One year, I burned resolutions in a bonfire. I no longer remember who sat around that bonfire. I don’t even remember if it happened at New Years or at some other point in the year. It was cold enough for a bonfire — which says nothing at all. The faces I fill in are people I knew years later: a blond man with thin glasses and a beard, a dark haired woman who always cocked a hip when she held a beer, a petite woman whose hair was always intricately pulled off her neck, whose eyes narrowed when she was about to point out a truth about someone. None of those people burned resolutions with me.
But in the year of burning resolutions, there were the patterns of shadow and light inherent to bonfires. There were the resolutions catching fire and floating off as hot ashes, that occasionally landed on our hair or skin. There was the slow decline of the bonfire, the smoldering, the eventual dousing of the fire and the blackened wood left behind. The reminder that nothing is permanent. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
This January 1, it’s impermanence which captivates me. This year, I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about the voices of Elders, by which I mean not just people who are older than me, but those whose lives have been cut short by state, personal, or interpersonal violence. In the middle of the night, I woke up with songs running through my head, including “Voices of the Dead.”
Rise above the threat
lift this up instead
voices of the dead
voices of the dead
It took me more than hour to clear my head. It took longer than that to fall back asleep. That is a power of song.
Over the past two years, so many dear to me have lost people they love. Please note the present tense.
I can’t even begin to talk about the lives lost to police and state violence, in both the US and abroad. Others have done it, and are doing it, far better than I could hope. But earlier this week, when I attended a vigil for Tamir Rice, whose murderer was not indicted, someone asked me:
- What were you doing when you were 12?
A. I was being a child, doing child things. In school, I was reading Elie Wiesel’s Night in the class of an English teacher whose name I no longer remember. I was writing a biography of Rachel Carson and reading Silent Spring for the first time. I was making a cell out of jello and candy for science. I was competing in Battle of the Books. I played flute. I was doing an extensive project on the Czech Republic for reasons that are still unclear to me, for a year-long school assignment. I rode bus 778. I went to a Halloween party hosted by my friend Karen, which included a scavenger hunt. I had a crush on a boy named Matt T****. I still remember his email address. It was that important. In the rest of my life: I wanted a Tomagotchi or maybe a Giga Pet and I eventually inherited one from a friend. I caught baby turtles from the pond near my parents house. I watched reruns of Saved by the Bell. I watched Boy Meets World and whatever else came on TGIF. I spent hours talking on my parents’ cordless phone to friends from school. I kept an Open Diary. I practiced basketball on my parents driveway. I went to my first concert. I danced my first slow dance with a boy in the school’s auditorium — that terrible slow dancing where his hands were on my hips and mine were on his shoulders and we shifted our weight from foot to foot.
- What does Not One More mean (in the context of police violence resulting in the deaths of black boys and men)?
A. Good question. This can’t keep happening. It can’t.
Those questions have stuck with me since.
I’ve now been alive 10x longer than the first person I’d know to die a preventable death.
Lord Huron has a cover of “Auld Lang Syne.” One of the verses goes:
We too have paddled in the lake,
And we swore we’d never die!
But though we live for friends we’ve lost,
Since auld land syne.
In “The World Spins Madly On,” The Weepies sing:
Everything that I said I’d do
Like make the world brand new
And take the time for you
I just got lost and slept right through the dawn
And the world spins madly on
There are the things we do to honor our loved ones. There are the things we regret not doing. At a certain point, we must acknowledge our own mortality, and that very few of us know our timelines.
We are all so impermanent. Death is catching.
So this year, I make no resolutions.
I’m setting intentions:
I will let myself love and be loved.
I will nurture curiosity.
I will cultivate relationships, and work to repair broken ones.
I will practice gratitude.
I will make mistakes.
I will practice forgiveness.
I will learn.
*This title comes from the opening line of “Armageddon” written and sung by David Zanetti aka Homeless Gospel Choir.