Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Maybe next year

Posted by boakley59 on December 31, 2009

I’m not much of one for New Year’s resolutions or year-end retrospectives, but lately I have a headful of observations. I’ve been looking both forward and back, and neither resolutions nor observations quite covers the territory, so I’m going to call my list reservations. Some of these are the happy, hopeful reservations like those you get for a table at a fine restaurant. Others are the simple, worrisome reservations like those you have about going out on a cloudy day without an umbrella. The darkest ones are the ones where we hide from ourselves, like the nuclear reservations where we confine our toxic waste.

My reservations are a sort of weather report of the soul. I see light trying to break through gloom in some places, where the weather is partly cloudy: Maybe next year December won’t be such a reminder of vulnerability and the ways men fade. My father died in December 2006, Suzy’s in 1997. My ex-wife’s father was a Christmas baby, so even in a season of giving, I think often of lost contact with men admirable and strong. I think of dear widows who must accept the persistence of memory as the substitute for the touch of one man’s hand. Maybe next year, I’ll think of December 1998 — when I spent two weeks in intensive care after weeks of passing blood and losing weight — as just an odd interlude, not a clear demonstration of stubborn unwillingness to admit my own fragility. Maybe December 2007 — when I eventually had surgery after seven months of confident expectation that I would heal in a couple of weeks — will seem like just an odd interlude, not a clear demonstration of stubborn unwillingness to admit my own fragility. Yes, maybe next year, the ghosts of Decembers past will stop rattling my chain and help me embrace the new day more than I wail about my yesterdays.

Perhaps the weather is partly sunny, more brightness, less cloud. Maybe next year, starting so soon, the light will bring quick warmth. January is the month when Suzy and I married, and when my mother, my son and a niece have their birthdays. Even in the winter chill, I know times of joy and markers of hope. Long ago in January, I was on the field as an equipment manager when Notre Dame won the national football championship. Not quite so long ago in January, I started a research fellowship at North Carolina, but there were some clouds then, as my divorce became final.

See? Reservations. Some days, you can’t tell which way the wind is blowing.

Maybe next year, I will find the grace to take the edge off vicious Bru. Perhaps I will find the way to politely object to the objectionable without frustration, anger or spite. Maybe next year, the meager, stumbling starts that have been made on health care reform and economic recovery will gain real teeth sinking into the meat of the problems rather than nibbling at the edges. Maybe next year, the weight I’ve gained and kept will give me the strength for increased activity without fear of decline. Maybe instead of seeing progress as “only two” hospitalizations in two years, progress will be a return to exercise or active pursuit of a hobby.

Sometimes, the weather report of the soul is all about extremes, and my reservations are for “when hell freezes over.” Maybe next year, politics, from the worst war-mongering to the most banal baby-kissing, will stop being all dumb show, signifying nothing. Perhaps next year, ideas (and opponents) will be treated with seriousness that suggests that they matter as much as winning today’s vote does. Maybe next year, we will reject the casual indifference that allows us to forsake our fellows, foul our nest and reduce life to reality shows.

Of course, part of the impact of the phrase “when hell freezes over” is that we understand it is the most desolate kind of place where the weather does not change. We can escape those desolate places we may wander into, but only if we turn around and walk the other way. Maybe next year, I will leave behind my cozy couch, my comfortable silence, my casual indifference, my fearful paralysis, my temperamental distraction, and find my way to the light.

Maybe next year, I will remember that I myself am the keeper of the light, that to “find my way to the light” I need first to avoid tripping on myself.

Maybe next year, I should resolve to make observations and to choose hope at the same time.

Maybe next year, I will be glad I had reservations.


One Response to “Maybe next year”

  1. Jessica said

    I like your first “maybe nest year.” So true…

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