By Tony Deyal
Earlier this week, I started preparing myself mentally for today, the first day of the year 2022. My starting point was that life, although sexually transmitted, should never be taken too seriously because nobody gets out of it alive. Apart from death and taxes, the only other certainty is that while you can be only young once, you can be immature forever. Perhaps this is why I ask myself whether life is really the “walking shadow” that Shakespeare claimed it is or is it just another four-letter word like “this”, “that”, “what” and “when”? Or why do we call swollen veins in the lower rectum “haemorrhoids” instead of “assteroids”?
As we get older, just trying to survive and make sense of the world is enough to swell not just our veins but also our brains. I remember when my wife had the air-conditioning on at full blast but still didn’t like me to sleep in my socks. I reluctantly made a resolution to sleep barefoot but after the first night I got cold feet. Globally, the most popular resolution is to “exercise more” followed by “lose weight”, “get organised” and “learn a new hobby or skill”. Somehow this does not go well with the fifth which is “live life to the fullest” and even worse, number six, which is “save money” or “spend less money.” I did better with the seventh in that I quit smoking many years ago and with the eighth, spending more time with family and friends. Number nine is “travel more” and while COVID and unemployment made that and going to the gym impossible, they helped me move number ten – “read more”- right to the top of the tree.
Actually, McVitie’s, the biscuit makers, crunched the numbers and found that out of 28 million (61%) adults who make New Year’s resolutions, only 9 percent keep them for a whole year. In fact, nearly a third (29%) of people who make resolutions drop out in less than a week. This is why, as the Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Good resolutions are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have no account.” Mark Twain added, “Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.” Actually, the best thing to do is to become a vegan for a day and then very quickly learn that it was a missed steak.
Like Twain and other humourists, I am an escapist. Generally, all resolutions go into one year and come out the next. The only one I have ever kept is the one I made to never make any. My New Year’s resolution is to procrastinate so I’ll start tomorrow, ok? When I was younger, women used to kiss me on my lips but it’s all over now. My son Zubin calls me “Pop” and makes me want to tell him, “Son, that is what the little champagne bottle calls his father.” As I head into my 77th year, my version of the “Serenity Prayer” is, “God grant me the senility to forget people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones that I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.”
Last night I stayed up until midnight, not to welcome the New Year but because of the pressure we all suffered in 2021, I wanted to make sure it had gone for good. And then, before falling asleep I said the prayer that was especially designed for today, “Dear Lord. So far this year I’ve done well. I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t lost my temper, I haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m very thankful for that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on I’m probably going to need a lot more help. Amen.” In fact, I already remember 2021 like it was yesterday.
For a while, my first resolution used to be not to expect too much from life. That was because I read about the female student whose biology teacher asked her, “What portion of the human anatomy swells to ten times its normal size during periods of agitation or emotional excitement?” Blushing, she stammered that she would rather not answer the question because it was kind of personal. The teacher, pointing out that it was not at all personal, explained, “The correct answer is the pupil of the eye, and your response tells me two things: First, that you didn’t read last night’s assignment, and second, that marriage is going to leave you a tremendously disappointed young woman.”
The second was never to wish too much for company because that always got me into trouble. The third, and most important for me, especially given my love of reading is never to judge a book by its cover. I learnt that lesson from a friend who was into sexy books like the “Kama Sutra” and “Perfumed Garden” and bought one named “Twenty Ways To Mate: Translated from the French with Original Illustrations.” It turned out to be a book about Chess. This is why for three reasons I am going to start my New Year by re-reading (for the tenth time) DUNE, the Frank Herbert book that I bought and immediately read when it was released in 1965. First, what the new year brings to us will depend a great deal on what we bring to the new year. Secondly, time flies and each of us is our own pilot.
Thirdly, in my case, I like the dreams and visions of the future better than the history of the past. We cannot change the past but can learn from it. These are some of the reasons DUNE is, for me, the best Science Fiction book ever written. What impressed me from the beginning is that it is not centered on technology but on people and their relationships with one another, nature, life and the earth itself.
This is why I have always encouraged my children to read it. Zubin, my youngest, had initially resisted because, unlike me, he sees no value in fiction. However, he is now a convert to Dune and as we sat watching it on TV a few nights ago, I repeated to myself the “Litany Against Fear” from the book. I have found it a useful way of dealing with the uncertainties that the future dumps on us and the fear that we cannot help but feel as COVID keeps coming up with new variants, “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
*Tony Deyal was last seen repeating, “I have only one resolution. To rediscover the difference between wants and needs. May I have all I need and want all I have. Happy New Year to all of you!”