I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. They're like diets and Lenten offerings -- things we do for a short period of time to make ourselves feel better that really should just be permanent changes we make in our lives for the better. So I don't do resolutions. Or diets. Or Lenten offerings. They're just ways of temporarily tricking ourselves.
However, when I set my mind to something, I make it happen and I keep to it. Like when I declared I would not eat red meat anymore. And I didn't, for 8 years. Not one slip. As much as I loved a burger, I didn't do it. Or how I refuse to drink dark sodas. Or food that is blue. And how I quit smoking after years just because one day I woke up and decided I didn't want to do it anymore. I guess you call it willpower. And I'm the perfect mix of Irish and German to have maybe the strongest will on the planet.
So, while I don't do resolutions, I do often look for things inspiring enough to consider making a life change. And one just came to me as I flipped through the Dec. 25 issue of Newsweek magazine
. Anna Quindlen
's "The Last Word"
is one of my favorite reads every other week. And her Dec. 25 column called "The Time Machine"
takes a look at what the spirit of the Christmas season means. It's a beautifully written and clever look at what is and is not important in life. Before I noticed it was the pullout quote on the page, I was struck by her sentence:
"The essence of the season is figuring out what small stuff is passing minutiae and what is enduring memory. Come to think of it, that may be the essence of everything."
And it's quite possible Anna should have put the word "everything"
So, pray tell, what does it mean?
Well, Anna says most of the holiday season stuff is just "small stuff", but then she says that lots of small stuff is really big and has stronger resonance than the things we perceive to be big, like the hot toy on the shopping list.
For some reason, there are small things we escalate to be very big and important things. And then are the small things we let fly by without a second thought. But are the small things we dismiss the ones that will be with us later in life? Do the littlest of little things have lasting significance, but lack the immediate gratification we so aptly place today at the cornerstone of what's really important?
Anna says her "children can track their childhoods in Christmas tree ornaments: the china bell for Baby's first Christmas, the triangle of felt and photograph made in Miss Hawe's third-grade class, the dinosaurs that marked the passionate enthusiasm of the onetime natural historian." I suppose I can trace my life through our Christmas tree, and for sure my girls also have some special ornaments to remember specific moments. But we don't think of it that way as we choose them as gifts or wrap them or give them. Yet, as we unpack them and hang them, their small meanings take on big significance and rekindle memories, feelings and moments. And as we pack them away for the year, we typically put that small moment back in its safe place, only to come out again the following December.
Take the handprint ornament from my older daughter's daycare craft. It's a big, heavy and not so very attractive piece of white plaster of paris with a chintzy red ribbon with smashed scissors curls and red fingerprints from being manhandled.
It's no big deal. I think my wife and I even roll our eyes when it comes out of the box every year, as we for a fleeting moment think of how small she once was, then stammer as we try to find a branch strong enough and neatly tucked around back that will hold it. But one afternoon this Christmas season, as it hung on the tree, Skylar noticed it and she said "Daddy, that's my hand when I was just a baby." I told her to place her hand over it, and I was amazed at how much that ugly ornament, in that moment, made me feel. Instantly. The memories of her precious little face, her first step, her first word, her first day of school, her first lost tooth. Like that one little thing had unlocked a whole lot of other little things that I have so neatly tucked away. I said "Look how much you've grown." And she giggled and said "When I was a little baby, I didn't have any hair. I was bald like Uncle Steve." And she's right. And that was another little thing I had forgotten. She was our beautiful but awfully bald little girl.
So how do we track our lives the other 11 months of the year? Where do we hang the small things to serve as little reminders of really big things? Today it may be through a handheld digicam lens, at an online photo sharing site -- hell, a blog, even.
So, since I don't do resolutions, I will take 2007, with gratitude to Ms. Quindlen, as an opportunity to determine which of the small things is passing minutiae and which have enduring memory and see if life as a communications professional, husband, father and friend takes on new meaning.
Labels: Christmas, little things, New Year's Resolutions