"Man's life must be a straight line of motion from goal to farther goal, each leading to the next and to a single growing sum."
For the first time, the cynicism didn't engulf me and I found myself surprised by my own happiness. Previously, reveling in the passing of time, resolution-making, the party scene--none of it was "for me." Yet drinking my second glass of wine, quietly listening to the separate yet intricately related conversations about principles and foreign policy and James Madison and the future of our culture, I realized, "Prior to this moment, perhaps I wasn't 'for it.'"
Certainly I had enjoyed New Year's celebrations before--any excuse to stay up late with the people I most selfishly value brings me immense joy. Yet New Year's as a holiday was never something I understood. Growing up as one of those intellectually-curious, philosophically-misguided kids, my sense of mortality was likely more heightened then my peers. (I remember one night nearly self-inducing a panic attack thinking about the concept of infinity and my life in relation to it.) Consequently, I framed any occasion that marked forward progress in time as a reminder of what I haven't yet accomplished, stunned that people seemingly enjoyed the ticking of a clock.
I couldn't suppress one of those annoyingly large grins last night, shaking hands with people I only recently met and hugging almost complete strangers, as the silliness of my former beliefs became clear. New Year's to my "pre-living" self seemed like any other holiday--an observance of the past, a memorial of the long-since-gone or, even more cynically, the soon-to-be-forgotten. Within that rigidly nihilistic context, celebrating a New Year was the equivalent of celebrating your own death, drinking a toast of champagne to "another year down and not enough to go."
And there you have the culture of death made explicit--something I actually "believed" at one point in my non-life. (As much as an infinitely resigned knight can wholeheartedly believe in something.)
It never actually occurred to me until last night--at least not in a manner so vividly realized--that New Year's is neither about loss nor punishment. It's not a holiday to celebrate the passing of time but to look ahead and say to the universe, "Tomorrow is mine to achieve."
New Year's is a holiday of renewal--a moment to take stock of your life's inventory and place an order for supplies. For some it can be a moment for forgiveness, for acknowledging prominent errors and renouncing them--spiritual repentance properly understood, paid in full by self-esteem. Because our lives are not meant to be lived looking backward, our eyes facing away as we stumble haphazardly toward an unseen destination. With a slight reorientation, it becomes clear that the light outside Plato's ill-conceived cave is not blinding; it's illuminating.
There is no rebirth but the one we allow. There is no guilt except what we choose to accept. There is no absolution but that which we grant ourselves.
Through resolutions we implicitly acknowledge our free will (hat tip to AS), take the (first) necessary steps to living a goal-directed life (hat tip to AE), and make ourselves and, therefore, our happiness a priority. We resolve to recreate ourselves in our own image. Far too often that image is rendered hazy by the fog of self-doubt and unearned guilt. We chain ourselves to a tree and fail to realize our resolution to run a marathon, complaining about the uselessness of resolve--ignoring the oak.
I was there once, and to a minor degree I still feel chained--though I'm realizing just how rusted and weak the links actually are. I've grown so much this past year. And 1000 fold this past decade. Where once I was "a radical for thought destruction," I am now "a radical for individualism and the pursuit of happiness," to borrow a line from AJE. And where once I thought ideas were simply a game of words, I now understand that ideas have consequences. Once content, now happy. Defeated, invigorated. Constrained, boundless.
* * * * *
This year, I resolve to pursue my happiness by:
- Continuing to make my health a priority
- Increasing the amount of philosophic literature I read by at least one book a month
- Learning new media design skills (namely Facebook markup language and basic Flash)
- Increasing correspondence with friends and family
- Actively seeking out friendship
- Going on at least one date (Hey, I have to set the bar somewhere.)
- Going on a trip (within the US) for my 26th birthday
- Learning to cook tamales
A sufficient list.
* * * * *
I realize that some of what I wrote may appear trivial or naive. And, frankly, it is. In a previous post I cite myself as "a novice, a recent convert to the art of living," so you'll excuse my stumbling in some areas even as I take confident strides in others. Even making the most routine and mundane experience into a focused, thoughtful examination makes this entire blogging experience worthwhile. And in this new year--"Rational Men in Twenty Ten" (women, too, I suppose)--I look forward to more blogging: philosophy, "poetry," musings, conjecture, rants, treatises, essays, fiction, fantasy, stream-of-consciousness, haiku(?), the important and the mundane.
Here's to a new year, a new decade, renewed passion.