by Alice Feeley, RDC
January: the beginning of the calendar year and a time of resolutions for new beginnings, a custom more often honored in its failures than in its successes. Interest in self-help books and programs is usually on the rise at this time of year, and in businesses, organizations and families, the fiscal year begins with the calendar year. The new year of 2013 has also marked the beginning of another Congress and before the month is over will celebrate the inauguration of another term of office for our president.
For classes of trauma-surviving children in Connecticut, the beginning of January has brought the beginning of classes in a new school. The balance of light and dark in our solar system has shifted, and we are in the beginning weeks of slowly increasing daylight. Many hospitals honor the beginning of the new year with special presents for the baby who arrives first after the old year is rung out. And people of different faiths came together in prayer for world peace on January 1. Beginnings abound in January.
The name for this month comes from Janus, the god of gates and doorways in Roman mythology. Janus is depicted with one face looking forward and one backward. In our new beginnings we are positioned like Janus; we carry along the past even as we look to something new in the future. And sometimes this view of the past can be like baggage weighing us down, closing the gate even as a doorway opens to the future beyond what we know. This reality is especially true as we make resolutions and then discover we can’t keep them. Beginnings mean change, and changes in human behavior often start with small steps, some risk, and tangible support from other persons. Beginnings also presume that something has already changed in our outlook. Optimally, we bring fresh eyes to any beginning.
On the second day of 2013, I spent a little time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and came upon a man and a little boy, probably a father with his five-year-old son, looking at a bronze sculpture of a young female figure clutching only a shawl around her head and shoulders. The sculpture was done by Jean-Antoine Houdon at the end of the eighteenth century and was entitled “Winter.” The man turned away and tried to pull his son with him, but the little boy was not ready to move.
“Is she afraid?” he asked. No one had an answer for him. His five-year-old fresh, clear eyes and imagination had seen and connected with something deeply human that no one else seemed to notice.
It occurred to me that a certain childlikeness can sweep away expectations and prejudices and open our eyes to the wonder and possibilities of new beginnings and change. Questions can often bring more light than answers.
In addition to personal resolutions for the New Year we probably share hopes for new beginnings in the work of Congress and the president. Here we are very aware of the baggage left over from the last legislative session and may find ourselves, unlike Janus, only looking backward and seeing the gates instead of the open doors. What questions need to be asked? What fresh eyes and imagination need to be brought to intractable situations?
Discouragement, hopelessness, and old answers are the enemies of new beginnings and change. When we don’t keep a New Year resolution, we can be tempted to lose heart and a sense of purpose and easily give up. We tried and it didn‘t work. Maybe one of the most important realizations about new beginnings and stepping into the open doorway, the future, is that we can always begin again. In fact, we need to believe that, in spite of failure, missing the mark, we can begin again.
And so can our political leaders begin again in spite of past failures. The current president of Uruguay, a former guerilla opponent of the state, spent 14 years in prison, including more than a decade in solitary confinement. He speaks of his time in prison as a time to reflect and states, “I learned that one can always start again.” In his Book of Blessings John O’Donohue urges us: “Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning that is at one with your life’s desire.”