A New Year rolls around, and with it comes reignited expectations and desires. It’s as though in that ten second countdown we’re somehow reinvigorated out of the numb stupor we didn’t realize we’d fallen into over the past year. Even the weather is pushing us to remember, the bitter New York air thrashing about our faces, causing white puffs to rise up from the crowded sidewalks reminding us with every breath that we’re alive.
Out with the old, in with the new, we like to say. So we make New Year resolutions. We resolve not to become resolved to the way things have been, and attempt to find a better way. The first day of January tells us this is the time to rebuild, to reinvent, to change.
The last weekend of December I helped a friend move out of his apartment. He and I met in Boston a million years ago, and now here he is, all this time later living on the same street as me on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He's heading downtown now, to a new place. Out with the old. The old restaurants, old coffee shops, old easy access for long walks in Central Park on lazy Saturday afternoons. In with the new. New neighborhood, new roommate, new restaurants, new coffee shops, new streets to stroll in.
It’s amazing how you can forget how big your past is and how much you’ve done until you have to pack it into boxes (and let me tell you, there were a lot of boxes). Old pictures and ticket stubs and receipts, markers of the life you've been living all this time, a paper trail portrait of who you used to be. Old birthday and Christmas cards from friends, and notes from lovers past. Old books and magazines you’ve already read, business cards from people you’ve already met, menus from places you’ve already eaten. And what gets you through, as you begin to create piles of what to take with you and what to throw away, is the hope and expectation of what’s to come. The unknown. All of the people you haven’t met yet, all the cards you’ve yet to receive, all of the books you’ve haven’t yet read.
He’d been wanting to move for a while. It’s easy to keep thinking about things, to keep talking to people and telling them what it is that you want and what you think will make you happy. You can talk and think forever, really. The hard part, always, is getting to the point where you actually do something about it. And we forget that we can. We wait on a new year to take action when we ought to be asking ourselves what we’ve been waiting for.
For my friend, it was as though one day he remembered he could change his life if he really wanted to, no matter the month. All he had to do was stop over-thinking it. And so he did. And then it happened. I won't lie and say it wasn't a lot of work. It was difficult and scary, overwhelming and often times paralyzing. I mean, we stared at that sofa for a long time until we finally realized we actually had to take the door off its hinges to get it out of the apartment (putting it back on was a whole other story). But when you know what you want you just have to push through and keep going, no matter what.
Before long that uptown apartment was empty and ready for someone else to call home. The furniture on the street was picked up and taken into other living rooms. The boxes of discarded books taken in to adorn other bookshelves. Someone’s old becoming someone else’s new.
Staring at the downtown apartment, now filled with unpacked boxes and bags with hardly enough room to navigate, I knew that save for building a time machine, there was no way to know how this new place was going to turn out. Just like we don’t know how any of these resolutions we’ve been telling ourselves we’re so committed to keeping are going end up looking like a week, a month, six months or a year from now. All we know is that right now, in this very moment, we’re simply hoping for the best. We’re banking on new, new choices, new diets, new mindsets, to triumph. And while hope may seem like a silly thing for anyone to hang their hat on - from future apartments, to new jobs, to old loves, to even older dreams - I wonder if it might just end up being the only thing we have.
The other night on the walk home, I noticed they’re starting to take the Christmas lights down. Apartment buildings and stores along Broadway all going back to normal. The sidewalks are littered with dead trees, their green branches, browning and bare, have been discarded and forgotten. It wasn’t too long ago I could walk these same streets and inhale deep their rich pine scent as I passed, all of them still propped up waiting for homes.
But it’s over now, I thought. Just one more thing to have become relegated to the past.
Then the wind picked up and stung at my cheeks, cold needles piercing my skin as if to say, wake up, wake up! I tried to remember what the city looks like in the summer, and how it’s possible I’ve been out here before walking in just shorts and a t-shirt. I dug my hands deeper into my pockets and couldn’t, for the life of me, remember.
But I know it happens.
And I know it will happen again.
So there’s hope, but there’s also the fact that if I were to lose everything and end up out on the streets tomorrow, I can always count on summer. Just like I can count on the day after Thanksgiving being able to see new trees out lining the sidewalk.
Some things always go as planned, and for me that's enough. Because when you already have things in your life that you know exactly how they're going to turn out, I'd say that's all the more reason, regardless of the time of year, to take a chance on the things you don't.