In 1994, Carl Sagan remarked on the famous earth rise over the moon photo taken from space Dec. 30, 1968: “That’s home. That’s us. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
What can one possibly say anything about a new year that’s new? And why does changing one little number in the indomitable march of time seem to mean so much to us humans? Let’s stop a moment to consider.
The Year of the Pig
In 2019, according to the Chinese zodiac cycle of animals, we are leaving the Year of the Dog and entering the last in the cycle of 12, the Year of the Pig. This past dog year — or as some call it, earth dog or even brown earth dog year — was one of “action” and may have exhausted many of us.
I can vouch for that! One theme of my year seemed to be money flying out the window to fix unexplained snafus and unfortunate occurrences. All in all, my 2018 sort of sounds like a country western song in which my dog almost died; I had to call in ghost busters; I needed friends to crawl around under my house to fix the foundation; my car got dinged; and my septic system failed.
In the grand scheme of things I know I shouldn’t complain about these personal matters, but, heck, I would so much rather have won the lottery, been found by a long-lost rich uncle on ancestry.com, or dug up (without the curse) the secret buried treasure on Oak Island.
Dog years are supposed to be about fairness and justice. When one meets a challenge in a dog year, I was advised that calm, clear communication is the key to success. I did attempt that, but have you ever tried reasoning with your bills or the flailing stock market?
As for the Year of the Pig, we can look forward to luck, overall good fortune, wealth, honesty, and general prosperity. (It’s about time.) Chinese culture says folks born in a pig year (1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, and 2007) will be hard-working, peace-loving, truthful, generous, indulgent, patient, reliable, trusting, sincere, and giving. Good grief! Did they put every good thing into only one animal year? What’s left for the rest of us?
Aside from these and similar cultural props for 2019, I suppose everyone likes the idea of being able to start over. The “New Year” seems to promise that everyone can begin again and set some resolutions for changing one’s life. “Resolution” comes from the verb “to resolve” — that is, to determine firmly to do something, or to solve a problem or dispute. It’s about creating and meeting a goal; or, perhaps even more illustratively, about measuring or focusing the sharpness of an image or reproducing that image as clearly as possible (as in the number of pixels of density in a photograph).
That’s a comely metaphor to take on for a new beginning because things have been a bit bleary and out of focus these last couple years. Our governing system, our democracy, our entire process of thinking about our country has been skewed crookedly out of its frame. We’re not even sure what it means to be a Democrat or a Republican any more, and we seem certain we don’t want to consider talking to each other to figure it out. A few foundational concepts have broken down. So it must be time for a new year to start so that we can put some things back into perspective. Maybe we do have a chance now to look at “problems or disputes” differently and resolve to refocus them.
But new year’s resolutions are notoriously dicey propositions. We start out all gung-ho about that exercise regime we’re going to begin — tomorrow — and by mid-next-week we’ve already fallen back into bed instead of heading to the gym before work. Eating less sugar? — um, I’ll start after the holiday goodies disappear, sometime after Valentine’s Day.
And what about, as was suggested in a recent Chinook Observer editorial, simply being kinder? That should be doable. Well, except when the neighbor’s dog starts up again for no good reason; or that crazy driver just ahead of you slows and turns without signaling; or a close friend likes the job Trump is doing, or, conversely, is adamantly opposed to it. Then, of course, outrage is in order.
There are so many ways to be angry about one’s self and others, about all that is happening or not happening in the world. I suppose we all carry the illusion around with us that the world is fair — or at any rate is supposed to be fair — and when that doesn’t happen, there must be someone to blame and, therefore, someone to be angry with. However, therapists often say that anger hides grief, and, to me, grief seems a much truer way to approach the infidelities of the world: polar bears swimming interminably with no ice in sight; cattle standing in their own excrement awaiting slaughter; immigrant children caged. Anger can catalyze action, it’s true, but grief requires a quieter, perhaps more determined, and sustainable kind of effort.
So what would it mean to be kinder? What would kinder look like? I think it means letting go of that ego, that self that can be outraged. It means living softer on the earth. Is it too trite to say that being kinder means loving more? That must be the grandest cliché of all clichés, and yet, how could there be any better advice for how to start over in 2019?