The appeal of new beginnings is archetypal. Beginning anew, starting fresh, turning over a new leaf, whatever cliché you want to use to embellish the excitement of feeling like we can cast off our old-ness and move forward into something better. I too like the sense of getting to hit the cosmic reset button. In a minor way, the coming of a new year gives a similar yet lesser exhilaration to a baptism or a new love affair. January 1 is a time to acknowledge that we’ve put down 365 more that we can’t get back, and now we have to ante up and go again.
2014 will be a landmark year for me, since I turn forty this year. By this fall, I will be “over the hill,” a disturbing phrase in one sense but comforting in another. With the pressures and uncertainty of youth – the uphill climb – now behind me, I no longer have to think about what I will be when I grow up, who I will marry, or how many kids I will have. As for my uphill climb, I finished college at age 22, got married at 26, had my first published book at 27, began teaching at 29, had my kids at ages 31 and 33, finished my master’s degree at 34, had a few more published books by age 35, and got baptized in the Catholic church at age 37. That’s all done; the big things have been determined. Though I do sometimes miss the excitement of the search that led me here, I would never want to go back to being young. While the vigor and fire are romantic enough, I don’t miss the other side of youth: being addled and confused, trying to navigate situations that I didn’t actually understand.
I feel lucky about the experiences that have led me to forty years old. For example, as an adult, parenting, teaching and marriage have almost completely nullified the selfishness that I had when I was younger. In all three of those things, a man can’t focus on his own desires, or he will fail. All of those duties involve being a good partner in work that needs to get done. I’ve learned that in thirteen years of marriage, ten years of teaching and eight years of parenting. The necessity of the engagement requires focusing on other people’s needs. Though it hasn’t always been fun, I’m thankful for the humility and patience that I’ve gained.
Closer-to-home, I’ve set my new resolutions for 2014, which constitute a shorter list this year. In continuing my New Testament reading-assignment tradition – in 2012, I read all four Gospels, and last year I read the Acts of the Apostles – this year I am resolved to read all of St. Paul’s letters. I also have several writing projects going on, and I’m resolved to make significant progress on each of them. More personally, some resolutions about reducing debt and having healthier habits are sprinkled in there too.
So I hope that everyone has a happy new year! This new beginning is another chance to right a wrong, change a bad habit, or accomplish something left undone. I will leave you with some lyrics from a song by my friend Tom House: “you go waiting on tomorrow you can wake up to find it true / that your whole life’s been measured by the things you meant to do.”