New Year’s Day may be my favorite holiday. It’s a calm and quiet day. Those rowdiest the night before are lost in their hangovers while many businesses are shut down for the day. The revelry has come to an end; the holidays are officially winding to a close; and a new year faces us all, bright with possibilities if you are willing to look, or dark with forebodings if that’s what you choose to see. It also is, for me, a guiltless holiday. I do not need to see anyone but my wife, and if I want to spend the day reading and writing, reflecting, being quiet, making resolutions—well, I can do all that, and I do not have to feel as though I am failing anyone.
Despite the quietness of it, I find the holiday an optimistic one. In that first relaxed day of the new year, I turn my attention toward my resolutions for the year and all the possibilities for who and what I may yet become. I can’t help but think of the teeming potential of the next twelve months, those 365 unfilled days whispering their promises of tasks accomplished, goals fulfilled. Of course, as is my wont, I overpromise myself: I think I will do so much, from a raft of reading goals to planned writing, exercise and cleaning and personal betterment, new studies and courses of enrichment. Inevitably, plans fall by the wayside and goals go unfulfilled—and yet still I seem to accomplish much, or at least in recent years I have.
I come into the year so optimistic, most the time, and Kate has chided me for that the past few years. It is not that she is against optimism, but that she fears my curse: the past two years I have expressed optimism about the coming twelve months and then promptly fallen on misfortune. Well, so it goes; misfortune is a mainstay of life, alongside success. You can’t win them all, but you can always hope to.
What’s odd about this year is that my usual New Year optimism is far more subdued. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say it is missing entirely, but I can’t help but feel a certain foreboding about the year before us. I am not entirely sure the source of it, though I have my suppositions. Partly I think it is the continued restrictions from 2020; I do not expect my life to get back to something like normal until at least halfway through 2021, perhaps longer—though I would be happy to be wrong. Still, I have navigated these Covid-19 restrictions relatively well and taken advantage of them to focus more on my writing, to dedicate myself to regular practices, and to engage in other projects. So while I chafe at the ways in which they impede me, I do not fully despise them. They have had their benefits for me, for which I am lucky.
It may be a larger sense that the challenges and disruptions of 2020 are as likely as not a prelude to ongoing troubles in 2021 rather than a period of strife we have navigated and will soon leave behind us. The political and economic spheres appear foreboding to me, and I worry about this increasingly brittle nation I call home. A new administration brings new opportunities, both good and bad, but I can’t say that Biden was my ideal to lead us through our challenges. I can only hope he surprises me.
My best guess, though—and it is a guess; I don’t think I have a full handle on this yet—is that after having addressed and made changes to my inner world, it feels now time to pay more attention to my outer one. The past few years I have taken up a number of practices, habits, and explorations that have led to a lot of personal growth. Some of that has manifested into the outer world, but much of it has been interior work. Coming into this new year, though, I am starting to feel that this internal work is beginning to point to certain needs for external change, and that is a kind of change I often find more intimidating than internal change.
That is particularly true at a time like this, when the external world feels so uncertain and dangerous. There is a risk to external change that is more tied to the course of the greater world at large. If the next year or two or three features massive troubles at the national level—political or economic or cultural or some combination—then they may be more likely to dovetail with whatever decisions I make about broader life changes. Simply put, there is more potential material risk in these changes I’m contemplating, which puts me more at the mercy of a broader world that I, quite frankly, do not trust and, of course, do not control.
I suppose that latter claim is where my concern really lies. I am never in control, but it feels much more as though I am when I’m making internal change. Outer change? There lies real risk. I have so little control there, and so little trust in the capability of this nation to steward itself well, that I shy away from putting myself in harm’s way. Yet it may just be that there is no help for it; it may be that it’s time to step forward off this precipice and see what there is to be found. Each year I come to this first day of the year looking at the world anew and thinking of its possibilities.Why, then, should this year be any different? Why should I not come to the outer world thinking the same? It is a new year, after all, and they bring nothing if not the potential for change.