This year, I choose to live now. After years of crafting New Year’s resolutions only to scrap them by Jan. 5, I’ve decided to stop planning, intending and hoping because life doesn’t stop for plans, intentions or hopes.
January used to be a bittersweet month in which I’d lust for the future but get paralyzed by the past and then … well … do nothing. But I suppose it’s fitting, as January is the namesake of Janus, the two-headed Greek god known for looking to the future with one head while simultaneously looking to the past with the other: stuck, stalled and afraid. No wonder life’s often felt as poet Helen Dunmore describes in the first stanza of When You’ve Got:
“When you’ve got the plan of your life
matched to the time it will take
but you just want to press SHIFT/BREAK
and print over and over
this is not what I was after
this is not what I was after.”
I’m not entirely sure what happened late last year — because so many unexpected things occurred — but somewhere along the way, I stopped worrying about self-imposed timelines, about aging, about control, about “small stuff,” about worrying about how much I worry, about what I was supposedly after.
I thought of all the people, including my late uncle, who have legitimate reasons to fret and fear the uncertainties, complexities and injustices of life. I thought of the millions of women my age in developing countries whose concept of getting after something has less narcissistic meaning. Usually for them it means the pursuit of life’s basic necessities. And I thought of all the people who truly face a “precarious life” and would probably act and get after a dream or a cause if they had the resources, health, ability, etc., to do so.
I also thought of former French ELLE editor and author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, and what he accomplished near the end of his life. A massive stroke left Bauby’s entire body paralyzed, except for the use of his left eyelid. But he was still determined to write. He created and edited his memoir The Diving Bell and the Butterfly entirely in his head. Every day a transcriber would recite the alphabet over and over as he blinked his left eye to signal the letter he wanted for each word. At the end of the painstaking process, he had an award-winning memoir as proof of his determination.
So what’s been my excuse? Yours? Is there even any need to think about it at this point? Not really.
In pursuit of what “I’m after,” I can’t think of a better place to be than here. New Orleans provides fertile ground for anyone looking to refine, redefine or change herself for the better. You can find salvation in service work. You can lose control in a spirited second line. You can drive across the longest bridge and back for a full hour of reflection. You can transcend norms and disappear in costume. And best of all, you can be yourself, in whatever state that may be. And though I’ve known this for the past two years, I didn’t fully embrace it. But as you all are my witness, I choose to live now. In the meantime I leave you with some Sandburg:
The single clenched fist lifted and ready,
Or the open asking hand held out and waiting.
For we meet by one or the other.