Nothing Ends on Dec. 31

It is, on the calendar, a box with a number. The next day on the calendar is a different box with a different number.

But aside from a slight shift in the Earth’s orientation toward the sun—which happens every day—nothing about me or my life will be appreciably different when today slips into tomorrow or tomorrow slips into the next day. Unless, of course, I decide to make it different. But I don’t need a new number in a new box on a piece of paper to make that happen.

This morning, for the seventh day in a row, I rose early (around 5:15), pulled on my socks and sweat pants, and left the house to go for a run. Christmas Eve was the first day of this stretch. Why then? Well, why not? In the flurry of moving to a new city, buying a house, getting my son settled in school, and orienting myself to my new surroundings, I let several months pass without any regular exercise.

On the night before I began again, I read this blog entry and realized I didn’t have to wait until year’s end to reverse my situation. In fact, I would say that I began exercising again on that night, when I decided to get up early and run the next morning, and when I prepared to follow through on that commitment by deciding to sleep in my running shorts and shirt, and to have my socks, sweats, and shoes handy for the next day, and to set my alarm, and to get to bed earlier to increase my chances of actually getting up.

I couldn’t tell you why I made those decisions on Dec. 23 instead of Dec. 20 or Dec. 27, and I haven’t spent any time trying to figure that out because ultimately it doesn’t matter. All that mattered was my making new choices and taking new actions.

The first few days, milder weather allowed me to run outside in my neighborhood. Since then a cold snap has arrived and I’ve had to run on the treadmill at my YMCA. But each decision to continue has built momentum and made me more deeply invested in my new routine.

Just as the earth changes its orientation each day, regardless of the date, I can choose any day to shift my own orientation. Just as the earth progresses in its slow spin each hour, I can, in any hour I choose, move myself toward the person I wish to become. I only need to do something different.

The news and blogs and radio and television broadcast now their annual drumbeat of lists and farewells and pauses to reflect and hopes and fears for what is to come. All well and good. Pauses can refresh us. Reflection can remind us of what most matters to us.

But when I make a fetish of these external, artificial endings and beginnings, I can forget my ability to pause on any day and reflect at any moment. I operate best when I do this regularly—preferably for a few minutes each day—rather than indulge in an orgy of stock-taking when the calendar page turns.

So I can look on tomorrow as an ending, and I can let that be only as meaningful as one year slipping into another. Or I can treat today—and each day—as a possibility for its own beginning, a beginning of my making, and I can leave the boxes—within which I have checked off the days of my life—behind.

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