One day many years ago, when I was graduating from college, my mother handed me a piece of paper with a list of resolutions carefully printed in what I immediately recognized as my own early adolescent handwriting. My mother had found this hallowed document in my room years before and had kept it safely in a drawer. She was sharing it with me then because she deemed my thirteen-year-old self to be safely in the past. When she found the document in my room the resolution that caught her eye was my vow to stop smoking marijuana and hashish. Since she had no idea that I was using drugs this had been a bit of a shock to her.
There were other resolutions. Some addressed moral issues such as lying. Others were about my schoolwork and attendance, which was showing some signs of decline. Others were more relational—being a good son, friend, or standing up for myself.
What struck me about the document was the earnest sense of repentance: the care with which I had made the list and carefully hidden it away demonstrated my conviction that I should be a better person, as well as my fervent hope that I could be. Did I keep my resolutions? It depends on how you measure. If you are a hard-nosed type for whom there is only one measure—you fail or you succeed; you produce or you are a loser—then I feel sorry for you, and no, I did not succeed. If, on the other hand, there are other ways of understanding the life of a person in all its irrational, chaotic, creative glory, then perhaps my list wasn’t such a bust, after all.
We believe in second chances in the United States. I wanted one back as the 1960s ended, and we want one now, as the oughts end and the teens begin. Now, my list today might look like this:
1. Don’t eat all of the holiday caramel and chocolate in one night.
2. Learn Spanish.
3. Practice music every day.
4. Exercise daily and eat right.
5. Land a new book deal.
6. Don’t waste time wishing I was someone else—instead, be the best possible me.
7. Don’t hate people when they piss me off.
8. Contribute my time and resources to a good cause.
9. Be a responsible, caring member of my family, community, and the world.
10. Run for mayor of San Francisco.
I may not accomplish these goals. Learning Spanish, in particular, seems to go from lista to lista without being achieved. And some of my resolutions may not be as worthy as others. My friends and loved ones might prefer that I take a stab at changing areas of my life I haven’t even mentioned—the embezzling and caramel abuse come to mind—but of course that isn’t how these resolutions are made. Over the years I have made amazing strides. So have you. But I am also still that thirteen-year old boy. We win some and we lose some, and if the fates allow, we learn that it’s about more than winning and losing—it is about loving and creating.