On January 2, the day following our New Year party, I woke to reflect on time and on the heavy burden so many of us hang upon the branches of each new year. Take my diary, for instance. Each year, carefully chosen for its size relative to my desk, for its colour so I can find it among piles of papers and manuscripts, for its page-to-a-day layout. And each year, for the first few days, the writing unusually legible. Then reality setting in as the diary continues the story of the year just gone: words and figures like crazy paving, ticks and crosses, smudges of wine and tears, deep scorings, ripped pages, smiling suns, phone numbers, passwords, lists of things to do, ambitions, resolutions, hopes, prayers, wishes and thanks.
At this time of year, I treasure the Gregorian calendar for the good wishes that spread like balm among the crowd, that settle soft and breathless as fledgling feathers on the people we reach out to. I can empathise with the those who lock away a bad year just gone and with the hope that infuses a squeaky-clean page of a brand-new start. And I like to think that at least some of all our well-aimed good intentions will reach their target. But along with this, in my own way of looking at things — despite the diary, the calendar, the traditions — I prefer to think of time as a continuum which will unavoidably hold both good and bad, events that are not the province of any one particular year, but are instead an inevitable part of our own journey.
Time is a common theme in religion, literature, philosophy — randomly, the Taoist river of life, the Buddhist wheel of time, Heracles and the river, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Doris Lessing, Hilaire Belloc and his short story ‘On the Departure of a Guest’, the lesser-known Darryl Reanney’s marvellous book on our flawed perception of time, The Death of Forever.
As I wrote in For Women Who Grieve, in our Western society we continue to view our lifetime as linear, as the wiggly line of the electrocardiogram fading on the screen. When we sit down to write our life story, our memoir, we forget that our lives are inextricably and timelessly tied up with other lives – with the people and pets who have touched us, with those we’ve loved as much as with those we’ve liked less, with the ships in the night, the choices we make and with choices and actions made by people the other side of the world we’ve never met or even heard of. We forget, or prefer not to know, there’s really no such thing as my-story, his-story or even her-story, but that everything we do, and even think, feel or opine, affects someone or something else, so the story of each life is not something we can lay claim to or individually own, it’s part of the whole and belongs to the collective in the way the stories that stoke legend and fantasy belong.
Perhaps it is the indigenous peoples of the world who are the closest to the timeless nature of story in the way they weave their history and records into the telling of story and myth. I’m thinking here specifically of the Tlingit tribe of North America, but closer to home are the Australian Aborigines with the Dreaming — stories inseparable from nature and the land.
My mother could quote great chunks of Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyám. One of her favourite stanzas – and mine too for its sense of continuum, inevitability and the rather scary truth it captures – is this:
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.
What are your thoughts? Agree that we put too much pressure on the New Year? Disagree? I’d love to know, so please keep your emails coming or leave a comment on the site.
Meanwhile I wish you health and happiness and a calm space to read, write and reflect.
Image of the unicorn courtesy of Victor Habbick / FreeDigitalPhotos.net