So here we are again – at the beginning of another new year. Is it only me, or are the years sailing by faster than a clipper?
When I was younger, my Mom used to say, “Jude, time is the most precious gift you have. Don’t waste it – it goes by faster than you expect.”
Are Moms always right? Because last year certainly went by at a rate of knots!
I’m not ready to start 2014, for I feel I’ve barely got my breath back after waving goodbye (and good riddance!) to 2013.
So many people I’ve spoken to over the festive season have all agreed: not only did 2013 end almost before we realised it had begun, but it was a hard year: a year of losses and change; a year when things we’d taken for granted in our lives disappeared at an alarming rate. Long-term friendships ended, beloved family members died or moved away, pets passed on, jobs ended, rock-solid marriages disintegrated, houses burnt down … the list of troubles went on and on whomever I spoke to, making my own challenges in 2013 seem paltry.
Even the newspapers help to depress us. Today’s newspaper, the first edition of this bright and shiny new year, with its remaining 364 blank days waiting for us to paint the picture of our life on them, had three stories on its front page: murder, murder and death by train. From bouncing out of bed, cheerfully looking forward to the new day, I felt myself wanting to slink back into bed, pull the covers up and hope the world and all its misery would just go away!
Then a little thrush flew down into the birdbath near the gate and my neighbour ran by with her dog on her early morning jog.
I thought of the thrush I’d accidentally killed over the Christmas season (it had a decent burial), and chatted with my neighbour about the game her children were playing with me (throwing a note over the wall asking for it to be thrown back – I did throw it back, together with some Christmas candy!)
I was reminded that, in life, the sorrows are somehow always balanced out with simple pleasures. Life, like the endless ocean, has tides that ebb and flow, disturbed only by the occasional storm.
After an arduous year like the one just past, which has left so many of us exhausted by a tsunami of trials and travails, the temptation is to sink into despair that life can only become ever harder and more difficult to navigate.
How easy it would be to waste our limited energy resources on fear of what the future holds for us, and regrets for the choices we made (for whenever we commit to one choice, we immediately lose the opportunities hidden in the other choices we could have made), and a deep grief for what was lost and can never be regained.
Life has always been uncertain – not only for the human species, but for all sentient creatures. It can be snuffed in instant; it can change irrevocably in a second. And it is all too brief an existence, whether we be man or mouse.
If we waste the precious time we have left on ‘what ifs’, ‘I should haves’ or ‘I shouldn’t haves’; if we think only of the bad news that constantly surrounds us, would we ever have the courage to leave the shore of our current existence? Would we be able to face new oceans and discover new lands if we allow ourselves to be weighed down by the anchor of those fears and regrets and griefs?
No, we wouldn’t. The new ocean may be a pond in our backyard, the new land only a change of neighbourhood or a new habit, but our lives and our souls would become tarnished and dull if we only ever clung to the certainties in our life.
And so, during my life’s journey through 2014, I plan to captain the ship of my soul over whatever unchartered waters the breath of the wind, the height of the waves and the light of the stars steer me into.
My fate will be what it will: but, when the end of another year looms too soon on the horizon, I want to look back and know that I have lived to the full every fruitful or futile second of my life’s uncertain voyage.
… tell them that, to ease them of their griefs,
Their fears of hostile strokes, their aches, losses,
Their pangs of love, with other incident throes
That nature's fragile vessel doth sustain
In life's uncertain voyage, I will some kindness do them …
(Timon, in Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, V, i, 199-203)
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
(from Invictus, a poem by William Ernest Henley,
and used by Nelson Mandela to inspire him during his prison term on Robben Island)