DOWN THE ROAD A PIECE
By Jane D. Brown
When I was eight years old, each member of my family wrote New Year’s resolutions for every other member of our family. I found one of these unusual lists pasted on the back of a calendar my father stashed away in the attic of our old farm house. He used to give calendars like these to customers of the lime and fertilizer business he ran out of our dining room.
The calendar’s picture is quintessential idealized white Middle America in the 1950s: a father in a suit and tie beside a girl in a green dress saluting the U.S. flag being hoisted by a boy in slacks and polished shoes. A cute dog sits obediently at the girl’s feet, while a crowd of other white folks stand with their hands on their hearts nearby.
The typed list of New Year’s resolutions is uniformly critical. My brother’s resolutions for me were “Don’t shout” and “Don’t always insist on Jane’s way.” My father urged, “Try to improve yourself by accepting criticism gracefully and by being aware that you can and often are wrong—it isn’t always someone else’s fault.” I resolved to “not tell lies” and to “stop being so bossy.” I can see now an emerging theme.
We offered softer goals for our grandfather who lived with us. I encouraged Grandpop to “read to us more often.” My twin sister Judy asked him to “tell us about what you used to do.”
That experience of New Year’s resolutions soured me on the whole idea. Maybe it works better if you choose your own resolutions and try to make them more positive, but in my experience, even those are rarely kept. So, I was happy to learn recently of another approach to welcoming a new year.
My friend Bree told me that she and a group of friends “decide on a word to anchor each of us in the coming year.” The idea comes from Brené Brown, an inspirational writer. Bree chose the word “allow” for 2023.
Bree said, “The practice of choosing a word is a good fit for me. Not a resolution. Nothing about rejecting a behavior or a habit that I’m realistically never going to abandon. More a north star or reference point or small patch of ground to step onto over and over.”
As she enters her 76th year, Bree said, “There’s so much to allow: diminished energy, stiff and disobedient joints and muscles, a need to sleep when I’d rather not. Allow is softer than ‘accept’ or ‘surrender.’ It leaves room to allow frustration, fear or regret that my body is, indeed changing. That I have not defied nature by remaining 35 forever. It allows bemusement at my silly pride in being healthier, more active, younger seeming than the many of my cohort.”
I like this idea. I like this word. It’s more a way of being with what is, rather than the constant search for ways to improve myself. Maybe this year I can allow myself to be bossy. I still try not to lie, but sometimes that should be allowed, too. And more broadly, maybe I can consider that I am not in control of the world, allow that some things will go the way I desire, some will not.
Bree posted a short poem by Danna Faulds on her bulletin board years ago to help her think about what “allow” could mean in her life. It’s worth contemplation. I’m going to start by allowing myself no resolutions this year.
Jane D. Brown taught in the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media for 35 years and has lived in Chapel Hill since 1977.