Years ago I read a quote that called January, “the calendar’s ingrown hair.” I so agree. It’s like the cold is compounded by the dark which is then compounded by endless days of laboriously putting one foot in front of another. I am, by nature, an optimist. I’m versed in the spiel of new beginnings and clean slates and setting new goals. I just can’t see beyond the chattering teeth, biting wind and night-starting-late-afternoon of it all. Add a dash of COVID isolation and a sprinkling of cancer and it can exhaust a person.
I don’t know anyone who hails the fact that January has 31 days. It’s an ultramarathon of short days that feel sooo long. And way too far from fun times. Statistically it’s the month with the highest number of deaths…and divorce filings. Since childhood, I’ve always felt it took more energy than I had to start back up again after the lull of Christmas break. The first month of the year comes around like a train on schedule, demanding, ready or not, we climb on board and return to pressing deadlines and the routine of routine.
Remember the expression, “don’t sweat the small stuff?” Its message from the early 80s (yes 40 years ago!) explained how bad it was for us, physically and emotionally, to allow minor issues to stress us out. I remember reading that cortisol levels rose 10-15 percent when we agonize over the unimportant. And I tried to keep that in mind when the be-your-own-worst -enemy time of compiling New Year’s resolutions approached. Year after year I complied with a wish list of self improvements, most of which I’m sure appeared on your list as well. After the mandatory exercising more and eating less, came cleaning out the basement and putting decades of photos in albums. Learning a new language. Exploring the national parks.
Coming off this horrendous year, that small stuff looks positively teeny. In before-times I perceived the world as raising the bar daily, making me feel I was a time zone’s distance away from being the best I can be. No more. Ridiculously challenging 2020 has taught me better. I am the best I can be. Finally old enough to stop comparing the me I see in the mirror to…anyone… is freeing and might be the silver lining of these times. That we have no sway over what tomorrow brings or takes away is crystal clear to all of us. What’s trivial has been made obvious. So has what’s important. Want a hug, anyone?
As I trudge through January, there are some behaviors I’d like to reset. I see how I can lessen my agita by way of increasing my patience. No more wasting my breath complaining about any person or situation I’ve complained about more than 50 times already. That hopefully will be a little easier to do now. No more greeting anyone with a warm “how are you?’…and then not paying attention if they really tell me how they are. No more thinking that grandparents exaggerate about anything their grandchild says or does.
If I look hard enough, the month hasn’t been entirely dark and dismal. Gossip is juicy…how you say …Hilaria? Old reliable TV series are returning and streaming is chock full of riches. Harry Style’s joyous new video, Treat People with Kindness, is sigh worthy. (You’re welcome!) And I can see the roll out of the vaccine right ahead.
“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.” Ellen Goodman
Such wise words. Wise enough to encourage me to be less of a curmudgeon about January. And maybe jumpstart some positivity about the changing energies in the air. Although I have two bouts of chemo this month, they are the last ones I have scheduled. As a writer, a blank piece of paper, while a fresh start, is always a bit terrifying. But in truth, there couldn’t be a better moment to shed the old and focus on the new. No better moment to be full of hope and gratitude. And maybe even treat ourselves to Dairy Queen’s flavor for January, Brownie Dough Blizzard. We deserve a whole pint.