As 2012 winds down and we prepare to scribble through it and write “2013 – oops!” on our checks for the next month or so, it seems that now would be a good time to talk about the “clean slate” mentality that ought to be so refreshing, yet so often stands as a horrible obstacle to getting anything done at all.
Life is messy.
The end of one year and the start of a new one is no more than the act of exhaling and inhaling, something we do unconsciously, countless times each day. There is nothing magical about midnight’s approach on December 31, except that we make it so. The new year stands before us, unwritten and full of promise. Just like it did on July 7 or August 12 or any other day, really. And we’ll still have bills due in January for goods bought and services rendered in 2012 – if not in 2002. Shoot, the average home mortgage runs 15 to 30 years! There’s no “wiping the slate clean” in life.
But there is a sense of forgiveness, of “letting go,” of leaving past mistakes behind in the promises of an infinite number of newer, more exciting mistakes to be made. Seriously, that clean slate is overrated. A clean slate isn’t fulfilling its purpose. It’s only when it is full of scribbles, words, and ideas that it can be all that it was meant to be. And in turn, the eraser that’s not covered in chalk dust isn’t doing its job, either. But somewhere in between, learning and life and experience happen – it’s a cycle, just like breathing, and it happens every moment of every day we live.
Sometimes, the clean slate mentality creeps in and becomes a page – our acts envisioned in indelible ink. Failure, mistakes, and tentative scribbles give us the urge to crumple the day like a piece of paper – to throw it into the trash and, like Scarlett O’Hara, “think about that tomorrow, for tomorrow is another day!” Instead of shrugging our shoulders, forgiving ourselves and others for being a little like a kindergartner’s coloring book or a teenager’s messy closet, we sometimes try to sweep the day under the mental rug, sleep it off, and wake to the promise of a new one.
“Live each day as if it were your last” isn’t terrible advice, here, but it has always struck me as slightly morbid. Honestly, faced with the question, “What would you do if you knew that this was your last day on earth?” I envision myself as a deer caught in the headlights. There are so many things I want to do, and there is no way to cram them all into a single day! I can’t even begin to prioritize, faced with a massive “bucket list” of stuff I’d like to experience before I die.
“I’d probably spend it in a blind panic, doing absolutely nothing.”
Be honest: What would you do if your doctor told you you had one day to live? You haven’t just won the lottery – in fact, nothing else in your life has changed. You just get 24 hours and the certain knowledge that it’s your last 24 hours on earth. What would you do?
Now, faced with your own answer to that question, would you really want to know? Or would you rather just live out each day in the hopeful believe that you won’t get smacked by a bus on your way home from work – today? On the off chance that you might, though – is it really worth crumpling the day’s “draft,” with all its little blotches and goofs, in the determination that tomorrow’s going to be a fresh, new day?
How many smokers and alcoholics, when they “screw up” and have that drink or that cigarette, give up the determination to quit and recover from their addiction? Or put it off to tomorrow, next week, or next year – instead of “next minute”? We set up time as an artificial boundary, then allow it to control us like a dog that’s used to an electronic fence – even when the fence is off.
How many writers abandon a less than perfect draft and relegate it to the back of a drawer or a trunk? The clean, crisp promise of a blank page whispers, “You’re not worthy,” and we fail to say back to it, “You were meant to be written on – it’s my scribbles that give you purpose!” (If it sneers back something about dead trees, go plant one – and then write your heart out.)
How many people give up on a relationship because they, themselves, “screwed up”? It’s often so much easier to forgive the other person, but how many relationships die because of guilt and lack of self-worth? Each day, we have a choice and a chance to be better. But really, why wait for a new day? Each minute, we have that choice. Each interaction with others is an opportunity.
Why not just lay down that baggage right now – accept that the scribbles and oopsies are part of the “art” of being human – and keep right on going towards the next thing on that bucket list? It’s December 27 – and so what? Why wait till January 1 to start the adventure of a new year?