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Our lives are like lanterns. Fire balloon on New Year's Eve, 2014. (Archive photo by Matt Minde)

Our lives are like lanterns. Fire balloon on New Year's Eve, 2014. (Archive photo by Matt Minde)

BLOG— Fresh starts

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The year’s second snow brought a fresh start. On roads that caught the wind just right, snow erased the signs. Were they tombstones awaiting chiseling, or first pages of books still unwritten? Moment and mood decide. Stop signs were recognizable by their octagonal shape, of course, but what about the other signs — speed limit signs, for instance? Driving on the interstate last week, I imagined how it might go with the cop.

“Do you know how fast you were driving, ma’am?”

“Um?

“I didn’t think so. And do you know the legal speed limit on this road, ma’am?”

“No, sir, I do not, and might I observe —  no one else does either.” (Pointing, serenely, at the nearest posted erasure. Oh, but I was clever.)

Are fresh starts really possible? Three weeks after the annual big one — the new door of Jan. 1 — the question seems urgent. This is the time of year when I teeter between hope and despair. Will my resolutions (like the snow to all those signs) stick? Or will the wind come back and lift up and off the new white layer, revealing the old order(s) underneath?

It’s hard to change. I cling to the familiar, even with all its discomforts. Some days I’m the clothespin on the line, teeth clenched around the frozen cord. It connects me to something, I guess — a post, a tree — but do I really need to be here, hung up on nothing but air? More questions than answers, appropriate for the long season of doubt that follows the brief, bright burst of resolution. (Burst? Did I write that? Is it already punctured?)

Resolutions are like fire balloons, the ones my husband and I saw downtown a few New Year’s Eves ago. A living flame within a fragile paper shell. The whole delicate contraption is sent into the night, utterly unprepared for gust or wire or roof or tree — all the things it will encounter, guaranteed. That’s the beauty of it, in a way. And the terror.

Our lives are like those lanterns, too, I think. We drift through a world we know so little of. Our own flame swells with light and heat, and only we can tend it, keep it. But it’s vulnerable, always, to a certain kind of breeze. Probably each of us knows, and only after the fact, just which kind can nearly snuff us.

And so we make our resolutions, all of them versions of tending the flame. Mine aren’t specific; perhaps they should be. Mainly, I want to drift more gracefully. Have you watched a bird in flight? Birds don’t fight the wind. They ride, they riff it. Writing this, I suddenly hear, over the steady phhhh of inside heat, hard fits and gusts around the outside corners of the house. It’s as though the wind has caught its shoe or snagged its scarf or hair. Something hooks and holds it; it can’t get free. That’s the tether to the old self, the one trying not to be reborn.

But the new self is also here, flame in a shallow cup. It’s enough to lift the lantern. Enough to sail above the treetops and the road signs, the long white picket line of them. What are they protesting, if not the right to a fresh start? From this aerial (ad)vantage, I’d say: yup, definitely books unwritten. Regular as teeth or tears, bright as the one-night-only (till the next night) winter moon.

Look, I know that the road signs will soon be back to being road signs. (What will I say to the cop then?)

But what about me? And what about you? Can we be a little different — not less but more ourselves — from this day forward?

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