New Year Resolutions?

Sign Posted Near Thoreau’s Cabin at Walden Pond

New Year Resolutions?

It’s 2018, the firecrackers have ceased their explosive booming sounds, the subzero temperatures are keeping everyone indoors who can manage to stay there – except for the people like the ones on crews working to repair downed power lines – and it looks like we have here a moment …

to reflect on the moment.

For myself, I’ve honored the passing of the old year by not making any resolutions with regard to the new. How do I know what inner qualities life will call forth from me, or what qualities life will repress? Each day’s a bit of a surprise, in big or little ways. As my mother used to say, “The unexpected always happens!”

Should I resolve to worry less? Yeah, but that don’t mean I’ll worry less. I regard the world, the horizon of life in the future and the unrepaired past – personal and humanity-wide – with worry. As we say in New York City,

GO FIGHT CITY HALL.

Meaning: there ain’t a thing I can do about my worrying: about past and future, with respect to me personally, everyone I know, the human race and the other creatures on the planet.

When I was just starting out as a newly-employed young adult, I made it a practice to go through every last one of my possessions once a year, discarding anything I no longer needed to keep. This gave me the chance to get a complete inventory of the baggage I was carrying in life while conforming as closely as I could to Henry David Thoreau’s principle:

Simplify, simplify!

That changed when my parents died. I came into possession of some of their life baggage, for better or worse. How to simplify that was less obvious. If Leo Bronstein, my virtual godfather, was right when he said, “Purity is loyalty to origins,” then it would have been a false and misleading “simplification” just to jettison this inheritance, which included things, places, persons and papers.

Even Thoreau may have made some things look simpler than they were. In Walden, he gives an inventory of his basic needs and modest outlay to cover them. But the weekly visits of Mrs. Ralph Waldo Emerson, to pick up Thoreau’s laundry, are omitted from the tally sheet.

Okay, okay. So it’s harder than it looks. Life doesn’t come down to slogans. But I still think you get points for trying. So, with a friendly wave to the great man, here’s a Thoreauvian record of my effort to “simplify, simplify,” as of now, the first week of 2018.

  • Lined up all the tax data that I could gather before the 1099 forms arrive in the mail.
  • Transferred the info that I’ll need to have at hand for my 2018 calendar and address book. (I know, I know, everybody else puts them on their phone. So sue me.)
  • Gathered and typed up vital info needed by survivors in the event of my being suddenly called to the Next World.   It’s not complete, but it’s a start.
  • Went through many file cabinets, discarding folders whose contents are no longer needed.
  • Started discarding books (for giving to used bookstores) that were acquired for projects either completed by now or else abandoned, so that I can find the books I do need.

When Thoreau was dying, he was asked, by a local busybody, whether he had made his peace with God. (That’s how people talked in those days!) His reported reply?

We have never quarreled.

I don’t know that I can say the same. But as of this moment, having done all I knew to do in order to pull level with the New Year,

I think I know how he felt.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, soon to appear in a revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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