In the last couple of weeks, I noticed various friends on social media wishing that 2013 would just hurry up and disappear because it had been such a terrible year for them. Logically, of course, I’m sure that they know that just because we toss out one calendar and bring in a new one, this won’t mean any dramatic change in their circumstances, but, of course, it can give us the mental lift of a “fresh start”. Even if it’s only in our imaginations.
It started me thinking about what I described as the “worst year of my life”. It was a year when there didn’t seem any solution to any of my problems – financial or personal – and everything I tried to do to improve my situation just ended up making it worse. In late October of that year, I was sharing the most recent disasters with a friend, who was also having a bad year, and, when he said that there was nothing we could do except hope that next year would be better, I rebelled.
“No,” I said, “I’m declaring this year over. I intend to celebrate New Year’s Eve next Friday at 10pm and finish this wretched year once and for all.”
“Well, are you in?” I asked.
Why not, he decided, and with a few phone calls, we’d organised most of our social network to go out to dinner that Friday at the pub where he worked where we’d all celebrate the New Year.
Friday night arrives . “Happy New Year,” say my friends as the arrive. There were other people in the pub, probably about twenty or so. Naturally, they wanted to know what was going on. Many of them agreed that it had been a terrible year, and yes, it would be nice to have New Year’s Eve early. And so, on the stroke of 10pm, the entire forty people erupted with “Happy New Year” and began kissing and shaking hands.
I sipped my drink, and the absurdity of the moment hit me. I’d been feeling powerless and overwhelmed just a few days earlier, and while I hadn’t made any difference to the demons in my life, I was responsible for an entire roomful of people – both friends and strangers – wishing each other happy new year. Yes, it was insane, but somehow people had followed me. I smiled and sipped more of my drink. Really, I concluded, the solution to everything plaguing me was just to find the right words. Surely that must be easier than cancelling the rest of the year.
Of course, the next year wasn’t much better. If anything, it was probably a little worse. It’s not the change of year that makes the difference.
From time to time, I hear people talk about how little power they have, how they can’t influence anything, but the trouble is we never know how far the little bit of power we have goes. While I don’t imagine that my NYE celebration had any lasting effect on any of the strangers in the pub, I can never know that for sure. Just as, in writing this blog, I’ll never find out whether it fills in five minutes for you, or inspires you to join a campaign to save the Great Barrier Reef, or even start your own campaign. But I do know that powerlessness begins with the decision to accept powerlessness, that nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished by despairing and throwing one’s hands in the air.
Just one more silly anecdote from around this time in my life. I was doing casual teaching, and at the end of a class where the students were all packed up, I decided to tell a joke. (As a casual teacher, it was hard to keep them in their seats just waiting two minutes for the bell, so a well timed joke can make life a lot easier.) It was a newer version of an old joke, and I changed one of the details to make it more contemporary. They laughed and the bell rang.
Two weeks later, a friend who was also teaching, but at a school ten suburbs away, announced that he’d just been told this great joke by a kid. It was – almost word for word – the same joke.
Yes, it was rather sad the only time I can actually be sure that a student repeated something I said in class, that it was a joke and not one of my many pearls of wisdom. But the point is we don’t know how far anything we say may spread. When we think of a great invention or discovery, we think of the famous person, but we rarely hear of the person who said to him or her, “Wouldn’t it be great if they had a machine for this?”
OK, right now, I’m going to stop writing and improve Australia by having a shower. For all I know, it may make a world of difference.