It’s the time for resolutions–at a time when most of us acknowledge the trap of self-sabotage that most resolutions become in the ragged final days of the first month of most any new year. So what can this writer claim as a “real” resolution for 2011? There’s a cardinal lighting on the arbor vitae. I don’t deceive myself that he’s anticipating my answer, but for the love of the lip-licking cats at my feet, here goes.
I’ve become a woman “of a certain age,” as one of my poet-friends has reminded me. So it’s not terribly surprising to note that things that always happened to someone else are now happening to moi: I now have a few pounds to shed after Christmas, a couple more funerals to attend each year, a child whose legs are growing at a nearly incomprehensible rate, a journal whose blank pages remind me that most everything grows but time. I join my peers in lamenting the decline of civility even as need for it rises, the difficulty of publication even as the venues therefor proliferate, the decline of literacy even as the quantity of information explodes, the poverty of the arts even as their popularity soars, the decline in pews even as the search for God persists.
Therefore, as I contemplate new year’s resolutions as a woman of that age–younger than most of the grandparents I know but old enough to be the mother of most of my college students–I feel the press of mortality, that old cloying, skirt-tugging, butt-patting reminder that I won’t be here forever. That pressing notion reminds me that I’d better shuffle those priorities and slide them into place pronto lest the hourglass run out before I decide how to sequence those want-tos and musts that some call the bucket list. And I find, much to my relief, that the things that matter most to me, the things I would resolve to do if I were convinced that resolution alone could accomplish them, do in fact align with my values. Investing time in my family. My poetry. My students. My community.
The issue, then, is not what to resolve to do. It’s how to align my time with my values.
Every morning I feed, fluff, and gently shove my child toward the school bus. I check my phone calendar. I tick off a list of must-dos, like every other mother in America. I kiss my spouse. I check on my mother down the hall, empty her bedside commode, check that she’s taken her pills. I check email, make another list, shower, get going. If I’m lucky, there’s no migraine. I sing in the shower; I pet the cats before I leave. I pray a silent prayer to be there–really be there–for the students, for the child, for the husband, for the mother, for the fellow poets I meet with once a month, for the fellow parishioners with whom I pray and study, for the colleagues and fellow citizens who read poetry with me in support of Haiti, in support of the START treaty, in support of peace in our houses, our country, our world.
Of course, most of the day is spent in minutiae, despite my lofty intentions. Check email; return phone calls; grade quizzes; rewrite assignments; do dishes; drop mail; trip on a cat; mutter at dust; fill pill planners; clean cat litter; pay bills.
So when exactly do I write? When do I revise? When do I submit poems for consideration? The honest answer is, not nearly often enough.
So this year my resolution is simple. But it won’t be easy.
I resolve to do my best. That’s it. To honor my mission–which has something to do with poetry and something to do with teaching and something to do with discipleship through acts of love and peace and justice–by resolving every hour to embody my ideal. The irony is that I know I can’t do it. That is, I can’t do it alone.
But then, I don’t have to. None of us, alone, will suffice.