A Word in Edgewise: Resolutions – Every Day Begins a New Year


It’s not too late for New Year’s resolutions. Time is a man-made construct. The universe doesn’t care when you start on our human calendar, and now is the only moment you exist.

So, what to choose? Give up? Take up? I listed: finish novel; study Dutch; visit Amsterdam, but the recent passing of a great man made me see a commitment that, if practiced, could affect all my other goals.

There was tremendous media coverage of Nelson Mandela’s passing, much retelling of his revolutionary antiapartheid activism in his native South Africa and his twenty-seven years imprisonment. Eighteen of them were spent at Robben Island, doing hard time in exhausting, mindless, manual labor breaking rocks into gravel, eight hours a day, five days a week. Subjected to as much isolation and deprivation as his captors could devise, he slept on a stone floor in a tiny cell, a bucket his sole amenity. He was allowed one visitor a year, and could write or receive a single letter every six months.

Mandala persevered, was eventually released, became president of the very country that had imprisoned him, and lived to celebrate his ninety-fifth birthday. Of all the reprinted quotes, the one that so deeply affected me was this:

As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.

How many of us, with far lesser provocation, imprison ourselves by clinging tenaciously to anger and resentment? Mandela didn’t say he had never harbored those feelings, simply made clear the steep price one pays for nurturing them.

Mandela was the embodiment of what His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s meant when he said, “The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred.” Conquering is ongoing, not finite. Even His Holiness gets angry: “Oh, yes, of course. I’m a human being. Generally speaking, if a human being never shows anger, then I think something’s wrong. He’s not right in the brain.”

Consider the karmic pragmatism of letting go. Your life will be lightened by each discarded grudge, and the energy saved can be used to focus on your resolutions for the coming year–on whatever day it begins.

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