A New Year, A New Beginning

snow-designMy grandmother lived alone in Boston. A widow for many years she had an unusual way of celebrating New Year’s Eve. As my father told it, she would pick a movie theater that was showing a film she wanted to see and go to the last show. In those days on New Years Eve the theaters would pass out noisemakers and at midnight everyone would sound off with them.

I don’t know if any movie theaters do this today; certainly when they did it then it was a wonderful way for her to celebrate. Seeing the old year out is a in whatever way chosen is a ritual that has been practiced by peoples of all times and places for centuries if not millennia. I enjoy my personal rituals, which include ringing all the bells in the house not to mention kissing my husband a midnight. Then there are the ones I also practice for New Year’s Day.

The old year now past holds both failures and successes. I need to take these into account as I do my rituals to begin the New Year. What are my expectations? My resolutions, my hopes and dreams for the next twelve months to come. Realistically I must base them partly on what has been as well as what I hope will be. The trick is not to limit myself by any failures nor be overly egotistical about any successes.

When I look out of my window in the morning after a fresh snowfall, the gleaming white expanse seems like a new beginning. The crusty, trampled, slightly soiled snow beneath is hidden from sight. Everything looks fresh, ready to be inscribed with the present. A new beginning is a blank sheet of paper, a bed newly made with clean sheets, the first breath of air I take when I walk out of my door. A new beginning is a wonderful opportunity.

However, I must remember that beneath the newly fallen snow are the remnants of the snows that fell days before. They lurk there like the mistakes, the mishaps, the opportunities not taken and the regrets I may have for all that remains undone. A new beginning must also take into account what has gone before. Mistakes and misses can be useful if I am willing to learn from them. If I am not, they remain like the old mounds of snow banks–freshly covered but still obvious in any parking lot.

I have always enjoyed my New Year’s Day rituals. I try to do a little of whatever I hope to be doing for the next year: corresponding with friends, calling family, writing a poem, cooking, and other activities that I enjoy. In addition I make two resolutions. Like most I haven’t always kept them. Still I keep hoping. My favorite activity on New Year’s Day is to look back, to see how far I have come, and to plan for the future. Each year brings its share of joys and sorrows, regrets and triumphs; I welcome them all.


Complaining? Not I

Image          Because I went to high school in Boston I lived with my grandmother during the week. She was kind but stern. While I don’t remember why I was upset, I have a strong memory of the following incident: One afternoon after school I stood in front of her, tears running down my face. I was hoping for sympathy. Instead, she looked at me stonily and said, “You are unhappy? Just keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about.” Unbeknownst to me then she was teaching me something important. However I didn’t recognize this for some time to come.

          At the time I resented her attitude. She seemed mean and unkind. She came from the “chin up, bite the bullet” school of thought. She had been taught it was inappropriate to express one’s emotions and thought to help me learn the same discipline. It took me a long time to grow through this attitude in myself and learn the truth behind this way of thinking. Yes it is important to express my emotions, yet it is not a good idea to dwell on them.

          Fast forward to many years later. I was in my kitchen in Virginia. The stove didn’t cook anything the way I wanted it to. The oven had entirely

Complaining seems to make things worse. When I try to be positive about a situation, it appears to improve. For me, focusing on the negative is a slippery slope. However, although it is not easy to reverse the downward trend I have discovered it can be done.

          I began working with the situation I had rather than trying to change anything. I praised the stove I had insofar as I was able. I also called the landlord and asked him to replace the stove, which reluctantly he did. Did my stoves improve? Yes indeed they did. The next and subsequent stoves have all been an improvement on the one that helped me learn my lesson.

          I stopped complaining and began looking on the bright side. I have not always remembered this lesson yet when I do, I am well rewarded. ceased to work, and I felt very frustrated. “Why is this happening to me!” I cried. This is the third stove that has given me grief. A little light went on in my head. I had complained endlessly about my difficulties with the other two stoves. This one had been difficult from the beginning. Was there a connection?

          I may not immediately recognize when a unconscious negative attitude leads me in a downward direction. I need to keep an eye on my mind. However bringing up five children gave me the habit of listening to make sure everything was well. Now I listen to myself. Although it is healthy to complain, to gnaw on the bone of discontent may make things worse. While I may not be able to change a situation, I can learn to see it differently, become more flexible, or depending on the situation find compassion in my heart.