By Hannah Brandt
This month marks the start of a new calendar year. As a former teacher who spent twenty years as a student (yes, that means eight years in college), it is always strange for me to think of the calendar starting halfway through the school year. My brain still does not really accept January as the jumping off point. Still 2016 does begin January 1, whether my stubborn mind and body get in line with it or not.
Many people make New Year’s Resolutions in the days and weeks leading up to that day, people rack their brains to pick the one thing (or sometimes a few) they will endeavor to do or not do in order to improve their lives. Losing weight, saving money, or spending more time with friends and family are popular choices. According to study after study, most people give up on their resolutions after about a month.
I have honestly never understood the purpose of New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps I have always been aware that people do not tend to follow through on them. Similar to Lenten abstentions, I have observed that it causes my loved ones who do this every year a lot of stress and strain deciding what to give up or take on. People seem to worry more about what to choose than actually adhering to the parameters of their decision. Maybe that indecisiveness is human nature. I know I am afflicted. Or perhaps it feels too conspicuous when it seems something private, too personal to share with the world.
A similar phenomenon is the concept of the Bucket List. Many people I know, beginning at about age 25, began making lists of things to do before they were 30. Now that most of my friends are in our thirties, the list has shifted to things to do before hitting 40. Somehow to me this all seems a way to compare and compete, to make yourself feel more capable, adventurous, and “with it” than others… Until you fail to make your goal and then you feel worse about yourself than before you set out.
I am not sure how any of this helps improve people’s lives. Maybe I am too cynical about this though. I do have goals I would like to attain, but have yet to achieve in my life; some lofty, some silly. I have traveled just enough to know I love to see new places and try new experiences, but not enough to have visited half the destinations I want to. And I would like to take family members and friends who have not yet gone to locations I have loved exploring.
This Christmas Day, while I was baking an apple crisp for dinner with my family, I dropped my cell phone and it broke. As I am still getting settled into a new apartment, I not yet have wifi internet set up. So these first months of editing the newspaper, I have gone to cafes to send work from my laptop. Like many people my age, I do not have a landline phone either. After living for ten years in an area with better public transit, I also do not yet have a car. When my phone broke in my kitchen, I had to go to a cafe to contact my family to arrange getting to our Christmas gathering.
As I walked through the Tower District to find a wifi network I could jump onto and message my mother, I encountered a shuttered up business district. In an area with so many cafes and restaurants that are generally teeming with Fresno City College students, Bohemian young people, and confident, artistic mentors of age, nothing was open. All the chairs and tables were locked up inside, bare patio floors seemed to stretch out larger than normal.
Only those individuals without warm homes to curl up in were huddled in the corners where welcoming places to sit usually beckon. On that blustery day, the eerily empty, quiet street highlighted a human tragedy that goes unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of life for those of us caught up in our comfortable routines. Thanks to the massive long term unemployment and widening inequality of the Great Recession, however, homelessness is far less distant to people who never expected to to feel its closeness. Those who do often hide their suffering in the shadows. On a day when many of us cherish the love of family and friends, my random detour served as a reminder to never forget those who are left out in the cold every night and to take whatever steps I can to ensure that is no longer the case in Fresno. We must do better.
Happy New Year. May this year be more peaceful and progressive than the last.