Monday, December 28, 2009

Back again, with the same old resolution

It’s been 10 years since we welcomed a new millennium. I said goodbye to the 20th century in a high school gym rented for a big party of extended family and friends. The midnight song — my choice — was Great Big Sea’s defiant version of R.E.M.’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

Of course, every year, every day, can be the end of the world as we know it. A few dozen people can, probably to their own amazement, succeed in a wild plan to fly planes into skyscrapers. A few hundred business guys can attract trillions of dollars into investment vehicles that make no sense, and then stand back when it all collapses.

And one person close to you can soar, or fall. Really, that’s the end of the world as we know it. The 9/11 attacks led to two destructive wars, hundreds of thousands of lost lives and a huge erosion of freedom. The financial collapse cost people their jobs, their savings and their homes.

But when most of us look back over the decade, those things don’t defines it for us.

Ten years ago, my partner and I had three teenagers at home. All three are launched, wonderful people making their way in the world, which is of course a challenge in its own right. I could ask for nothing more from the decade.

We had one grandchild, Paxton. Now we have four — Zachary and Gage and Owen — and Kaleb and Spencer are part of the extended crew. Together they have had way more impact than the 9/11 terror. 

Back in that last century, everyone had different jobs. We didn’t have an RV. We’ve logged thousands of miles since, with children and grandchildren and by ourselves

We had four parents. Now we have three. That’s a gap in everyone’s lives that won’t go away.

And we’re all quite a bit older, kids, grandkids, parents and my partner and me. Ten years will do that.

I’m troubled by 9/11 and its consequences. Sad that Americans have not yet rebuilt the towers. Angry that destructive financial frauds shattered so many lives. Discouraged by politicians who  too often act in ways unworthy of the people who elected them.

But really, the last 10 years are defined by how things went for the people who I know.

Newspapers are big on end-of-year stories. Partly, that’s because we need to fill a lot of pages between Christmas and New Year’s and generally not much is happening. So we write about newsmakers and memorable events. We hope you will share the idea that these things matter to your life.

They should matter, of course. Other people’s children are being killed in Afghanistan while mine are doing wonderfully on two continents. They have been sent there because the MPs who represent us judge the sacrifice worth making. But would they send their children? I’d urge mine not to go.

Really, the biggest stories of 2009 aren’t about politicians or generals or CEOs.

The new baby, the lost family member, the sickness, the recovery. The wedding, the separation, the happy night of food and laughter. The people who matter to us.

I hope people will keep paying attention to the big public issues in the New Year.

But even more, I hope they will pay attention to the people in their lives. Everything starts with paying attention. Noticing a child who seems sad, or a parent who is worried, or a friend who is struggling. Hearing a small sad story and realizing you can change the ending with a little money or time or a kind word.

And of course, paying attention to how you feel — what makes you happy, angry, peaceful. Once you start doing that, you can think about changing yourself and the world around you to make it a better place. It starts, I think, in the quiet of your own home. And what better time than now, when family and friends tend to be at hand and strangers a little more open.

This year, make a resolution to pay attention, to people and places and the way the light strikes the trees and the music sounds in the evening air. Everything can start with those simple acts.


Eleanor Gregory said...

What a lovely piece of writing this is. I've now read it twice and will go back and read it again.

Thank you for so artfully identifying and writing about what is important.

RossK said...

What Eleanor said.

Thanks Paul.