I don’t know what it is about the new year that invites sadness, but for me, it’s there. It starts with New Year’s Eve, a holiday I’ve come to loathe simply because I’m never, ever dressed up in sequins, gingerly cupping a flute of something sparkling in a slender glass. This seems unkind to me, on behalf of the world. And on behalf of my friends who throw fancy parties. (You know who you are.)
I’m never dancing. I’m never partying.
Usually, I’m at home, in sweatpants, clicking back and forth between New Year’s programming, disparaging the hosts and critiquing the musical guests and otherwise bemoaning the sorry state of society whilst eating Doritos. Combine that with the knowledge that most of my resolutions won’t get checked off, that winter cold and dark is not even half over, and that I now have the cumbersome task of cleaning up after the holidays: the mess, the tangled lights, the low–sometimes negative– numbers in the checkbook. Yes, the beginning of a new year can sometimes be sad, and I will feel a smidge apologetic about the acerbic nature of my comments regarding the New Year’s Eve hosts, but only later on.
I have always known that there is a little something wrong with this rather negative response to a minutes-old, fresh and clean, newborn year. I have known it for a long time, but this year, I have been able to identify it a bit more thoroughly.
In a list he developed in the fourth century, a monk named Evagrius Ponticus ranked sadness among the Eight Deadly Thoughts. When I discovered this, I was confused. Wasn’t Jesus once described as a “man of sorrows”? Isn’t it appropriate that we mourn the sin, the injustice, the downright yuckiness of the world and our lives sometimes? And what about depression? Can we really boil that down to a “deadly thought”? Isn’t there more to it?
But sadness, as Evagrius defines it, is not the godly sorrow or lament that is often mentioned in the bible. Neither does it have much to do with depression. The sadness he describes is, when boiled down, a desire in one’s heart and mind for something else.
How many times have I wished for something else? How many times have I imagined what my world would be like with more money? A different nose? More recognition or success? Fewer Doritos?
I think about people in my life with big, Mount-Everest-sized problems that dwarf my Doritos: a friend who lost her father, suddenly and quickly, right before the new year started, another who is caring for a husband who most of the time cannot remember her, another who has been confronted with news that she’s ill.
I wonder how easy it is for them to dwell on something else. Because for me, it is easy.
What sadness robs us of, of course, is the beauty of what is.
What exactly is is… well, that’s not the point. The is can be any number of qualifiers or adjectives: good, bad, boring, exciting, sad, overwhelming, contented, unfair. There is a time for all of it under heaven, isn’t that what Ecclesiastes reminds us?
What is is all that we have. The moment. The here. The now. I have heard this before, and, undoubtedly, I will forget it and have to be reminded of its truth over and over.
But this year, when I tucked her in early on the night before the new year dawned, a tiny child kissed me, once on my left cheek, once on my right cheek. I wondered again where she picked this up, then I thanked God that she did. I did not feel sorry that we can’t afford a babysitter on this New Year’s Eve. Instead, I bought Doritos with abandon. I extended some grace to the talking heads on the television screen. I felt the comfort in my ugly pajama pants and fluffy slippers, and refused, for once, to mourn that they do not sparkle.