As American Jews we stand astride two cultures, American and Jewish, and we’re blessed with their respective fruits. At Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, we indulge ourselves in rituals of introspection, seeking a trajectory in the new Jewish year that, with work, will make the new year feel less freighted with regret.
Come January 1st, we get to experience the secular new year and come up against that time-worn tradition of making resolutions intended to make the new year better than the one that has passed.
In her poem “New Year’s Day”, poet Kim Addonizio seems to suggest that resolutions are over-rated, and that acceptance is the best way to maintain one’s equilibrium in the new year.
The rain this morning falls
on the last of the snow
and will wash it away. I can smell
the grass again, and the torn leaves
being eased down into the mud.
The few loves I’ve been allowed
to keep are still sleeping
on the West Coast. Here in Virginia
I walk across the fields with only
a few young cows for company.
Big-boned and shy,
they are like girls I remember
from junior high, who never
spoke, who kept their heads
lowered and their arms crossed against
their new breasts. Those girls
are nearly forty now. Like me,
they must sometimes stand
at a window late at night, looking out
on a silent backyard, at one
rusting lawn chair and the sheer walls
of other people’s houses.
They must lie down some afternoons
and cry hard for whoever used
to make them happiest,
and wonder how their lives
have carried them
this far without ever once
explaining anything. I don’t know
why I’m walking out here
with my coat darkening
and my boots sinking in, coming up
with a mild sucking sound
I like to hear. I don’t care
where those girls are now.
Whatever they’ve made of it
they can have. Today I want
to resolve nothing.
I only want to walk
a little longer in the cold
blessing of the rain,
and lift my face to it.
[Kim Addonizio, “New Year’s Day” from Tell Me.]
That craving for resolution runs deep and strong for many of us. There are countless things we’d love to see resolved…the Mueller investigation, global warming, family squabbles. Some issues we can hope to see resolved in our lifetime; others may take generations to effectuate if, in fact, they can be resolved at all.
As Jews we’re reminded that we’re not obligated to complete the tasks that face us (and our world) but neither can we simply refuse to engage with them at all. January 1st comes to remind us of the need for resolutions and the work that, necessarily, accompanies them. The poet comes to remind us that, sometimes, it is alright to let a day pass by without having resolved anything whatsoever and to simply “walk a little longer in the cold blessing of the rain, and lift [our] face to it.”
May 2019 find us resolved and resolute in addressing what we are able even as we reserve the right to, occasionally, resolve nothing…in favor of experiencing that which feeds and restores our souls.