New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap in our society and I don’t think that’s fair. Obviously, I understand people’s issues with the process. If I had followed all of mine over the years I’d be polylingual, fit and wealthy. There wouldn’t be room on my shelves for the books I had read. The shareholders of distilleries, breweries and fast food restaurants would need to solider on despite my abstinence. God, we miss Joe, I imagine they might say.
But they need not be concerned. Before Valentines Day I’ll be justifying a sausage McGriddle and creating a new resolution to buy shares in BF-B. Because of shortcomings like this, the complainers decry the act of making New Year’s resolutions. But I think they miss the point.
Our failure to keep our resolutions is disappointing to be sure. But making resolutions is really just another way for us to say that we’re going to keep trying at this thing called life. An affirmation. A re-birth.
Surely it’s in large part because I’m currently reading Joseph Campbell’s A Hero with a Thousand Faces, but I really do believe we have a series of figurative mini-deaths and re-births in our life. The end of the year holiday season fits the mold. Especially for transplants in the City of Angels who travel and then return.
Like in Campbell’s magnum opus, the hero from Los Angeles sets off on a journey to a distant land with its own customs and rituals. In my case the Midwest. The hero immediately meets obstacles and trials on the journey. Indeed the forces and traffic that seemingly conspire to keep the hero from reaching his departure gate at LAX are among the greatest that will cross his path – modern day dragons.
Upon reaching the distant place of yore, the hero feels far, far away from Los Angeles. He braces the cold. He observes entire stretches of freeway that mystifyingly have no other vehicles. He sees gas stations on entire fiefdoms of land. The hero remembers that the parking lot god, Parkus Lottias, is worshipped as one of the most powerful gods in this part of the middle west.
The hero suffers a pang. A wish that Parkus Lottias had more powers in Los Angeles, but the presence of the goddess and true mother figure driving the hero from the airport alleviates much of the disorientation he feels. As much as anyone, she will be like the wise guide so prevalent in the hero on a journey genre.
In the days to come the hero will visit enchanted places, like the home of his grandparents, where echoes of his childhood reverberate in every room. And yet seeing his visibly aged grandparents forces him to contemplate the great mysteries of life: in the natural order of things a day will come without them. It is a most unpleasant thought, one that he never confronts in his life in Los Angeles.
The hero will find grace on the journey too. He musters the strength to stand in an over packed elementary school gymnasium with poor fluorescent lighting for Christmas Eve mass to please the father and mother figures. The activity depletes his powers, however, and he must make a few snide remarks to his siblings to augment himself once more. Like all heroes, he has flaws.
Most of the trip, however, proves restorative. The Christmas shopping before the holiday with the mother figure reminds him of years past. The father figure’s doting over the mother and the house makes the hero feel that nothing has changed. A night with his mother’s chili provides more comfort and power than its epicurean value would suggest. He sees magic in action when his nephews actually believe that a man came down the chimney and delivered presents in the middle of the night. He finds satisfaction when the mother and father figures meet his new love interest, who joins for part of the journey. He cooks with his sister. He is reminded of the joy of small pleasures, watching his nephews sled down a hill on a clear and sunny winter day. Old friends on the path provide life-sustaining laughter with heavy doses of nostalgia and, occasionally, a small spoonful of lamentation.
As he prepares for this return, he feels that he is home, but not home. He is away, but not on vacation. In the presence of the parents, he’s an adult, but somehow still a child. Like any hero in Campbell’s tome, this one must leave the distant land and return to share what he has learned.
The last obstacles face him on the return. Announcements of flight cancellations fill the airways in advance of the storm. Friends post tales of woe, stranded at airports. He battles anxiety, fearing the snow gods will hobble his flight until the wheels lift into the air. But once in the air, it begins . . . the writing of resolutions, the New Year.
What is the holiday trip home other than its own circle of re-birth?
I have found that when I travel to the Midwest for the holidays, that whether or not I remain there for January 1 is irrevelant. The New Year officially starts on the plane ride home to California. The copious burst of energy I feel on the return is certainly owing both to the restorative feelings of love from my family and California’s tug at all of us to achieve great things.
We forget that tug in the daily grind and that’s why writing resolutions is so valuable. All of us need a re-birth from time to time.
You may fail at your resolutions. Make resolutions anyway.
Chart out a 2014 for which you will be proud. In the words of Campbell, the big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.