Over the last decade or more, I’ve spent most of my December thinking about what goals I want to set in the new year. Somewhere around the second week of December, I usually begin reflecting on the previous year, thinking about what worked and what didn’t, and pondering the things I want or need to change in the coming year. I generally do this with a pen in hand, and I even have a regular set of questions I ask each year.
But this year, I did things differently. I didn’t spend the month of December reflecting on the previous year because I was still living in the moment, spending time enjoying the fruit of the year’s labors, and preparing for the winter months ahead. We were on the road for much of December wrapping up the last third of our 40-day road trip, and occasionally on the days we didn’t have much to see and do, I would think about pulling out my journal to begin processing the year.
However, I never did. It just didn’t feel right. Then when we arrived home, we only had one week to prepare ourselves for Christmas, and then after that, we spent a lot of time preparing our home to be home this winter season. It wasn’t until after the Christmas wrapping paper was swept away and the quieter moments of the week leading up to New Year’s Day were upon me, that I even considered turning my attention to a new year.
Winter (which is what it is for me in the Northern Hemisphere of this great big world) is here, and though the days are technically getting longer, it still feels so dark. Perhaps it’s because most of the Christmas lights that twinkled in the night sky are packed away in storage crates, sealed away in attics until next year. Or maybe in all the celebration of Christmas, I wasn’t paying attention to how dark it was until now, but darkness still lays heavy on me in these opening days of 2024.
So here we are with a new year dawning, and I have no goals set, no challenges accepted, and no groups joined. Yet, in these moments, it feels more natural, even helpful, to simply capture the thoughts that have begun to stir in my mind. In this space of reflection and remembering, tears well up and spill over, and I have allowed the pen to guide my grief alongside my gratitude for truly the year 2023 left much to be processed. I wrote a poem about it, if you’d like to read it.
I’ve realized these last few weeks that it feels unnatural to have new thoughts, brighter days, or tender soil for growing new things when everything is so dark outside. The earth is still sleeping. The soil is still so cold. The sun even seems to be taking a break. Therefore, laying down any sort of firm plan for my year leaves me feeling like I’m grappling in the dark, merely guessing at where my path is heading.
This makes me think of the popular poem, The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost. Re-reading it just now, I realize perhaps I’ve arrived in the yellow wood with two paths diverging before me. I see the one I’ve always walked, the one I revisit every year, the one I know, and maybe even love, for it is comfortable and familiar. Yet also here is the path I ponder each year, but never have the courage to try. However, right now, in this moment, I have a yearning in my soul to give it a try, to go that way, and discover what’s around the bend. For it is this new, untrodden path that will at least take me somewhere new, somewhere I’ve never been before. Though I know I can always come back and choose the other road, I think Mr. Frost is right. I doubt I shall ever go back to the way things were. And you know? I think that’s going to make all the difference.