and let her manage it.
My best friend Georgia wisely spent the night after a few too many, but we were up early to greet the new year, a morning that was crisp and bright. The first thing we did? Put on running shoes and jog up the road. I think 1982 may very well might have been the first time I made new year’s resolutions – to cut sugar out of my diet and move my body every day. And I stuck to it, at least the moving part, all these years.
The concept of making a resolution to be a better version of ourselves started like a lot of things in ancient Babylonia. Leave it to the inventors of writing, maps, the wheel and the concept of time itself to mark the beginning of the year with a party, one that curiously lasted 12 days, much like the 12 days of Christmas.
4,000 years ago, the first of the year coincided with the month of planting, March – did I mention the Babylonians also invented modern agriculture? – and was all about an attempt to curry favor with their gods, hoping that in so doing, their gods would look kindly upon the harvest.
They also reaffirmed their loyalty to their king, or crowned a new one, and promised to pay their debts and return anything they had borrowed. That last part makes me giggle. I mean devoting an entire celebration to ensuring you return a rake or a hoe – or have yours returned? Sometimes that’s what it takes.
Fast forward a few thousand years to Julius Caesar and we get a new calendar – aptly named “Julian” – which marks January 1st the beginning of the yearly cycle. January takes its name from Janus, the God with two faces, one looking forward and one looking back, often doing so on doorways and arches.
The symbolism is brilliant, as many of us ponder our past as we move forward deciding what to keep and what to dump. Certainly my bestie Georgia and I were interested in squeezing out the toxins of the previous night’s revelry and promising to make healthier choices. I know John Wesley another couple thousands years later would have approved. The founder of the Methodist Church nabbed New Year’s Eve for his followers, making it a spiritual alternative to the raucous partying during Christmas.
The truth is, about half of us, in the United States anyway, resolve to do better in the coming year and not even 10% of us succeed. So one might be sincere in asking, “What’s the point?” I might even count myself as one of those people.
But that’s not because I think that resolving to do better is a hopeless task in and of itself. It’s more because I believe typical resolutions become an either/or proposition, a kind of zero sum game that pits the “bad” parts of who we are with the possible “good” parts, ones attainable if only we set our minds to it.
That leaves us in a position to deny ourselves things and reach for a new version of ourselves that might be so far off from the person we’ve been, we’re simply setting ourselves for failure. Furthermore, creating a rigid itinerary for change can sometimes cause us to miss alternate routes that just might lead to something more compelling and worth striving for.
As the Blissful Hiker, I deal with change much like walking a trail and my resolutions tend to be broad in definition and thus are more achievable and stand a better chance at becoming a permanent part of me.
There is another bit to remember while making those resolutions, and that’s to reflect upon and celebrate the past year. A very wise woman once said to me, “I never tell myself ‘You made a mistake,’ rather I say ‘That was an interesting choice.”
I love that attitude! It gives us permission to approach our life story with curiosity rather than chastisement, to explore who we we were at the time we made a choice and what motivated us. To me, that’s how we grow thus invites all sorts of forgiveness so we can approach the future with a clean slate.
With that in mind, I look back at 2021 – the good, the bad and the ugly – with an open mind and heaps of gratitude. Sure, I would have preferred not to have had both hips replaced or need to be plucked off a mountainside because my heart went haywire. It would have been nice to have more clear days in Scotland and fewer unpleasant hiking companions in Montana.
But look at all the opportunities on offer this past year and also my tenacious spirit to recover and get back on trail. To be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Earlier this month, my family celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas together in one long blow-out weekend. We ate a lot of food, took long walks, shot clay pigeons (my first time!) played charades and talked non-stop.
One moment stands out to me that I want to share. My mother picked In The Bleak Mid Winter for charades and gave a whole bunch of obscure clues which none of could guess. We all had a good laugh and then she mentioned that even though she sang it for years in church, she couldn’t quite remember the melody.
There are actually two versions of Christina Rosetti’s poem, one by Gustav Holst and the other, my favorite, written in 1909 by an Englishman named Harold Darke. We located a performance on YouTube of Kings College and when we played it, she almost immediately started crying. “Hearing something this beautiful,” she told us. “Makes me feel happy to be alive.”
Yes, mom. It does me too.
Though I have made a few resolutions this time around, it’s funny, they never change from year to year. It’s still all about cutting out sugar and to exercise every day, especially when I’m not hiking.
But this time I’ll emphasize gratitude and how good it feels, no matter what happens, to be alive.