Hear That Sound?

That’s January arriving. Brace yourself

Photo by Gary Doughty on Unsplash
Remember November?

How it appeared burnished with gold and, as the weeks swelled into the feasting time, dripped with butter? Then December bustled in like a pleasantly plump auntie, eager to help decorate and shop and bake cookies until it was time to sit down with a nice cup of something.

November invited us to have second helpings. December clapped its hands in delight as we opened presents.

January barges in and tells us to get back to work.

November sounded like gloriously colored leaves fluttering earthwards to spangle the sidewalks, and like saucepans bubbling with something delectable. December tinkled with bells, rang with songs everyone knows the words to, crackled like wrapping paper and welcoming hearths.

January rumbles like a vast steam engine, just reaching full pressure.

It blows its shrill whistle. The long dream of the holidays is over, it announces: there’s a new year in town. All aboard, ready or not.

Mercifully, January doesn’t arrive all at once

With New Year’s Day as a grace period, January takes a little time to pull into the station. But when it does, there’s no choice but to climb on and take the ride, even though we don’t know quite where January’s going and we can already spot trouble on the tracks ahead.

With any luck, we’ve been able to distract ourselves for the past two months. All the planning and festivities have dulled the sharp edges of our attention to things like the Omicron surge, the climate crisis, the distressing thuds as our democracy struggles to absorb blow after blow. We’ve been able to keep it all at a temporary remove, walled off behind colored lights and inflatable snowmen.

But that time’s over, and here we go

Only in our imaginations does time move in other directions besides forward. Here in reality, we’re at time’s mercy, and there is no month more ruthless than January in pointing that out.

All those resolutions you made while basking the glow of a sumptuous party spread and a flute glass full of cheer? Time to walk your talk. Half the world is grumpy because it’s on a diet, and the other half is irritated by their endless talk of calories and protein grams.

Meanwhile, the year has already brought fresh disasters — the cataclysmic wind-driven fires in Colorado, for one — which bring us face to face with the crises that have continued to develop while we were busy with our eggnog recipes.

The climate is literally screaming for our attention, and here in the US the anniversary of January 6, 2021 looms with dreadful tension. The pandemic whose end we thought we could celebrate last summer is still with us, along with its stupefying caseloads and relentless uncertainty: is it safe to send the kids back to school? Are we going back to the office or are we still working from home? Can we still count on that trip to Hawaii we had planned for the end of the month, and will there be a crew that’s healthy enough to fly the plane if we do? How many masks are we supposed to wear at one time?

It’s all here now, demanding that we deal with it.

January is our annual wake-up call

Resistance, when it comes to January, is futile. Best to accept the month’s bracing slap in the face, to appreciate its cleansing force, its call to action.

Start small, but start. Observe how, the moment the empty champagne bottles have hit the recycling, all the holiday decorations suddenly look bedraggled, the lights tacky and garish. Don’t let them sit around and weigh you down. Rip the bandage off: deconstruct the tree; stash the wreaths and garlands; wind up the lights and stow it all in the attic for next year. Vacuum up the glitter and restore your home to pared-down serenity.

Then take a moment for a good, determined think. Resolutions have a bad rap, but approached in the correct spirit they can set us on a positive trajectory. Losing the same five pounds this year is okay if you feel you need to, but more fulfilling is figuring out what you can do to have a positive impact on at least some aspect of 2022.

It doesn’t have to be grand; unless you’re in charge of a corporation or a country, it likely won’t be. You can’t save the world. But you can make it an easier, kinder, healthier place to be in, for someone or something.

It’s the best way there is to take the sting out of January.

January lets you know that you’re needed

That’s the upside of post-holiday re-entry. It may be hard to climb out of your warm bed and head out into the winter chill to do what needs to be done.

But whatever it is you do — in the way that nobody else can do or ever has done in precisely the same way — January is here to remind you that the world is counting on you to do it.

So get your coat and grab your hat. January expects you to show up.

One comment

  1. November, December, and January are just 3 more reasons why I love summer. February is not far behind! I am not a resolution-maker, but I do want to spend some time this month thinking about my word of the year – community. What can I do to nurture and protect it?

    By the way, thank you for the tip about Heather Cox Richardson’s newsletters. I have subscribed and I am hooked. I love reading a historian’s take on the news.

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