On Monday 31 December I texted a friend to say I hadn’t been able to contact other people for a get-together, and she proposed I went to a dinner party with her. I didn’t know the host, or most of the other guests, but I didn’t mind. We ate a gourmet meal, but it were some topics we discussed over dinner that struck me most.
A man suggested each should think of something we particularly enjoyed during 2012, or we would like to have in 2013, and in turn tell everybody. Knowing each other well, hardly anyone was afraid to open up their heart with the risk of being judged. I was surprised at the frankness about past experiences, some indeed quite harsh, and the admittance of one’s shortcomings. Being brought together by their common church membership, the other guests had a strong reason to share their experiences that had found a solution in faith.
When my turn came, I said my wish was removing fear. I explained I would like my happiness not to be tarnished by misgivings about the future, or that sensation of uneasiness associated with what the time to come has in store for us.
On second thoughts, though, I realised that my analysis was not careful enough as I am not besieged by obsessive fears. True, I don’t know what will happen in my life, or if my health will be good all along; I ignore what will become of ageing relatives first, and of me eventually, if and when I reach old age. For all that, I look at the future with a healthy dose of carelessness.
However, I have entered a stage when my perception of time is not that of a limitless reserve that I can draw from. I read the signs of ageing on a familiar face as the harbinger that sooner or later some phase in my life will come to an end. And I therefore tend to regret the past even before it’s over – just as I would wistfully look at a wilting flower that is not as beautiful as it once was.
I have always been recalcitrant to accepting changes that were not the result of my own choice: in my body at the time of adolescence, in my environment and on my work when someone else decided about its shape or organisation. I do like novelties, but they must be of my own making. I associate unwanted changes with suffering, and only a painful adjustment to the new order allows me to get over them. But maybe this is only a theoretical fear of change, because like everyone, I have had to adapt to changes in life and I have done so with success. I only ought to be braver about facing them.
The people at the party had all experienced big changes in their lives, assisted – as they said – by the force of a belief that gave them external help. It would be much easier, I mused, to appeal to an external force in order to change aspects of myself, but this device is not in my hands. If there are points I’d like to improve, I must first realise which ones they are, ask myself if I am setting a feasible goal, and then work by the strength of my willpower.
The New Year’s party sparked the urge to do this assessment. What I said about removing fear was fine, but my goal should be more far-reaching and less selfish. My need is to acquire more self-control in certain relationships marked by chronic habits that make them sometimes adversarial, especially if the other party is weaker than me. If I act with more patience, understanding and love I’ll be able to correct a behaviour that is guided by patterns of revenge, display of supremacy, and repressed frustrations. Sometimes there is a dangerous trade-off, especially at work, between asserting one’s authority and being friendly, between being understanding and having to feel cheated, but it can all be managed.
The beginning of a new year offers a great opportunity to make a check-up. My New Year’s party was the best lesson I could ever hope for: it reminded me there is a time to change.