Major changes and milestones in the cycle of time usually elicit certain reactions in most, if not all of us.
For some, these milestones are a cause for celebration as they mark an important rite of passage, ushering us from one phase of our lives to another. For others, it is a grim reminder of the inexorable march of time – that impersonal deity who waits for no man and forces us, not just to look back and ask us ourselves whether we have lived our best lives so far, but also to confront our mortality, whether we like it or not (especially if we have attained a certain age).
For yet others, it is a time to discard certain actions or attitudes and take up new ones, to adopt certain positions one was perhaps previously opposed to, or to pursue a course of action with greater energy or more gusto than before.
At the beginning of a new year such as this, new year resolutions are the order of the day, as people make a plethora of promises to themselves – be it to take their health more seriously (by losing weight, exercising more regularly, eating sensibly, forswearing alcohol, smoking and caffeine, etc.); to reassess a business or romantic relationship that is probably headed for a dead-end; to take on a potentially uplifting hobby or practice; to travel for leisure and educational purposes: to learn a new language or skill; to be a more intentional parent, spouse, partner and friend; to get closer to God and so on.
These are all very laudable objectives but why do we tie our resolutions to major cycles of time? Why new year resolutions? Why not new quarter, or new month, or new week, or even new day resolutions? Or for that matter, why not resolutions made on the spur of the moment – simply because you feel all of a sudden, that you’ve traveled this road, or encompassed that proverbial mountain, for far long enough?
Or could it be that there is something in the very flow of time (especially during major cycles, like decades, centuries and millenia, and the beginnings and ends of eras) that somehow aids the actualisation of our resolutions? Is time, then, an enabler of the changes in direction or attitudes promised in our resolutions? Is that why Christians flock to their various churches on New Year’s Eve every year for their watch night and crossover services? Does God perhaps, answer the prayers or honour the commitments made on these occasions more readily than those made at other times of the year?
A number of deep thinkers I know of will beg to differ. In the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, “Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time … Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively … Human progress never rolls on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men and women willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is ‘always ripe to do what is right.”
What about the spiritual symbolisms we attach to these major cycles of time (ie the belief that God’s plans and purposes for His creation and for us as individuals, families and nations are somehow tied to our calendar)?
The truth is that the calendar is a human rather than a divine construct. Like most things human therefore, it has undergone a series of changes over the centuries and millennia. The Western calendar that we are using today has seen profound changes in both the distant and more recent past (i.e before and after the birth of Christ). Perhaps the most dramatic of these changes took place in Ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Julius Caesar. Shortly before his assassination in 44 BC, Caesar decided to immortalise himself by inserting his name in the Roman calendar – his own little slice of Time, if you like. Rather than just having a piece of property (a monument, a street, a building or a natural landmark) named after him, as was the usual practice with illustrious personalities, Caesar wanted a month. So he ordered the creation of the month of Julius (July in English; Juilliet in French; Julio in Spanish; Julius in German) to follow the 6th month, the month of Juno (June). This new month became the seventh month of the year, displacing September (‘Sept’ is seven in Latin).
After Caesar’s death, his nephew and heir, Octavius, became Emperor of Rome, and was later known as Caesar Augustus (Caesar the Great). In time, he too decided to follow in his uncle’s footsteps – and thus was the month of Augustus born. August became the eighth month, displacing October (‘Octo’ is eight in Latin). The Julian calendar, as it became known, effectively pushed the month of September to No 9; October to No. 10, November (‘Nova’, nine in Latin) to No. 11, and December (‘Deca’, ten in Latin) to No. 12. The Julian year thereby changed from a 10-month to a 12-month affair. Meaning that hood old Janus, the Roman god of past and future and his devotees had to wait two whole months to usher in his month of January and the beginning of a new year! What an irony. Man determining when the year actually starts!
In the Christian era, the Gregorian calendar has since tweaked its Julian predecessor, as it made further changes to time. So our human calendars tend to vary from time to time according to the political circumstances of a given era.
Given the importance we attach to these resolutions, and the fervency with which we make them at the beginning of each year, why then do we break them with such relative ease – usually after the first few days or weeks of the so acclaimed new year? Conversely, why are some of us – a small minority, I suspect – able to stick with our resolutions to the very end?
If the cycle of time was a factor, does it’s potency wear off after the first few days from New Years Day? Perhaps Dr. King was right about the inherent neutrality of time, and our ability to use it either constructively or destructively. Perhaps there is really nothing in the flow of time which aids our ability to actualise our resolutions.
What then? Or is there something within us – our natural makeup, the way we are wired from birth or by experience – that makes us likely or unlikely to keep our new year resolutions? Is it strong will, perhaps? Or mental character? Or fortitude?
Or could it be a natural consequence of the onset of middle or old age? I mention this last one, aging, because over time, I have come to notice that the older we get, the more readily we tend to keep our resolutions – especially those to do with health and wellness. Younger people in the prime of their lives understandably tend to bother less about these things – perhaps because they are usually in great shape, and thoughts of their mortality are the farthest things from their minds. Which is why they can register at a gym on the 31st of December committing to a year-long exercise and fitness routine, only to drop out within a few weeks with an attitude that suggests … Look, it’s not by force to be fit, okay? I cannot come and kill myself as we Nigerians say , creative slangs adopted from street pidgin. Who gym help?’
People in the much touted sunset of their lives, on the other hand, cannot afford such cavalier attitudes to issues of health and wellness. So I guess it’s safe to say that it is aging and the changes it brings to our bodies and the insights it brings to our minds (rather than a mere transition from one year to another, or such qualities as strong will and mental fortitude, etc.) that makes us more or less likely to keep our resolutions.
In any case, I believe that for those people (whether old or young) who are determined to keep their resolutions, it doesn’t really matter what time of year it is. The time, as Dr. King has said, is always ripe to do what is right.
In recent years, I have stopped making New Year Resolutions. Given the experiences I have been privileged to enjoy or ‘suffer’ in my life, I have decided to adopt what my Italian friends call La Sprezzatura (The Art of Non-Engagement). I have opted to react to the adversities of life, situations and of people from a more removed or distant perspective. I react now to things not as they appear, in whatever garb , especially when it has a negative and /or a toxic reactor, but I respond as me. Me …. Sure of myself and determined to maintain my image. I have come to realize that to ‘turn the other cheek ‘is applicable in most of life’s engagements so I am more likely now to walk away rather than react to a negative energy posted at me. I’ve come to understand that, most of the time, what people say to me or about me – or try to do to me – are really not about what I did or said to them; it’s really about them and what they’re going through at that point in time. With this understanding has come empathy rather than anger. I don’t always know people’s stories, and therefore cannot account for their attitudes toward me. However I am fully in control of and can definitely account for my own response and reaction which is now in most cases not to engage.
Some people I know have the Art of Non engagement as a character trait but for most of us it can become a conscious inclusion to our nature. I will be the first to acknowledge that it is difficult especially if your nature tended towards being quick to react or as they say ‘quick tempered’ But the Art of Non Engagement is a true Art. It is as beautiful as it is Dramatic and Dangerous.
Dramatic because it is always unexpected. Dangerous because the other party gets a confused message and in most cases gets totally disarmed. You win without trying. You make a statement without saying a word. You strike without throwing a stone. It is a perfect work of Art! For as in Art you are in control , you determine the scope of paint etc that will be used on your canvas. You determine the shape the work will take and you execute it to your own code of perfection. You do not need anybody’s help to execute the Art of Non Engagement.
The same goes for my attitude towards New Year Resolutions now – which I will admit has also been greatly modified and is now a far cry from the excitement and gusto with which I used to make them at the dawn of each new year in the past. But I’m no longer moved by the cycles of time, nor am I trying to demonstrate my strong will or mental fortitude. At this stage in my life I really have nothing really I believe to prove. It’s the time of La Sprezzatura for me.
Having said that, though, I actually do have a kind of New Year’s Resolution for 2023 (and perhaps even beyond). Events in the later part of 2022 have sadly forced me to adjust my position a bit – and they have to do as you may probably guess, with the issue of health and overall wellness. In the later part of the year, I underwent a severe health crisis for which I was hospitalized for short breaths of time, complete with a series of extensive scans and X-rays and a few other non invasive treatments, I emerged from that ordeal coming to terms with so much more about the changes occurring at this stage of my life and it has blown my mind. I was shocked when the doctors debated and struggled to give my ailment a name. In their confusion and in my clarity I have come to the conclusion that at 68 I know what’s wrong with me! I am older! My disease is called Old Age and believe me I am not ashamed to own it. I have seen my body struggle with minute health scenarios that would have been a walk in the park few years ago. Actually taking about walking in the park, during the summer holidays of 2022 I was still in a position to clear between 8-10 kilometers brisk walk without a struggle. Then all of a sudden it’s become almost impossible to think of a 1km walk? I am nurturing this state for as long as it remains officially problematic but I know that even in old age, the defiant me will rise like the phoenix!
But I am not alone in this I guess as I know quite a lot of people within my age bracket struggling. I also know some younger oldies in the same space and so will suggest you see this true confessions from me here as a guide or a reference point for when you see your bodies not responding to commands. It’s tough, it’s frightening but this is me saying here it’s okay, you are not alone , and more importantly it’s actually normal! in a way. It is what it is!
For everyone my age or younger, I say just brace up for this too shall pass and depending on how well you have situated your mind positively you will emerge victorious.
My New Year’s Resolution, therefore, is that I will help bring that understanding to anyone in my space who is currently going through what I went through – in a bid to help them cope better, and live normal, fulfilling and hopeful lives, going forward.
And for me, that is Resolution enough, so help me God.
Chief Elizabeth Ifeyinwa Jibunoh holds a Master’s degree in Museum and Gallery Management from City University in London, United Kingdom, as well as a diploma in Floral Artistry from Boerma Institute Alsmer in the Netherlands. A graduate of the University of Lagos , Chief Elizabeth has been an Art consultant since the early 1980s, and is the founding Director of Didi Museum, Nigeria’s foremost private museum. She is a seasoned international curator with an eye for the sublime and has worked with the Smithsonian Institution Washington to facilitate the repatriation of the Alonge Photographic Artworks back to their ancestral home in Benin City, Nigeria.
An entrepreneur who deals in exquisite leather goods as well as a health and wellness resources, Chief Elizabeth is also a passionate social entrepreneur and Founder of the Strength of Women Initiative. She enjoys mentoring young artists , a passion she relishes as much as she does her role as a wife, mother and grandmother.
Chief Elizabeth writes from Lagos, Nigeria.