A therapist I knew once mentioned a client who kept her Christmas tree up all year because it made her feel good. The woman brings to mind Miss Haversham from Dickens’ Great Expectations who from the moment of her abandonment at the altar does the rest of her life in a wedding dress. But whether it’s the holiday or our grief we might strive to embalm, time will not yield. A steadfast river, it carries us through cycles that exact change in all its stages. Trees surrender in dormancy against winter’s crush, the dazzling death of leaves feeds the earth for rebirth, a wild chorus of bloom that must fade so it can return. Cycles command nature and our own bodies in countless ways, sustaining an invisible orchestra of functions, but time adds guideposts to our journey, inviting our mental and emotional participation in inevitable change.
Temporal landmarks, says motivational podcaster Mel Robbins in relaying the work of researchers, is a date, experience, or physical thing that triggers motivation for a fresh start as it marks the passing of time: birthdays, the birth of a child, divorce, the new year. When you make that birthday wish over the candle, you break—in Mel’s words—from your past self for a moment, feeling bigger and more hopeful. Bringing a child into the world means the birth of a parent, in it a new identification. Divorce also impacts your identity in its breach from the life you had as a couple. The separation pulls you from the past you and, if you allow it, from the things you’ve judged in yourself. January 1st hands you a blank slate where something ends and something else begins. It’s another mile in the road of your life.
While our Christmas Lady blissfully ignored the parade of seasons outside her window, and Miss Haversham plastered herself into the temporal landmark of an aborted wedding, most of us welcome the opportunities for pause and refueling that nature and time afford us. Though I’ve found that I white-knuckle the mere thought of change, the shifts in my life—and more importantly, in my thinking—have virtually always wrought better things, the mind-bending upheavals in particular. Cornered on the precipice, I’ve had little choice but to contrive a way down before I would somehow find myself on higher ground.
On the edge of a new year that had brought apprehension of change, I choose to flip that fear into anticipation of possibilities. My problem has been my hard-headed attempt to understand my life. In conversation with neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Huberman, Former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink has said, “Often the best way to contend with adversity is by taking action. The more you sit with the adversity with the upper hand inside your head, the worst it’s gonna get.” I need to get out of my head and act, physically step into small adjustments in my day that will revise my life in the coming year. I start by feeding myself doses of happiness, soaking in the sun-bathed breath of trees, tidying my desk so it invites clarity and creativity, writing against the groanings of a brain that’s begged oiling. Will I find my words again? Oh, enough. Enough self-doubt and naysaying.
I will fall away from this year. And meet myself high on the other side.