On New Year’s Eve as groups of friends and family gather, thoughts of the past—whether intrusive or subtle—always attend. It’s New Year’s Eve after all, a holiday to celebrate the previous year and the year to come, a “zoom out” moment.
At these parties, as fellow party-goers inevitably invite the reminiscing and reflection, I am usually one to lighten the mood. I carefully choose a joke to bring it back to light, easy and fun. I brush away the deep dive into the year I had and what I learned, the “What would you change?” and “What will you always remember?”
I divert the attention because, in the moment, it strikes me as a silly question. We’re in the here and now. Why bother with the past? What is the point?
Why bother with the past? What is the point?
What my jokes whisper, very quietly, is—I think this might be too painful.
For many of us, it will feel fresh to process a new decade as an adult growing up. I imagine the term “decade” brings with it a confusing look at mortality. We live so many typical days, full of the mundane and void of existential thought. In a moment, our mind zooms out 10 years, to alarm us that a decade has already passed, and “Where has the time gone?”
The time was there. Now, it’s tik, tok, tik, tok. The time is just about gone.
Each year at New Year’s Eve, I find myself uninterested in wading through this cold pond of reflection. Reflection can feel like exposure. When we zoom out, the in-between moments become blurry and what remains clear are the sharper moments of emotional highs and lows. Sharp memories of joy stand out. Moments of loss and pain slice their way through.
Reflection can feel like exposure.
Sharper still are those moments of disappointment and regret. When we zoom out to see our lives represented by just a handful of sharp moments, we risk failure, the feeling that time has slipped away from us and a handful is all we have to show for it.
Now, we have 10 years to digest. The weight of hope and loss presses in a bit deeper. What if we don’t look back? What if we press on, allowing the memories to dull and avoid the panic of time passing?
We will likely continue to grasp for lives, yet never quite catch them. A moment in time never exists for us to hold onto. It is in the reflection that we hold space for life.
It is in the reflection that we hold space for life.
Reflection softens the edges of those sharp, standout memories. It brings back those in-between moments. As we coax the quieter memories out of hiding, we can paint a picture of life that has happened and is happening. We arouse context and color in the timeline.
Through memory and language, we can breathe life back into a moment. As we reflect, the sharp moments slowly step back from defining us. Then, we begin to see our decade for what it really is: our lives.
The reality is, you have lived. Every moment of the past 10 years, you have lived. The past decade did not exist simply to serve your future through a lesson or a trial that made you stronger. Our years are not merely a box to check or a step to climb. Our years are more than any of that.
Our years are not merely a box to check or a step to climb.
As a measure of time, years are a measure of us. Your decade is worth remembering. If your 365 days aren’t made valuable by the achievements you have to show for them, then perhaps they are just valuable because you are.
Be encouraged that when you venture back into your memories, you are not alone in facing disappointment, regret and grief. Hear me when I say, you are not the only one. Like their “sharp moment” counterparts, they are evidence of life.
As we approach a new decade, will you be brave with me? Are you willing to hold space for the memories of the past and what they have to offer?
We can sit in the discomfort of a large chunk of time passing before us, and in it, remember that we existed for each moment whether they make us proud or bereaved. We remember that though we can never hold a moment in time, we can always hold space for life.