By: Diane Cameron
And then suddenly it’s a New Year. 2019 begins.
The part we love is that a New Year is a blank slate. But while we love that sense of possibility, it is also just a little unnerving.
Maybe part of the over-drinking and over-eating that many folks indulge in at New Year’s happens not so much because of what we are leaving behind but rather because of what lies ahead. Maybe, like me, you have been saying, “I’ll deal with that after the holidays.”
And now, suddenly, we’re there and the New Year brings this uncomfortable combination of agitation and malaise. Expectation does that. The arrival of this delayed reality is also the arrival of what are, in the best sense, our ordinary lives.
In the liturgical calendar of the Christian faith the days that are not Advent, Christmas, Lent or Easter are called Ordinary Time. While we delight in holidays and special occasions we know that our ordinary time is much more precious. Our ordinary days don’t make it into photo albums, but they are the days in which we live our real lives.
The older we get the faster time seems to move. We might assume that this is because we are more aware of our mortality, but there is also research that suggests that the shift in how we experience time is neurological and results from lowering dopamine levels in the brain, which is part of aging. On New Year’s Day we grab at more time: If time is limited, and the slate is clean, how will I choose what goes into my new year?
Our fantasies run to perfection, and the new calendars we start now collude with us. A calendar is an organizational tool, but it is also a hedge against despair. For one day we enjoy the promise of those 365 empty, numbered squares. And then, pen in hand, we strike: How to fill it? (This is why using a phone calendar is so unsatisfying: there is no demarcation, no old versus new, and no regret versus hope.)
Even if we don’t formally write out New Year resolutions, most of us hope for improvement to body, mind or spirit in 2019. Whatever our goal, what we hope for is always something better: better relationships, better health, better work, and we rail against the imperfect.
But in ordinary time, and in our real lives, all that we have– and that we can have– is imperfection.
Still, we try to wrestle time into submission. We talk about how we will spend time in the coming year, and that metaphor is a good one: Time is precious. It can be served, stolen, borrowed and squandered. It flies, and it flows, and it runs out. Without time we can’t even tell the simplest story.
All narrative depends on it: Beginning, middle, end.
There is a bit of wisdom from the ancient Latin grammar that we can borrow as this New Year begins. It is the verb tense called “past imperfect,” used for actions still uncompleted, and for stories continuing to unfold.
That is the tense–and perhaps the cause of tension—each January.
And so now, let us welcome 2019 by relaxing our vigilance and allowing our stories to unfold in blessed, imperfect, and ordinary time.