My friend called the other evening. She was distraught, frustrated with herself.
“Every New Year, I make resolutions, and I make them with a sincere heart. I write them down. But each year, without fail, I find I still have unfinished business from the year that ended. Loose ends, you know? This year it’s the same. How can I start my resolutions?”
I am amused by her genuine desperation. But I don’t dare make a joke. I know she is dead serious. It would hurt her deeply to think I didn’t care.
I try to placate her. “You are not alone in your frustration,” I offer. “We all miss deadlines.”
She is unmoved. “But this is different,” she insists. “I had every intention to start the year with a clean slate, and here I am with so much unfinished stuff. I am stuck with leftovers. This is unacceptable.”
I am tempted say, “Welcome to the club,” and tell her no one else seems to mind. Instead I make myself a cup of tea.
We are sometimes too hard on ourselves. My friend is. I should explain that she is an avid (read that obsessive) buyer of all kinds of day planners. She loves to write on date books, has a special pen just for that. She has backup planners in case she loses one. And no, she does not trust any smart phone or gadget with her schedules. I don’t as well, by the way. She needs to write everything down, spell it all out. So do I.
Diligently, she fills up her journals and diaries, and the agenda she keeps practically rules her life. I am, therefore, quite surprised that there is anything still left for her to do from last year. But I guess it happens, even to the best of us.
I think we all have unfinished stuff, not just from last year, that we have brought forward. Some of it may be unsightly debris from shipwrecked relationships. Many of us have refused to close that door and still keep it slightly ajar. For no good reason.
I look at my list and cringe.
Intervention or meddling?
One item weighs heavily in my heart. I must reach out to someone whose bond with her mother is critically severed. It has been painful to watch them destroy one another. I believe I should intervene. But I am still unsure of the difference between intervention and meddling. Now I ask myself, is that just another excuse? Am I more focused on my reputation than on their problem?
There is more.
What happened to the plans for lunch with the daughter of an old friend who recently passed? She needs comfort. I could help. I haven’t called.
I was supposed to declutter my closet, eliminate clothes I haven’t worn in God knows how long and give them to someone.
One more. I need to update my recipe file. I recently looked for beef bourguignon and found it on the same scrap of paper as my Thanksgiving head count. It won’t be easy, as I have scribbled on a variety of things, including the back of a receipt. Does anyone else do this?
I am not too pleased with the way things are. We all have good intentions. But things get in the way. Life happens.
No, age has nothing to do with it, since I don’t do any of the physical decluttering and clearing myself. And in this era of “click and you’re connected,” there is no reason in the world not to “reach out and touch someone.”
Believe me, it’s not that I’ve forgotten. How could I when it is all written in reams of papers that say in bold print, “Things to do?” They just never got done.
I take comfort and reassurance from the words of the English poet Christina Rossetti. “Can anything be sadder than work left unfinished? Yes, work never begun.”
So I tell my friend not to sweat it. I know it is not enough to start; that we must keep on keeping on, and finish. It takes patience.
My father’s discipline
I wish I had inherited my father’s discipline. He was strict about seeing things through, start to finish. He was meticulous about financial obligations and paying bills on time. I will never forget that after he left us so suddenly in 1982, my sister and I reviewed his state of accounts. We were not at all surprised to find that he owed no one.
Perhaps because he grew up in an orphanage and without a penny to his name, Papa was frugal, cautious. He was also generous. He was a stickler for not owing anyone, favors or money. He said that favors are done out of the kindness of someone’s heart in your hour of need and you must try to pay it back in the same spirit. But it is never enough. You can never repay. One will remain in the other one’s debt forever.
Papa was especially strict about paying for someone’s labor. “He has earned it and must be paid without delay.” He could never understand how anyone with an ounce of decency would do otherwise.
Today he would be appalled. People in high places, wearing the masks of dignity and prestige, daily defraud those who labor for them. How can they sleep nights?
We have become accustomed to the shamelessness of our times. We see it but say nothing.
Perhaps this is the one thing we can do this year that we didn’t do in the last. We can speak up. Let us find our voices again.