I found my old copy of “Tale of two Cities” by Charles Dickens. I’ve had it since high school. I never got by the first sentence. I took the shortcut and read the cliff notes. At the time, Dickens was much too intimidating. However, I read that sentence a thousand times. Its brilliance of metaphor makes it the most profound first sentence in the annals of English literature.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way, in short, it was an age so like the present age that some of its noisiest authorities insisted, for good or evil, on its being received in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Dickens tries to tell us that the years that have passed us by and the years that still lie ahead are interwoven and connected and mesh with this phenomenology called life. The bittersweet duality of life is the experience of life…you have to confront both pleasure and pain. And…whether we realize it or not, the world is unfolding before us as it should. It’s what happens between January 1 and December 31.
Throughout the world, New Year’s is the most celebrated event. Dating back 4,000 years to ancient Babylon it was initially commemorated in the spring. However, in 153 B.C. the Roman Senate changed the date to January 1. The initial celebrants used the concept of the New Year as a way of improving themselves and their world. They did something different; something new that somehow would change their lot. Thus, the New Year’s resolution was born. They saw it as an opportunity for new beginnings! It’s a rebirth!
On New Year’s Day when the festivities are over, many of us become serious about life. We take our values to heart. At the turning of the year, we look at our collective lives and we look at our own individual lives, and we ask…”What we ought to do to make them better.” It has to do with a course of action, a sense of determination to do something; to solve a problem that surely must transcend losing weight and getting in shape.
Every resolution you make implies that you are in control of your self, that you are not a victim fated by circumstance, controlled by stars, owned by luck but that you are an individual who can make choices to improve your life. We make resolutions because we strive to be happy…and happiness come from the achievement of values. New Year’s makes the attainment of happiness real and possible. This is the meaning of New Year’s and why it is so psychologically important and significant to people throughout the world. It’s a second chance!
Walt Whitman’s Poem “Oh me, oh Life” expresses so beautifully the tremendous potential that we possess to make our lives extraordinary during the coming year. Poets never tell you directly…you must read between the lines.
“Oh me, oh life! Of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless, Of the cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these? Oh me, oh life. Answer? That you are here. That life exists-an identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
What will you contribute? What will your verse be?