We gather today near the end of an old year
Looking back over the past
And peering forward as we imagine what may be to come
By the light of this flame, may we be guided this year on a path
Toward a bright new tomorrow of justice and love
Reading: It would be neat if with the New Year, by Jimmy Santiago Baca
It would be neat if with the New Year
I could leave my loneliness behind with the old year.
My leathery loneliness an old pair of work boots
my dog vigorously head-shakes back and forth in its jaws,
chews on for hours every day in my front yard—
rain, sun, snow, or wind
in bare feet, pondering my poem,
I’d look out my window and see that dirty pair of boots in the yard.
But my happiness depends so much on wearing those boots.
At the end of my day
while I’m in a chair listening to a Mexican corrido
I stare at my boots appreciating:
all the wrong roads we’ve taken, all the drug and whiskey houses
we’ve visited, and as the Mexican singer wails his pain,
I smile at my boots, understanding every note in his voice,
and strangers, when they see my boots rocking back and forth on my feet keeping beat to the song, see how
my boots are scuffed, tooth-marked, worn-soled.
I keep wearing them because they fit so good
and I need them, especially when I love so hard,
where I go up those boulder strewn trails,
where flowers crack rocks in their defiant love for the light.
Reading: i am running into a new year, by Lucille Clifton
i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even forty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me
Message: by Emmeline Kelly
Last year, on New Year’s Eve, I sat down with three of my closest friends and we each made a list of things that we wanted to do in 2018. We tried to keep the focus of our lists on achievable things that we wanted to add to our lives rather than give up - so, our collective lists included items like ‘spend more time in nature’, ‘learn to play the lute’, ‘work on my novel’ and ‘buy a bedside table’. This may say a lot about me as a person, but this was honestly one of the best New Year’s Eves I’ve ever spent - not least because we also had pizza, wine, an extremely friendly cat and pretty much an entire car load of craft supplies that my friend Diana had brought over to make our lists look pretty. But there was something about this process, the sense of hope and possibility it brought after what had been a pretty rough year for some of us, that was really powerful. I pinned my rainbow-ribbon trimmed list above my bed, and started the new year full of good intentions, and gratitude for the company of my friends.
The four of us created a Facebook group, and checked in with each other periodically over the year. We were making some progress. Diana sent across pictures of her muddy boots - she was getting with nature! Stevie gave up on the lute idea once he saw how much one cost, but he started learning guitar instead. Jax has written 48,000 words of her novel. And I acquired not one, but two bedside tables - although I did make the mistake of trying to push/drag the first one home from the charity shop on its tiny, fairly pointless wheels.
In early December, our chat group became active again. How had we got on? And our lists - which had been such a source of hope and positivity earlier in the year, suddenly became a potential source of broken promises to ourselves. We started trying to justify why we hadn’t achieved the things we’d planned - ‘maybe I’m just rubbish with money’, ‘maybe I’m just lazy’. This was not the reason that I’d set up the group, and I felt bad for inadvertently creating this atmosphere of recrimination. So I wrote everyone an extremely lengthy text message, and I thought I’d share the thoughts I had with you, in case it’s of any use as you reflect back over the last year and potentially make resolutions for the next.
It occurred to me that maybe there was a different way to look at this. Sure, it was great that we’d accomplished some of the things, and I suspect we made more progress with the list than we would have done without. But maybe it was far more interesting, and useful, to look at the list of things we hadn’t achieved - and why - from a kinder, more curious perspective.
Firstly, should this particular item even be on our list? Was it still relevant - was it something we really wanted to do, or something we felt we should want to do? If it wasn’t, then strike it off. Was it something we had much control over? For example, it can be pretty hard to save money when life is so full of unexpected expenses. And, if the remaining items were things that we truly wanted to do, then what stopped us? Was it that these were the most challenging things that required the greatest amount of growth - the things that make us most uncomfortable. Maybe, for this past year, just recognising that we need to make those changes was enough. Maybe we need to break them down into more achievable goals. Maybe we need to make peace with the fact we’re not ready to face these challenges yet, or that we can only manage a baby step. That’s OK.
But what really struck me as a common theme in the messages in the chat group was ‘something unexpected happened, and my priorities changed.’ And I thought about my friends, and the things that had happened to us that we didn’t plan for. One of us got to a place where they had to quit their job, even though they faced the uncertainty of having nothing else lined up. Another had a close family member who became very ill, and this affected everything. One of us suffered a bereavement. One of us fell in love at the beginning of the year, and had their heart broken by the end. And happier things happened too, like Diana becoming a proud dog-mum. And all the while, the four of us dealt with the ups and downs of various long-term health conditions. I thought about my friends and what we have got through this year, and I felt immensely proud of this tiny group of humans. I don’t personally subscribe to the idea that everything happens for a reason, but I have seen my friends make the best sense they can out of these experiences, I have seen them grow stronger and wiser, and I have seen them survive.
And then I thought beyond this small group of people, to all of you. The joys and sorrows you’ve shared this year. The joys and sorrows you haven’t shared. The experiences you’ve had. And that’s why I invite you, if you’d like to, to take the piece of paper that you were given at the door, and write down something that happened to you this year that was unexpected. It can be a source of joy, or something that was challenging. It can be something you’re proud of, or it can just be something that you managed to survive. Andy and I are going to read (some of?) them out, so don’t put your name on them. And if you’d just like to do this for yourself and not have it read out, then that’s totally cool too. Whatever feels right to you. I’ll give you a couple of minutes to do this.
When I wrote this message, I obviously didn’t know what you would write down. But I knew I would be moved by the depth and variety of human experiences we have shared. Some experiences have made us happier, and some of them have forced us to adapt to a life that is very different to the one we used to lead. Some of these things, we just got through. And that is enough.
So, as we go into 2019, let’s reflect on what we achieved in 2018, and let’s learn from what we didn’t do, and from all the things we didn’t expect. I have a friend who writes her future self a letter on the first day of the year, and reads it on the following New Year’s Eve. I might try this and maybe you’d like to too. But I also wonder: if we could write a letter to ourselves as we were one year ago, what would our previous selves say back? And if we do have items or goals from last year that we haven’t accomplished and would still like to - how can we do this? How can we address our toughest challenges - the things that push us outside of what we know? And how can we ensure we make space for the practices that will enable us to take the greatest care of ourselves?
In the year ahead we can, and will, do things we’d never imagine now, and we are all so much stronger than we yet realise. We have all survived 2018 and are here now, in our loving and supportive community. I wish you joy, possibility and growth for 2019. And if, for whatever reason, hope seems elusive at this present moment, then I hope, as this year draws to a close and another begins, that you can just be wherever you need to be right now, and feel whatever you need to feel.
May it be so.
As the old year draws to a close
May you leave behind the ways that do not serve you
The suffering that holds you down
And the doubts and fears that keep you from reaching forward
May your New Year be bright and full of growth
May it lead you toward your heart’s desire.