The New Year is usually a time of celebration and setting new goals. I spent last night on my neighbor’s couch eating takeout and watching Anderson Cooper get ratted. As an added bonus, I got to feel responsible for doing so. Cheers!
As a lifelong NYE skeptic this wasn’t a tough sacrifice for me, and part of me felt that changing the calendar doesn’t make any of our problems go away, nor bring back anyone we needlessly lost. But I was moved at the tributes to the lives of the many who departed in 2020. I felt that NYC’s socially distanced celebration of frontline workers showed the finest parts of New York’s spirit. When it came time to talk about resolutions, I was heartened to see that a lot of people chose commitments that reflected the lessons they’d learned in 2020. And amidst all the aspirations for improvements in 2021, I thought about my old friend Liz.
She’s a Catholic who thoughtfully made her 2020 Lent pledge before the pandemic was recognized in the United States. Lent is a season that challenges Christians to identify some luxury we can go without, so that we can focus on the values that inform our lives. Liz chose to give up social media so that she could focus on her relationships in real life and deepen her bonds with those closest to her. I told her I would miss her posts on Facebook, but I applauded her decision.
She is a very determined person; she used to run marathons. She’s now married with two small children. She knows how to make a commitment and keep it.
Then, in a Lent season like none other in living memory, the pandemic hit. In order to show that she cared for other people, she had to refrain from being with them physically. Social media was now the major safe means of staying in touch with everyone. She went back on Facebook and announced that she was giving up her Lent pledge because she felt that honoring the letter of it would violate the spirit: the whole point was to focus on her connections with other people.
Let’s leave aside for now the worthy discussion of Facebook as a corporation and its role in our society.
I applauded her decision to violate the letter of her pledge as much as I had applauded her decision to make it. I felt that God had given her a test, one of many in 2020 for all of us: “You can keep a commitment. Very good. But do you have the humility to break one when it no longer makes sense? Will you give up the personal satisfaction of proving you can stick it out, so that you can truly focus on others?”
I think she passed with flying colors. And I think she kept the spirit of her Lent pledge honorably. She’s a great person to have chosen such a pledge in the first place, and an even better one to give it up when that seemed right.
I don’t generally make New Year’s resolutions myself, as I was raised in a family that regarded New Year’s as just another day on the calendar (albeit a new calendar). With that caveat, I would recommend that anyone who makes a 2021 resolution stay prepared to take a page out of Liz’s book: this new year does hold promise of better times, but much is still uncertain. Life is still very hard for a lot of people. If you make a resolution in these times, be patient with yourself. Even those who have not lost anyone in their immediate circle or lost their means of self-support are still heartbroken at the suffering going on.
I am an optimist by nature, and I do believe 2021 will be a better year. There is good reason to think so. But there are many matters beyond our immediate control, and as Liz’s story shows us, recognizing that fact with humility does not mean you are a weak willed person.
Let’s go forward with patience towards ourselves and others. Happy New Year.