Can you say hello to the new without saying a proper goodbye to the old first?

It seems like a good question to ask on January 1st — a day when thoughts turn to dreams for the new year, and then possibly to goals, perhaps eventually to actual plans to be executed.

Jones Beach NY

And yet, to paraphrase a question from a different holiday, why ask the question on this day instead of all other days?

The turn of the calendar has always struck me as an incredibly arbitrary way to decide on a shift of life’s strategy. Maybe it’s because I travel a lot, which means I live outside of conventional time–I cross seasons, and time zones and say goodbye and hello and goodbye and hello again to all sorts of people, places, things and ideas when the rest of the world is busy with going to work in the morning and coming home at night.

But it seems to me that the events in life that actually are powerful enough to change our agendas are usually not shared with the entire world, and have nothing at all to do with the coming of January.

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Okay, okay, I know I’m being pissy here. Even I, who pretends to resist call of The Resolution, can feel the change of a new year, a whole new year! With all of its story yet unwritten, all its trips yet untaken! I drank a champagne toast at midnight last night, and like everyone else who raised a glass, I wanted to believe that the bubbles would augur good.

But will 2013 really be different than all the other years? Will I go on that trip I’ve been meaning to take for so long that I’m getting tired of talking about it?  Will I travel differently — get more spontaneous, or more structured, or take more photos, or less photos, or whatever it is that I think I need to do differently in any given moment? Will I actually install the Rosetta Stone CD onto my computer and brush up on my Spanish or will it stay in its yellow box on my dining room table indefinitely?

The odds are against any of it happening. The odds are against change.

I’m certainly not the first person to observe that there are always reasons why we don’t do the things we constantly resolve to do. It’s those reasons, or circumstances, or people, to which we must bid a proper adieu, before we can move on to whatever is coming next.

And here’s the bitch of it: It’s so much easier to say hello than goodbye. It’s no big trick to land in a new place open to new experiences and people. It’s much more difficult to say goodbye, to find the courage to look closely at how those one-time treasures that you acquired by saying “yes” and “hello” with such aching optimism have transformed into debris, requiring exorcism.

The photo above is from Jones Beach a few months ago.  I drove out there on a warm Sunday afternoon as a kind of a “start anew” ritual, even though it was October 21st, not January 1st. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do there, but I knew I was trying to let go of something that was not working — that was consuming way too much of my energy and distracting me from good things, like planning trips to Southeast Asia and regaining my fluency in Spanish. I watched the waves, I walked for miles, I thought deeply about what was best.

I realized that all I had to do to let this particular instance was…nothing. I just needed to leave something, or more specifically in this case, someone, alone. How hard could that be? I took a deep breath and let it out and made up my mind. I was done, I would do nothing.

But what actually happened after I got home from the beach, and after I moved through the next month or so, was that I wasn’t done at all. The resolution, the ritual at the beach — it was useless, might as well have never happened. It didn’t help me to say goodbye, it was, in fact, far worse: it just made think that I had.

In this new year, may you not be so fooled.

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Alison J. Stein

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