A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry is one of my favourite books. My daughter, at the ripe old age of 7, ascertained that I was a lover of the “fat, sad book” and her drawing of her family portrayed her stick mother sitting on a tall pile of books appropriately labelled, with tears spouting out of both sides of her head. I grew up with the dichotomy of the belief in a God who never gives you more than you can handle while witnessing mental health duress that rendered that untrue. My study of history in university, stories from my father growing up in wartime Germany, and his mother’s haunting reminiscences during that time, gave me a perplexed view of the things human beings will do to survive and the extent of human cruelty. Reading and writing helped me to grapple with the notions of hope and despair. The thing I love about A Fine Balance is that although the despair was palpable, hope wins.
Writing New Year’s Resolutions is all about swinging the balance from despair to hope in adversity. My sister went to live permanently with my Dad and my California family when she was in Grade 10 and I was in Grade 7. I maintained my resolve to stay with my Mum and my extended family in Vancouver. The weight of the choice and the loss of my older sister was compounded when my mother’s closest sister died. Despair prevailed. The arrangements my aunt had made for her daughter, were not as perfect as she had hoped. My cousin spent more and more time at our house until the most obvious solution was for her to live with us. The three of us lived on our own personal tetter totters. Yet, there was no shortage of laughter and joy. There was lots of popcorn, fudge, and family time. The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions became ritual. The coming year held the promise of fresh beginnings.
My Mom always led the charge to self- improvement. She was going to start yoga. She was going to be healthy, happy and strong. She was going to learn French. My cousin was two years older and I adored her so I followed her lead. We were going to get in shape. Jog. Lose weight. Take modeling classes. Become models. Use a different word every week to improve our vocabularies. Be able to get into a moving car while my cousin was driving the old, white Maverick even made it on to the list. James Bond had significant influence in our lives apparently.
We always started strong and with resolve in the new year. My mother would sign up for classes at the local community centre or night school. Modelling with Blanche Macdonald was too expensive, but my Mum used her credit card to sign us up for “Charm School” at The Bay in downtown Vancouver. Although it was a huge disappointment when I was presented with clear lip gloss and my cousin got a real make-up kit when we “graduated, I can still walk across the room with a book on my head, do a turn, and sit and slide back in my chair without losing the book – a feat that has evoked gales of laughter from my family and my students over the years. Or was it the Stepford wives face that I assumed while performing this feat? The promise of the new year. I still like a party. I still want to dance. I still write resolutions.
I have continued to work through many personal goals and feats over the years. On the Facebook questionnaires of how many of these things have you done? I’ve done all of them except sky diving, scuba diving, and being charged with anything beyond speeding and parking infractions. I’m often game to try something new so my Bucket List is relatively short. However, this year my priority for my new year’s resolutions has changed.
I have come to terms with the fact that I am no longer “middle aged”. My paternal Grandmother lived to 100 years of age. Not beyond. As my good friend Judy frames it, we are entering the final third of life. Despite challenges, the first third of my life was all about joy, freedom and developing resilience. The number of people injecting positivity into my life far exceeded the valleys of negativity. I woke up smiling and was footloose and fancy free to define my path. I had good friends, great opportunities, career aspirations, and fell passionately in love with my soul mate at a mere 21 years f age. My confidence grew and so did my quest to try new things. The second third of my life was filled with the joys and busyness of children and friends, professional success, opportunities to travel, skiing, boarding, biking, running, lots of love and laughter. This third of my life is still being defined but there is a space and freedom that comes with this trimester. I don’t feel the need to try so hard for the approval of others. I can identify when I am not like but I just don’t care that much. I have the expectation of reciprocity in relationships. I know where I belong. I am free to act according to my own terms.
In 2022, my New Year’s Resolutions are not about doing more. For the first time ever, quality of life is the focus rather than the quantity of what I can fit in. The days of hosting big parties with over 100 people marching in and out throughout the door are a thing of the past. I still care about extending the hand of friendship and caring but I want to slow down and take time to enjoy relationships. It turns out it is extremely easy to identify the people who value you. They are the people who readily celebrate your successes. They are the people who have your back in the face of adversity. They are the people who don’t feel the need to keep a running list of your faults. The people who invest their time and energy into putting you in a poor light with others, and care little about your feelings or perceptions, are the people who will always judge you as “less than”. You belong where you are embraced. The choice to walk towards something means leaving something behind.
Taking early retirement has been a godsend for me, partially thanks to that gold plated pension and partially due our early adherence to saving for the future. I am free to choose the work I want to do to make a positive contribution in the world. I can ski, golf, and go to art galleries and yoga mid-week. I can make time for my writing outside of the wee hours of the morn and ponder big questions about life and spirituality out in nature. I can be grateful for the memories that go beyond the pain of death, dementia, and illness. I can walk away from ugliness and disrespect. I can walk towards the love and opportunities for relationship and learning that are ever present. I’ve come to terms with the fact that COVID has dashed the big New Year’s party with dancing, but a celebration is still on the agenda. Yes, hope still wins in my 2022 New Year’s Resolutions. I hope it does in yours too!