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Taylor: New year calls for travelling light

Column by Jim Taylor
Alarm clock between stack of books

I woke up in someone else’s bed the other morning. The alarm was beeping. I tried to whack the snooze button, but the alarm wasn’t where it should be.

I realized I was also sharing the bed with a large St. Bernard-cross dog. And two cats.

Then I remembered. I was at my daughter’s house, watching over her house, her pets, her plants, and her son, while she and my granddaughter were driving to California, where my granddaughter plans to start her new life, which involves – well, you don’t need all the details.

My point is, I was in an unfamiliar setting. Where I didn’t know where to find my regular breakfast cereal, which I need to keep myself regular – What? Too many details again?.

But it’s the details that make the difference. As the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” A bed is a bed; a house is a house. But doing without All-Bran is a crisis.

In any kind of new life, a multitude of details, old and new, will keep tripping you up.

This “new year” is a perfect example. You turn over a sheet on your wall calendar. It’s blessedly blank. But you still have last year’s commitments to fulfil. And last year’s credit card charges to pay.

The baggage of life tags along, like it or not.

I fell in love last year. With someone who lives and works a thousand miles away. Our relationship is sometimes torrid, sometimes tentative. Because we both drag a lifetime of baggage with us — family, friends, responsibilities, property…

Travelling light is not easy.

Starting anything new—whether a year or a relationship — requires deliberately letting go of some things. For example, I didn’t attempt to put up all of my wife Joan’s decorations this last Christmas. She loved turning our home into something festive, with candles and streamers and embroidered Christmas stockings and little gray mice on the mantlepiece dancing around a music-box Christmas-tree that tinkles Jingle Bells.

But the house doesn’t feel festive with just me in it. Me, and my cat. Who delights in knocking brightly coloured glass balls onto the floor.

I feel like the ghost of Christmas past as I sweep the debris into a dustpan.

‘Twas ever thus. Before I got married, my family didn’t decorate the Christmas tree until Christmas Eve. We didn’t take down our decorations until Twelfth Night, January 6. I burned the tree goodbye in our backyard.

I had to let go of some of those traditions when I married Joan. We needed to create new traditions together. You can’t move on, tethered to yesterday’s anchors.

Maybe New Year’s is a good time for self-examination. To identify some of those anchors. “Stuff” we’ve accumulated. Assumptions we’ve taken for granted.

Letting go means taking the risk of letting go of the wrong things. Like a friendship. A favourite activity. A vocation. Getting rid of a mountain while keeping a molehill.

The arrival of a new calendar year should remind us that every year – indeed, every day, every hour – is the start of something new. We cannot know what lies ahead, good or bad. The best we can do is travel light.

Jim Taylor lives in Lake Country: