If the proverbial road paved with good intentions leads to hell then once again, for many of us, the next year proves to be ominous. For it is a tenacious tradition, at the closure of the year, to ponder over past successes and failures, to assess what is left of our hopes and dreams.
Standing at the eve of a new year is not unlike a Sunday night feeling. The weekend not yet over, the week not yet begun. A mixture of regret and hope and a vague sense of tediousness. Heimweh, in a sense. We have been here before.
No wonder it is at this crossroad that we ask ourselves questions, that we ponder over who we are, who we think we wish to be. Life. Change. A new tomorrow. Promises and good intentions.
Some of us of course do away with good intentions all together and move straight into resolutions territory. But hark! Intentions and resolutions are not the same.
Intentions are mostly about quantity; resolutions about quality.
More and less vs. better and worse, resolutions imply a problem, intentions good will. The difference is subtle and faint but real nonetheless.
To double the amount of vegetables and halve the amount of alcohol is an intention. As is to exercise, let’s say five times a week. In resolution mode however we set out to improve ourselves. Be more mindful of others, less impatient with others. Be a better friend.
The road to hell expression might find its origins in Saint Bernard of Clairvaux’s “L’enfer est plein de bonnes volontés et désirs“. Abbot of the Cistercian order, great advocate of ‘contemplation’ and final guide to Dante through the inferno, Saint Bernard seems to know what he was talking about. But it does not make for hopeful reading. Not on the eve of a new year anyway.
Each new year recalls an old year, often thoughtlessly dismissed and discarded, put aside, no longer loved. Not so for Tennyson.
Full knee-deep lies the winter snow,
And the winter winds are wearily sighing:
Toll ye the church bell sad and slow,
And tread softly and speak low,
For the old year lies a-dying.
But enough sadness, enough contemplation. So
… let him in
That standeth there alone,
And waiteth at the door.
There’s a new foot on the floor, my friend,
And a new face at the door, my friend,
A new face at the door.
Only, let the face wear a smile.