A Sacrifice for the New Year

by Elison Alcovendaz

As we approach the door to 2014, it seems important to give a sacrifice to Janus, the god of the new year. In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of beginnings, passages, and transitions through time. This is probably why the Romans named January (Januarius) after him. Classic mythology portrays Janus with two heads, one facing the past and one facing the future. It is this feature - Janus' two-headedness - that I want to keep in mind as the new year hits.


The Arch of Janus - courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The Arch of Janus - courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The idea of the New Year's Resolution has always interested me. Why do we wait to make a change? The year itself is an arbitrary marker of time, so really we could become a vegan or start donating to charity any time we choose. And yet, the end of the year possesses some kind of power over us, as though when the ball drops, we can immediately discard the person we've been and be reborn into someone better.

Better. I've found myself thinking about that word a lot. Remembering my previous resolutions, I realize they've mostly been centered around my health or appearance. Lose 25 pounds by summer. Stop eating McDonald's. Limit yourself to one serving at a time. Most of the resolutions I hear from people sound similar. There's a reason you have trouble getting a machine at 5pm at the gym in January and February.

What drives these types of resolutions? The obvious answer might be self-esteem. We want to be able to wear a bikini in the summer or not be scared to take off our shirt by the pool. You want people to think you're attractive when you walk into a bar. This is, of course, driven by societal standards and usually not our own, but that's a blog for next year. As I get older, I've realized that most of us make these resolutions because we are afraid of mortality. We want to live longer. We want to live as long as possible. This is why some of us read obituaries and why some of us pay for gym memberships we haven't used in months (maybe even years). We need something to spur us on to get off our asses and live longer. Some of us might even dedicate ourselves to the gym, spending 2-3 hours there almost every day, counting our calories, reading labels, sweating in super hot rooms to stretch and pose in puddles made with our own perspiration. We want to live longer.

You might say, NO I WANT TO BE HEALTHIER. I want to be healthier for myself, for my kids, for my grandkids. Not to be facetious, but you know what that sounds like? Wanting to live longer. Or you might say, IT'S TO IMPROVE MY QUALITY OF LIFE. Well, there are a lot of things we can do to improve our quality of life other than just being lighter on the scale or looking good in a dress.

This year I'm sacrificing "live longer" types of resolutions. Putting them in the fire. It is my sacrifice to Janus, and I hope you will do the same. 

Instead of making resolutions to live longer, let's resolve to live better. So in addition to the losing weight and getting to the gym and eating more nutritiously, all of which is important, let's resolve to improve the other aspects of ourselves as well. Let's listen more. Let's laugh more. Let's read more books. Let's stop being so judgmental or angry. Let's be kind when no one is watching. Let's go to a museum. Let's make comments on each other's FB feeds. Let's take more pictures. Let's turn off our phones at dinner. Let's smile at strangers. Let's make up with our family members. Let's be sad at those terrible things that happen to us, but let's give that sadness an expiration date. Let's take a walk. Let's pick up an instrument. Let's donate our time. Let's look past our ideologies, religious and political and otherwise. Let's get to know ourselves better. Let's be honest. Let's be patient. Let's be vulnerable. Let's be real. Let's tell each other we love each other if we love each other. Let's follow our passions. Let's share memories, especially of those who have passed. Let's take responsibility for our actions. Let's touch some trees and feel the wind in our hair and kiss with passion and hold hands and embrace our enemies and not wait until some guy in a tux on TV tells us it's finally time to celebrate.

We do not have the two-headedness of Janus, able to look backward and forward at the same time. If we look to the past, we take our eyes off the future. If we look to the future, we lose sight of the past. It seems what Janus was missing, but what we have, is the ability to be in the present. When that clock strikes midnight, it is only one moment in a collection of moments, each with the possibility of becoming a better person. 

Cheers for 2014!