Sunday, December 31, 2006

the want of a larger view

I can't remember what my New Year's resolutions were for 2006. Whatever they might have been, I'm certain I surpassed them. 2006 was a very good year for me.

Twenty years ago, I was a senior in high school. My resolutions probably involved passing Chemistry and getting that last science credit so I could graduate (something I still have nightmares about!), deciding on a college and a major, and then -- finding a way to afford it once I got there.

Ten years ago, as a single mother who'd just remarried and landed her dream job as a reporter for a newspaper, my resolutions were all about succeeding on that new path. I longed to win an award from the Associated Press in 1997 (and I did!). I also resolved to see my work published somewhere other than the newspaper. I aspired to be published in a magazine, or better yet, to finish my novel, and see that published (and I didn't).

Going into 2007 my resolutions are a little different.

New Year's Eve traditionally seems to be a holiday for taking inventory. I've never really been one to get up and go out, on New Year's. I did in college, but even then, while I was out, I always felt less of the celebratory and a little more of the pensive and reflective. Another year gone, a new one dawning; what will happen in it?

No one ever, really, knows.

But I do know this. Last night we went to the movies -- we saw Night at the Museum (it was much better than I expected). A teenage girl and her mother seemed to be having words in the parking lot; we walked past them blithely, pretending not to hear.

"I'm not going to wait outside for you forever," the teenager said smartly. Her very posture seemed tense with bitterness and resentment.

The mother sighed heavily, making a swatting motion toward her cheek that could have been meant for a strand of hair -- or an unchecked tear.

We paid for our tickets and popcorn. We found our seats. A few moments later, the angry teenage daughter and the blank-faced, resigned mother chose seats near us, across the aisle. The mother sat at the end, nearest me. The daughter stalked pointedly to the other end, taking the seat nearest the wall.

The mother rummaged in her purse, either feigning disinterest or looking for Kleenex. The daughter crossed her legs and held her right hand up to her face like some sort of shield, disassociating herself from her mother's acquaintance entirely.

As soon as the movie started, the stomachache that tormenting me all day intensified and I had to excuse myself to the restroom. I was splashing cool water on my face and washing my hands in the sink when the wan, battle-weary mother walked past, her red-rimmed eyes not seeing me.

My eyes followed her in the mirror as she slipped quietly into the middle stall and latched it behind her. I heard the telltale rattle of the toilet paper spindle. The sharp, subtractive barks of sniffles echoed in the tiled bathroom silence.

I seem to spend a lot of time observing other people -- the things they say, the things they do. In fact, when I was a reporter, that was my job.

Yet I listened to a crying woman in a bathroom stall as I went on lathering my hands with translucent pink liquid soap, absently. And though I wanted to say something, anything to her, I didn't know what exactly that would be. I honestly couldn't think of a single thing to say.

I looked at my reflection in the mirror and knew the want of a larger view.

So this year, no resolutions to lose ten pounds or get promoted or see my name published somewhere else. No goals to get ahead, or run a marathon, or learn another language.

Better I should stretch a little and learn how to hug someone when they're crying in public; to speak my compliments to others out loud instead of just thinking them; and to extend my hand, instead of looking away politely.

That's what I've been thinking.