The existential questions of New Year’s Day


Blessed is the life that finds joy in the journey.
–E.M. Forster (I think)

The first day of the new year is as refreshing as a midafternoon nap. It’s an interlude between the frenzy of merrymaking just past and the toil of daily life just ahead. It’s a sweet spot in the dead of winter.

What better time for taking stock?

Usually, I try to spend a quiet hour with my journal on the first day of a new year. I don’t make resolutions; I just try to reflect. Where am I on the journey? How do I feel about it? (Both the journey, and where I am in it.) How can I improve?

This is a bittersweet exercise. Each year begins with the same innocence and expectation. The same clean white page. But a year rarely lives up to its first blush of potential. Rarely does it exceed expectation. In the final analysis, a year is usually just…life. Molehills not mountains, valleys not the abyss. Yet, even after the worst years, I can usually make peace with what has happened and look forward to something better. That’s not so bad, is it? The sweetness of honey, not the ectasy of ambrosia.

This year I hunkered down with my journal during a long layover in the Detroit airport surrounded by weary families laden down with packages and their cranky but surprisingly well-behaved children.

My goal has always been to travel well, not to accumulate destinations. By that I mean to pay attention to what passes by and to absorb the experience fully. To be conscious and aware. Maybe even to tap into a sense of wonder and joy.

Have I made progress?

Sort of.

On the plus side, I’ve seen some fabulous things: Slab City for sheer intensity and the desert bloom for ephemeral natural beauty top the list. I passed through eight national parks, from Joshua Tree in southern California to Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan. (In case you are one of the 15 people in the US who haven’t discovered them, our parks are a national treasure. Visit as many and as often as you can.)

However, I am still too cautious and timid. Too nervous about mechanical breakdowns and financial shortages. Too afraid of getting lost. I still dip a toe rather than plunge. I look and look again before I leap. My attitude goes beyond prudence. It is fear.

So I haven’t yet wholeheartedly embraced the magic or entered into the journey. I am still more Nervous Nelly than Pippi Longstocking. This high-strung attitude creates unnecessary anxiety and stoppers up the joy. Not only am I literally near-sighted, but I become spiritually myopic, as well.

It’s an old tug-o-war. I’ve only upped the ante with my little walkabout, which forces me to confront my baby demons head on. And this is a good thing, I think. I want to be that person who dances like no one’s watching. I want to plunge in with reckless abandon. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

And to be fair, I have bitten off a lot. “My, you certainly have taken on some challenges,” a stranger said recently. This took me by surprise. Then I thought, Yeah! Damn straight! So cut yourself some slack.

I’m excited about 2012. After my stay in New York City, I’m planning a summerlong trip to the Atlantic provinces of Canada. Then I have an opportunity to establish home base of sorts in a little cottage in my sister’s woods. This means that I’ll have a place to come “home” to with less of the responsibility and expense of homeownership.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m done with travel. Not by a long shot. I can honestly say that, despite the things that go bump in the night, I am more eager than ever to keep on dancing.

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4 Responses to The existential questions of New Year’s Day

  1. Marc 3 January, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Hope you have a Happy, Healthy & Blessed New Year!

    • Kate 3 January, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

      Thanks, Marc. May your journey be blessed as well.

  2. Erik 3 January, 2012 at 1:52 am #

    I hope you have a happy and prosperous 2012. May all your wildest dreams come true!

    • Kate 3 January, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

      thanks for all your support this year, Erik. Wildest dreams….hmmmm…I’ll have to think on that one.