Sunday, January 20, 2008

Auld Lang Syne

Auld Lang Syne

Every year at New Year, I face the same demon, staring me in the face. No, not ‘I WILL LOSE that extra weight’, or ‘I WILL get in shape’, or ‘I SWEAR, this is the YEAR I get organized.’ No, this is the time when I feel the need to shed all my excess ‘stuff’. When the ball drops on New Year’s Eve ushering a new January 1st, we always hear “Auld Lang Syne.” My particular favorite version of this song is by James Taylor. I listen to the words and frankly, have no clue what they mean. “Auld Lang Syne”: what does this MEAN? No clue. So I looked it up. It’s translation from old whatever-it-is means “Old Long Time Ago”. Not unlike my closet. It’s the perfect seague: from toasting champagne to getting rid of all that stuff I haven’t used.

On my runs, I’ve been thinking about why I feel the need to “shed” at the new year. I guess I’m no different than all those other resolutionists, trying to shed weight, bad health, or destructive habits. I just shed old stuff, lighten my load, get rid of stuff that’s dated, old, no longer useful, or appealing. This year I’m also shedding the easy running of the fall, the sleeping in, the rehabbing from injury. I’ve 95% committed to running Boston again, which means crack-of-dawn runs, regimented training plans, attention to diet, and the limiting of – alas – my favorite evening glass of wine. During spring marathon season, Lent comes plenty early in this house. But what I most desperately want to shed is the dark.

I get restless in Januray. The 6 weeks before the New Year is constant motion, energy, things to do, deadlines to meet in both work and home life. Then the New Year comes and it’s the darkest time of year. The sun rises late and sets early, there is no festival of lights on the horizon and March seems a long way off. One of the weird little rituals I have is to look at the paper every day and see when the sun rises and sets, and each day a minute or two of daylight is added. Those hundred or so seconds a day add up to the hope of spring. I feel not unlike the caged animal waiting for the regularly scheduled meal. However, the nourishment I wait for is light. I don't like the dark. Oh, there are moments when it serves its purpose. On Christmas Eve, I ran after the sunset amid the luminaries of my neighborhood. But it wasn't the dark I embraced then, but the little points of light that lined the streets during my 5 mile jaunt.

Darkness is also a state of mind - depression, anger, hurt - that robs us of our precious energy. I'm fond of saying "It's a zero-sum game: we only have so much energy, so spend it well." I wish I could say I was an orthodox practitioner of my theory, but being part of the ever-so-human race, I often don't practice what I preach. I fret about the state of my house, my lack of organization, my anger at insignificant things outside my sphere of control... I pick my poison with seasonal punctuality. Maybe what I don't like about New Year's resolutions is that they focus on our personal failures, and at this dark time of year, this is not what I need. I like to think one can decide to make an improvement in one's life without it being dictated by the calendar. Maybe its my own need to exert as much control over my life as I can. For example, I gave up weighing myself daily years ago. In fact, I rarely step on my scale at home because I don't like to have my self-worth measured in mere pounds. I know I eat well, exercise far more than the average person, and my clothes fit me; beyond that, the number on this scale should - and does - mean nothing.

On New Year's Day, my 'Old Long Time Ago' is the previous spring, that moment when I'll step out of my house and be delightfully assaulted with the smell of the warming earth and see the dawn already in the sky.

My friend Franny and I have started the New Year with Monday track workouts, mine for marathon training, hers for fitness and to keep me company. That’s what my friends do: make meals when you’re sick, watch your kids when you’re in a bind, run insane intervals on a track before the sun rises just because. On a recent morning when we arrived at the oval at 6 am, it was still dark out. We stretched on the track and looked up at the bright constellations. “Yup, there’s the big dipper and we are a couple of big dips”, Franny sleepily cracked. Several hard intervals later we left the track, the sun on the rise, and a Starbucks latte in our very near future, our traditional hard track workout reward of choice. We both remarked that this hardest workout of the week leaves us feeling the most energized: we get out two-fold what we put in. I’m not sure it’s as much the workout as it is the companionship of good friends, the regularity of track, and the post-workout caffeine jolt. We drive home, laughing, in the best of spirits.

Maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe the New Year isn't about throwing out all that is old, but in weeding out the clutter and continuing to embrace all that is constant: love, friendship, the stars, and the seasonal challenge that makes me - in January - renew my love of the light.