A certain wistfulness accompanies the depths of winter, as the calendar year takes us to its final page and the holiday season flares with goodwill and missed intentions. In my northern world, the days are short and getting shorter, and the sun’s warmth is mostly an illusion (when it shows up at all through the overcast skies).
A core message I choose to wake to daily is that “everything is possible in the morning.” That is, an entire day lies ahead, filled with promises and opportunity. This motivates me, makes me want to make the best possible use of the coming hours. It guides my actions, even when that means using my time to drink hot tea and regard the day from an easy chair for a few minutes. It’s not all a manic blur to Get Things Done, as I am often accused of doing.
A year is like a day: everything is possible at New Year’s—think of how the fitness gyms fill up (if only for a few weeks). The promises we all make to build upon the possibilities we envision for ourselves are sometimes kept, sometimes not—but at the first of the year we collectively seem willing to give them a try.
I also choose, when night arrives and I take stock of the day, not to sling guilt or blame for not measuring up to my optimistic assessments of what seemed possible that morning. There is always more to do than time to do it, and plans and appointments are good guides but seldom absolute. As they say in animal training, “don’t start something you don’t have time to finish,” and that’s fine when you’re asking a horse to walk over a scary blue tarp. It shouldn’t take long, but sometimes it takes on a life of its own and chews up time magnificently, throwing off the timing on the rest of the day. Despite this adage, I start stuff I don’t have time to finish all the time. It’s how (perhaps why) I stay very busy; I over-commit. There are always projects waiting on the back burner, in piles on my desk, in the garage, in heaps on the basement workbench—and that’s ok.
I call them my “lingering things” because they are generally small and non-urgent, individually. Reconcile the checkbook. Tally the continuing education credits for my EMT license. Rework the filing system. Write that Christmas letter (this is when deadlines are helpful!). Update the website list of publications. Divest and organize stuff. There are two ten-inch piles of such “small things” awaiting attention right this moment in my office, decades of photos to sort in the basement, two boxes awaiting re-packing to send off after hearing I got it wrong the first time. Et cetera, et cetera. You know the drill; each of us has such lingering things.
As the end of this year arrives, I find myself ready at last to parse these piles, to attend to these small details, because they have become too distracting. I no longer know what lies there in wait. They have evolved into something massive enough to demand my undivided attention, and it could possibly take days to sift and settle them. I wonder: what would it be like not to begin yet another year with these lingering things tapping the edges of my consciousness like hungry toddlers? They aren’t little anymore. They have collectively become that wonderful, mystifying, demanding thing: a Project!
Although the holiday season can be ridiculously frenetic for many, those delicious days between Christmas and New Years always seem...quiet. Relaxed. The phone doesn’t ring so often and people seem mostly hunkered down into their own cozy cocoons. What a great time to turn to Lingering Things and whittle those piles down, or away.