Janus, the God representing the month of January, has two faces—one looks to the future, and the other faces the past. On the precipice of the New Year, most of us try to assume the posture of Janus by reflecting on the year passed and setting aspirations for the year to come.
In the past, I’ve done exactly that. In some years I’ve gone on retreat and ushered in the New Year after days of quiet reflection. In others, I’ve written letters to myself that capture all that I’ve learned. One year, I made two lists—one with everything I wanted to leave behind (this piece of paper was eventually burned in a New Year’s bonfire); the other list everything I hoped to embrace (it was kept under my pillow or worn in a locket for the first week of the year). On the eve of the new millennium, I gathered my friends and family together and we wrote poems, stories and songs to commemorate a new chapter in the life of our planet and the human race.
But this year, a few days before the New Year, I woke up early enough to take a sunrise walk on the beach. First, I walked west. My eyes hungrily consumed the beauty of a newly awakened earth. The ocean glowed pink, the waves lazily rolled out towards land and up above, majestic pelicans swooped down to catch their breakfast. It was the first time in nine months that I had a chance to really catch my breath. I reflected on 2008. It was a big year: There was the joy of being pregnant with Ayla and then the moment that I birthed her by candlelight, in the comfort of our home.
By the time I reached the pier on the north end of the beach, I had “seen” all the poignant moments of 2008 flash before my mind’s eye: Ayla’s first toothless smile. Watching her ravage a perfectly ripe plum for the first time. The joy of nursing her to sleep, her lips suckling the air after my nipple slipped out of her mouth. It was akin to watching the sunset, and making peace with the events of the day.
Then I turned around and walked east. The sun had risen over the horizon and its golden light shone directly into my eyes. It was a softly blinding light—rays of gold filled every inch of land and sky. So instead of looking into the future, I was forced to look down and around me. I noticed millions of tiny seashells, shuffling sand crabs and sandpipers racing across the sand, their toes barely grazing the land. What was the lesson in my New Year’s walk home? That perhaps I should be content not to gaze too far into the future. Now that I’m a mother, plans and predictions for tomorrow are usually trumped by the here-and-now.
As I walked home to have breakfast with Ayla and the rest of my family, I felt certain that this year I didn’t need to construct lofty aspirations. My only aspiration was to content myself with living in the present moment, and trusting that the golden light of the future will illuminate the path ahead.