A few days into the new year, a friend greeted me this way:
“I hope you enjoyed these first days of your new trip around the sun.”
That’s a slightly different way to say “Happy New Year”. I like it.
It’s also a phrase that adds perspective.
Which is needed. Because frankly, we wish everybody a “Happy New Year” and then just a few days later everything is the same old routine and you couldn’t tell that there’s anything new or different about the year. Unless of course you look at a calendar and see that it’s January. Even then, those little squares and numbers marking the days quickly blend together.
But that image of a new trip around the sun is like a giant zoom-out to a wider-than-cinemascope format. A very different perspective.
We usually think of the world — the Earth — as stable. Solid. Firm. We ignore that it rotates around its axis every day at a blistering speed.
We also definitely ignore that the entire Earth is hurtling through space in a mostly circular path around the sun. This too at a speed so high we have nothing to compare with.
Somewhere on that Earth. Are we. You and me and everyone else.
Spinning in cosmos
That’s at the big, cosmic level.
The one where the Sun is one among many stars in our galaxy, which is one of many in the universe. The Earth is one of several planets circling the Sun. To be sure, the only one of them with life as we know it on it. But cosmically tiny.
If we were out in space looking back at the earth (Hello, Apollo 8, which gave us that first view of the earth from a lunar orbit), we’d see some different colors which we know indicate land masses and sea. But all so small you really don’t see anything man-made. Definitely not individual people.
On a personal level, the phrase “your new trip around the sun” is a reminder that I’m not the center of the universe. Which is actually a relief. Since it means that everything and everybody doesn’t depend on me. Or you. Because we’re not at the center of it all. (A narcissist on the other hand does think they are the center of the entire universe and act accordingly, but that doesn’t change the cold, hard fact that they’re just ONE of around 8 billion people on this earth ball flying through space.)
There’s a funny thing about trips, journeys. The first time we go on one, it’s all new and a giant discovery. The second time we make the same trip it’s already becoming routine.
By the time we’ve done that same journey many times over an extended period of time, maybe years, we don’t even remember the individual trips. We made them, but nothing stood out. It was all the way it usually is.
ABBA beautifully captured that sense of repetition and being barely conscious of each different day in their song The Day Before You Came. Here are the opening lines:
Must have left my house at eight, because I always do My train, I'm certain, left the station just when it was due I must have read the morning paper going into town
It’s not just going to or from work that blends together.
There are days when at the end of the day I sit down with my journal and have to really think about what happened during the day. Just hours ago. Because it’s already starting to get mixed up. So many things we do that seem quite important in the moment and only half a day later we don’t recall them.
Now that’s not all bad. If every single thing that happened required very deliberate and conscious thought and effort on our part, we’d be totally worn out by lunch time. We need routines. We need to be able to do some aspects of life without thinking a whole lot about them.
Present in the present
But we tend to let too much go on auto-pilot.
We don’t enjoy the travel time, because it’s all about getting to the destination and once at the destination, we are busy checking in to see how things are going back at the office or at home. We’re not present in the present.
There was the time I was on a video shoot in Germany and Italy. Jim, the content specialist, had set things up so we’d work for a couple weeks and then on the tail end have several days free as a mini-vacation before we all returned to the US. His wife Ellen was a travel agent and arranged the entire itinerary (which took some doing). She came along for the entire trip. Great plan.
Until Jim realized that he’d double booked. He was due back in the US for a conference before our European trip was over. So at the end of the work part, he flew home to get back to work. While the rest of us (including Ellen) headed up into the Alps for those longed-for days of vacation. Wonderful days. Just not for Jim.
In the very early days of January a new year is fresh and truly full of possibilities. Because at that point we still have to think before writing the year. We’ll even get it wrong once or twice. The thought that this is a new year is still with us. After all, the new year is only a day or two or three old. So it feels very present and fresh.
A year full of possibility
We make those New Year resolutions. Because full of possibility. And then forget about them as the days march on. There are ways to keep the resolutions from getting forgotten, but that requires some effort. Ongoing.
It’s all too easy to echo Scarlett from Gone with the Wind: “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” And then tomorrow never comes.
Yet here we are, still early in 2023. Still very much a year full of possibility. Possibility that can become reality if I don’t just push it off for tomorrow. Instead think about it today. And take action.
Because what really matters in life is not so much those great sprints. The push against all odds. The once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Sure, they’re nice and all that. If and when they happen.
But consistent action, even small actions, over a period of time will yield results. Sure, it takes a while to see it amount to anything. Kind of like when you start reading a 500 page book. After several days of reading for a bit every so often, it still doesn’t seem like you’ve made it very far. But you keep going, because after all the story is building. And one day you look at the book and you’re halfway through. That’s consistent action over time playing out.
You’ve probably also heard about the effect of compounding interest on savings. That’s another case of consistent action over a (long) period of time.
After all, if I don’t take any action today, I will definitely be no closer to my goal than I was yesterday or the day before or whenever I actually did take some action last. Continue like that and before I know it, this trip around the sun will be over and I’ll have nothing to show for it. Except another year older. (And no wiser.)
(For tips on making resolutions and goals that stick, check out this post: Shaping the story of your 2021.)
Getting back to resolutions, since we’re still in January:
Maybe the biggest resolution you or I can make on this trip around the sun is to treasure every day for the gift it is. That we get to live and be present on this planet for another day.
What can I do today to make this a better place? For me and for those around? How can I bring a smile to someone? Meet a need? Help make somebody else’s possibility become reality?
Then this trip around the sun shall have been all worth it.