Cross Talk |
New Year's resolution
Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
If you are thinking of a New Year's resolution, here is something to think about. The celebration of the New Year started in 4000 BC in Babylon, where the most popular resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. Have you got something to return to others? Then you better hurry up before the time runs out. Today is the last day of 2004, lest you forgot.
Hard to believe, but it is true nonetheless. Time also runs out of time. Days pass, weeks go, months finish, and years close, which work like punctuation, if you think of eternity as a script of time. There are periods, commas, colons, and semicolons, all of which are meant to mark syntax from syntax, sentence from sentence, paragraph from paragraph, page from page. On this last day of the year, we are about to turn a new page, mark a new chapter. The old will go and the new will come.
Now does it really happen, or is it just an illusion? English novelist J.L. Carr said, "You have not had thirty years' experience … You have had one year's experience 30 times." Do we live the same year many times? Is many years just the same year repeated again and again? Does the new come, or is it the same old thing that returns again and again?
Mircea Eliade, the Romanian lover of Indian writer Moitri Devi, was also a renowned philosopher of his time. In his famous book The Myth of Eternal Return he talks about the archaic man, who lives in illo tempore, where the repetition of archetype models destroy his past and recreate the beginning of time each year in a mystical, timeless moment. The modern man, on the contrary, relies on history and profane time. He gains science, philosophy, or religious faith to prevent him from dying in existential despair.
But can the modern man escape his existential despair? In the prologue of his new book Magic Seeds, V.S. Naipaul laments that the tearing cry of a peacock at dawn should have spoken of a world refreshed and re-made, but it seemed after the long bad night to speak only of everything lost. It is like a prisoner, who keeps count of his days, only to find that he has more time to go than he has served. Man is forever engaged in a losing battle against his own condition. He sinks deeper into its quicksand as he struggles to get out.
So, get ready to count down another year and sink deeper into your own condition. And think if you have got anything to return. Perhaps there was a reason why the Babylonians thought of returning what they owed. Perhaps they thought of starting new, so that the book could be clean and fresh. To know you owe nothing gives you a sense of control.
Gary Ryan Blair tells us that New Year's is the only holiday that celebrates the passage of time. Then he explains that we become introspective as the final seconds of the year tick away and that introspection turns to thoughts of self-improvement. The annual ritual of making resolutions offers an important tool for remaking ourselves.
And that urge to remake oneself is perpetual in man in his endless search for perfection. Man is never satisfied with his plight and he wants more of what he lacks or likes. He wants to eat more, drink more, earn more, and spend more. He exceeds in excess, because he must overcome his shortcomings, so much so that he is ready to try anything. It was once believed that the first visitor on New Year's Day would bring either good luck or bad luck for the rest of the year. It was particularly lucky if that visitor happened to be a tall dark-haired man.
People still hold on to some of those superstitions. Black-eyed peas and other legumes have been considered good luck in many cultures. The hog, and thus its meat, is considered lucky because it symbolises prosperity. Cabbage is another "good luck" vegetable that is consumed on New Year's Day by many. Cabbage leaves are also considered a sign of prosperity, being representative of paper currency. In some regions, rice is a lucky food that is eaten on the New Year's Day.
If you think carefully, a year is a slice of eternity and, given the repetitive cycles of human lives, joy and sorrow, success and failure, hope and despondency, man needs to garnish that slice to break his monotony. The New Year's resolution gives him the chance to start every year with an optimistic mood, the conviction that he has a chance to start all over again.
Although by ultimate analysis, the concept of New Year's resolution is a monkey business. Most of the resolutions are built around the failings of man, his inability to quit smoking, lose weight, make friends, buy a new car or house, improve relationships, a sort of wishlist for all things one could not have. Hence, one way to look at it is that the New Year's resolution is a concentrated expression of man's own irresolution.
Thus it is the chimera of his conscience that prods him to do what could not be done. It is the parameter of passion that identifies and contemplates the gap between ideal and real, between the individual who lives in the world and the individual who lives inside his skin. It also shows how difficult it is for someone to accept his inadequacy, to accommodate the gap unless it can be bridged. New Year's resolution is man's own admission that he is not good enough for himself.
Tell me what resolution do you have on your mind? Do you wish to change? Do you wish to do more of the same? What are you thinking today? An English novelist named Anthony Trollope once wrote that the wisdom that many of us have in our mature years is a matter of question. Is it the result of thought and resolution or does it come from the dying out of the power of temptation? What do you say?
I know the answer is going to vary from age to age, from person to person. For those of you who are young, it will be one thing compared to those who are old. The word resolution connotes hope, the reinforcement of what is possible in your formative age.
But the same word has a different meaning in your sunset days. That is when resolution has to cope with despair, having the courage to let go of the old although you are not sure that when the new comes, you will be there.
Remember the Babylonians? There are times for borrowing and there are times for returning. Which one are you thinking to do? As time shifts and you move from one year to another, make up your mind before it is late. Think about time within time, as each turning year is woven into life. Here is an old adage. A stitch in time saves nine. Never mind if you do not have a resolution yet. You can still do it right.
If you have betrayed someone, you need to fix it. If you have borrowed money from others, you need to repay it. If you have taken another man's possession, you need to return it. If you have stolen another man's thunder, you need to correct it. If you are young, let it be your first chance not to repeat those mistakes. If you are old, it may be your last chance to correct your mistakes.
Keep it simple. Return everything you have borrowed (taken) from others and start 2005 with a clean slate!
Mohammad Badrul Ahsan is a banker.