While considering next year’s resolutions doesn’t command the same observance as it did in my youth, I don’t like the smug rejection of the practice. “I don’t make resolutions!” You might say. “It’s just another day.”
A new year calls for reflection.
But last year was a total waste.
Three-quarters of the triumphs were swallowed up by the onset of an enormous whale. Perceived first as an imposing aberration rising on the plains to the south, the creature swelled exponentially until two blackish stones bobbed to the surface and took watch from just above the sod. Advancing toward civilization with time collapsing between each swing of the hammer, the monster inhaled cattle, lakes, cornfields and entire townships as it dispassionately cleaved the land with a loosely cracked maw. The behemoth would not be wooed. As swiftly as it had been given, my improbable good fortune was cleared by its systematic vindictiveness that mimicked a cruelty that was never intended to be a model for how to be, but a cautionary tale. It would seem that the monster couldn’t tell the difference between delusional power and the ground, even as bits of it spilled from its own teeth.
And just like that, another summer had passed. What did I have to show for my devotion? Not much. I had wasted my time and that’s what hurt most of all.
Fate sweetens the lessons that monsters will teach, although perhaps artificially. What is to cast out spells stirred by misfortune, exacting injustice or humiliation that gouges our humanity? How do we get our time back?
“Why is there a whale in the middle of a prairie? It doesn’t make any sense!” It might be a childish tantrum, but it’s worse to fear abandonment for asking a question than to ask it without the security of composure.
Although not a perfect remedy and at the risk of adding to a heap of lulling platitudes that are supposed to make us feel better, here’s another attempt to offer some respite.
I was down and my sweetheart was trying to console me. In that moment, everything I had ever done seemed like a waste of time. The whale had dredged up friendships that didn’t last, jobs that had outlasted their potential for personal growth, projects that didn’t survive a hand-off, things I used to love but could no longer bare and places I had been but had left no mark.
“Q, comma, comma, U“, Brian said.
Of course, I feel better now. Thanks.
“Q, comma, comma, U“, he repeated. “It’s a command to update and close a file in XEDIT.”
XEDIT, he explained, was the line editor he used on the mainframe at the University a million years ago.
Couldn’t he see that I was broken up?
“Nobody uses XEDIT anymore! But I still know ‘Q, comma, comma, U‘!”
What the hell was he talking about?
“Is it a waste that I know it? Yeah. That’s just the way some things are. You need something and then you don’t. Something is useful and then it isn’t. Does that mean that some stuff gets wasted? I guess. It drives me crazy that I have this useless knowledge. But that’s life. I know ‘Q, comma, comma, U‘ and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“It’s not a waste,” I protested. “Consider the rate at which computer languages change. What would you learn if you waited for them to stabilize before beginning? Nothing!”
There was a pause.
“Maybe everything ends up in the compost pile.” I said.
And just like that I had calmed down.
Brian heard it too. Compost has something to say about putting certain things into perspective.
Seeing our experiences as feedstock for making a brand new medium for growing brand new stuff is an analogy I’d like to explore.
For now, we’ll start with the idea that nothing is wasted.