New Year is a strange time. For most of my life, since becoming ill as a child, I have been unable to equate it with celebration.
For many years the arrival of January was reason to mourn another year destroyed by illness. Nowadays I tread a calmer path, but a wary one nonetheless. What might I be called upon to face this year? While I am by no means negative in outlook, serious illness does engender a sense of vulnerability. Rather than greet a year with open arms and loud cheers, I tend to avoid eye contact with the newcomer and simply hope for quiet coexistence.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of New Year is the obligation – or so it seems – to evaluate the year that has gone and to measure oneself on a scale of achievement. This tendency is amplified with the ending not only of a year but also a decade. I learnt long ago not to compare my life to other people’s, but at times like this I cannot help but be aware of the gap between where I am and where I would wish to be; to think of where I was ten years ago, and what I might have expected from life in that time.
I feel gratitude and I feel anger. I have hope and I am afraid. There is no single way of summarising where the past year and decade have left me. I am in multiple places all at once.
I have written before of the importance of allowing space for all emotions, even when they appear to be in direct contradiction to one another. And so at the turning of a year and decade, I acknowledge disappointment and grief; I recognise dreams that were cherished and strived for, but which the passing of time has made impossible. But at the same time I know that I have found contentment, purpose and even joy, despite lengthy illness and many additional trials. There have been positives to this decade which I could not have foreseen, alongside difficulties that would have been frightening to contemplate in advance.
In short, my life is mixture of loss and sorrow; of happiness and fulfilment. Of overwhelming restriction, and of important gains within those parameters. I have grown immeasurably as a person, though I wish that that growth had not been shaped so greatly by suffering. I feel gratitude and I feel anger. I have hope and I am afraid. There is no single way of summarising where the past year and decade have left me. I am in multiple places all at once.
I am aware that for many reading this, there will not even be the conflict of emotions I describe, so relentless and complete is their suffering. I too have begun years and decades in such a bleakness of existence that there seemed no way forward. The only certainty in my life appeared to be my own demise. There were no endings and no new beginnings: just a timeless plane of torment.
The blackest night does not preclude the onset of dawn; the most bitter winter contains the seed of spring.
The human mind likes to organise and label. We collect up days and file them as years and decades, attaching significance to these measurements of time. In reflecting on the year or decade ending, it is tempting to view the past as a prediction of what is to come. In reality the calendar has no bearing on fortune, either good or bad.
I find it more helpful to think in terms of seasons. To see myself as part of the continuous cycle of nature as it moves between darkness and light; dormancy and growth. The blackest night does not preclude the onset of dawn; the most bitter winter contains the seed of spring. All are part of the same whole.
I do not make New Year’s resolutions. My aim today, as every day, is to treat time as something unrelated to the calendar. To learn from the past where it is relevant to do so, but not to be tied to it. To work – as much as my limitations allow – on making the future the best it can be, without creating another burden to be borne. And to live emotionally in the present, dealing only with this very day and whatever it brings.
Similar themes are addressed in Thoughts on Reaching 40 and Glimpsing the World: My Joy and Pain.
Image: Ales Krivec on Unsplash