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Grasping the new year.
Season’s greetings and all that happy horsesh*t have passed, and a new year has begun.
Physicists have determined that in 2020, the earth spun faster than it has in decades and they’re contemplating leap seconds. Faster than ever—yet the year seemed like it would never end.
Places, spaces, and time are what mark moments, and moments fade like mist in a shower room after the door is open. As quickly as things emerge, they begin to disappear. I wonder if all that hurried rotation didn’t make us all dizzy. My friend Dave points out that it’s like the world is trying to use centrifugal force to scatter us from the planet to the void.
I don’t mind the dark, but I prefer being able to see. I don’t mind the cold; I can put a coat on. I don’t mind the heat if I can go for a swim. I can adapt. We all can adapt. That is how humans have colonized every continent on the planet—adaptation, cultural or biological. It’s what we do.
I don’t mind aging. It seems to be one of the things I can do without effort. That doesn’t mean aging is easy. Parts seem to stop working, things seem to grow where they’ve never grown before, and there is a loss in the elegance of motion that is subjectively palpable, even if it isn’t visible. This year, I learned the plaid shirts of my youth have been appropriated by lesbians and the khaki pants and Hawaiian shirts I’ve worn to feel spiffy have been appropriated by white nationalists and neo-Nazis. I don’t want to be mistaken for a Nazi lesbian, but I am not giving in and getting rid of my half-century-old wardrobe. On the other hand, the wardrobe is decades old.
The indignities continue; my ass has moved to my belly, my manhood rises to attention at 4 a.m. when no one else is interested, my teeth keep breaking from clenching my jaw, allergies have created bags under my eyes, sneezing or bending to pick up a sock throws my back out, and I sleep with a machine strapped to my face because my body forgets to breathe when I am sleeping. One sexy man.
If I could order lunch right now, it would be a Florida Gulf Coast favorite of crab cakes, black beans, and yellow rice all flavored with tears. But then I’d be eating by myself again, and at some point, it would be nice to have some company, if only for a moment. I miss actual conversations with people at places. There is something to be said for different minds sharing the same stimuli and processing those thoughts, creating new boundaries of experience. It’s a bonding experience. A taste, a smell, a touch can be transformed through the eyes of another’s experience, and that is an experience.
Together, we’re all hurtling through an ever-expanding universe on a planet rotating around the sun. We’re given seasons on this spinning planet, days and nights too, and a moon that pulls at the oceans causing tides to rise and fall, like the heave of the chest of an ancient god breathing in and out, waves rippling like whispers on the shore. Centrifugal force throws us out while centripetal pulls us in.
Often, our passions carry us, like the moon creating the tide, as we too breathe in and out, our hearts pounding away, like an ambient clock ticking off the seconds, causing our blood to surge and carry oxygen to our muscles and organs as we take in the moments around us. There is a timelessness in all this tracking of time. We’re actually never where we have been as we hurtle through the universe, because time is always passing, but the pattern is familiar. When the flow is slow, we’re calm; when it’s rushed, we’re anxious.
January has come and I don’t have expectations beyond change. Maybe flannel shirts and khaki pants will be for everybody again and the Hawaiians will reclaim what is theirs. I don’t know. It’s not actually important that I know. What’s important is that I know to adapt and do it with thought. I put on a belt, because I know these pants are not for Nazis; they are for all of us who want to wear pants, but they will fall off my sagging ass. I put a flannel shirt on, not because I prefer women—although I do, but I don’t put on shirts to show this; I put them on because I am chilly and flannel takes care of the nip in the air.
I can’t change that there are racists. I can make sure I don’t do racist things or label people’s behavior by the way they look. I can make sure I am not being a racist. I can hold on to that.
What did I do today that I won’t remember tomorrow? What will fly away? What can I hold on to? What will be pulled in? I can savor a moment, but I can’t get it back. Time only allows me the privilege of holding on to the sensation that I savored at that original moment. I don’t remember where I had my first southern BBQ pulled pork sandwich; I wasn’t paying attention. I do remember that sandwich though. The meat was smoked, moist, had a slight vinegar sauce with a mild bite, and a touch of pickled onion flavor. My nostrils flared, my pupils dilated, and my ears popped. Try as I might, I can’t recreate it, bring it back, have that “wow” from the first time sensation. I had that moment though. Nothing takes it away; it simply will not happen again.
Can I let go of things that hurt? Why would I hold on to them? They hurt. I don’t have time to hold on to something that doesn’t want to be held. Hurt means let it go, change it, stop doing whatever I am doing and do something differently, let it fly away. It doesn’t mean forget. It means change.
Learning from mistakes is not staying in pain. Pain is a biological imperative to encourage expeditious change. Learning is good, wounds are not. Wounds impair actions. Wounds require healing. Healing requires time. Time is the only resource I can never get back or accumulate. I can let pain go, learn not to do that again, and move on. I can’t change what has passed. I can do my best to not do that or be in the vexing situation again.
I don’t know if it was the Dalai Lama or Buddha, or the Dalai Lama quoting Buddha—I’m not a great Buddhist—who said something to the effect of, “Is what you are worried about something you can control? If not, there is nothing you can do. Is what you are worried about something you can do something about? Then why are you worrying and not doing something about it?”
The new year brings me the opportunity to do things about the things I can do something about. Things I can take hold of; things that pull me in, like appreciating the smell of the earth after a fresh rain, the kindness of a stranger, and the smile of child. All of these things are moments in the present, not the chaos of what I see on TV or read in the news. News is important, but it’s not in my immediate grasp. I can’t touch what’s been done. I can’t take hold of things that aren’t here. When I read the news, it has already gone. The events have left. There is nothing to hold and it has no way to anchor me to this spinning earth.
I can return a kindness or a smile.