Wednesday, December 19, 2018
As a young girl I loved tales hundreds or thousands of years old, like German fairy tales, Norse mythology, and Old Testament stories. One especially well-thumbed tome on my bookshelf was a children's story Bible. Amazingly for that era, this wasn't a feel-good expurgated version of happy stories about saintly people; rather, the fat volume contained most of the narratives, light and dark, from the Old Testament in readable English, minus the begats. My judgmental eight-year-old mind summarized the Old Testament this way: "Boy, those Israelites were really stupid. Bad things happened to them every time they ignored or forgot about their god. When they went back to their god everything would be wonderful, but they'd forget again and the bad things would happen again. You'd think that after a time or two they would have figured things out. I'm glad I'm not that dumb."
Needless to say, when I grew up my superiority complex evaporated as I realized that I wasn't as smart as my eight-year-old self thought I was. Whether one takes the Old Testament stories as myth, historical reality, or religious truth, they illustrate the profound human reality that we as human beings have a tendency to make the same mistakes over and over again, particularly mistakes that involve turning away from the very things most important to us. I've come to believe that wisdom lies not in avoiding these mistakes, but in acknowledging them and in shortening the time span in which we decide to turn around.
Winter break is a wonderful time to take stock and turn around. It's popular to mock New Year's resolutions, deriding them as worthless because they "don't work" (do a web search and you'll find scores of examples). But the turn of the year, at a season when many Americans have personal time because of school breaks or vacation days, is an ideal opportunity to contemplate what is important to us and to turn around. Having made the resolution, will we drop the ball? Almost certainly. Does that mean we should give up trying? Certainly not. Each lawyer, academic, student, academic support professional, and human being has a "turn around," some discipline or practice that is a touchstone to which we need to return time and again to be our best selves, to be a full person. (For me, my "turn around" is the practice of meditation, which I tend to drop in those times of stress when the discipline would be most useful.) Whatever our personal touchstone, it's vital to not let pride, or chagrin, or self-reproach keep us from turning around. As the Persian poet Rumi wrote
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a thousand times,
Come, yet again, come, come.