“So this is the New Year, and I don’t feel any different.”
One of my January traditions is to listen to “The New Year” by the emo alt-rock group Death Cab for Cutie. I have a streak of cynicism in me that flourishes in January, and this song makes the perfect soundtrack for my post-Christmas brooding. It all seems so arbitrary, the transition from one year into the next: in Jewish and Muslim communities that transition happens in October, for Chinese and South Korean cultures, which follow the lunar calendar, it happens in February. As Christians we technically start our “New Year” on the first Sunday of Advent, which was over a month ago. And much of the ancient world began their years in springtime, with the return of life to the earth.
“So this is the new year,” songwriter Ben Gibbard continues in the second stanza, “and I have no resolutions for self-assigned penance or problems with easy solutions.” I’ve got nothing against self-improvement, but sometimes it feels like our annual “new-year-new-me” ritual as December becomes January is American culture’s own version of Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday—indulgence followed by shame-fueled penitence, entangled in unhelpful narratives about the moral value of food, health, productivity, and the shape of our bodies, and absent the Lenten emphasis on remembering our mortality and caring for the poor.
The Latin root of our word “resolution” is the verb resolvere, which means “to unbind, relax, loosen.” What if this January, instead of resolving to try to become a different person or have a different body or live a different life, what if you resolved instead to give yourself room to breathe? What if, this year, you resolved to find the newness of every day? “Always we begin again,” as St. Benedict said. This life is a marathon, not a sprint, and if you want the stamina to carry on for the long haul, especially after such a difficult year, you’re going to need grace and rest in the present moment.
So by all means read more books in 2022; learn to meditate, train for that marathon, do Whole30. But remember that perfect is the enemy of the good, and there is beauty in the everyday newness of a life lived in the present.
Yours in grace, gratitude, and hope,