Texan journalist Browning Ware tells the story of a school boy who was having an awful time with his classroom assignment. Each time he went to the teacher to ask for help he had to mark through his work and begin again. By the time he had finally finished with the assignment, his paper was a mess. Filled with answers scratched through, notes written on the margins, small holes where he had erased too many times, he was ashamed of the work he had to turn in. The teacher, noticing his embarrassment and his untidy assignment, called him to her desk. As he stood before her, his work held in his hands behind his back, she reached in the drawer beside her. “Here,” she whispered and handed him a sheet of paper from her own pack. “Why don’t you use a clean piece of paper? Why don’t you start over?”
I love January because it is the month when we get a clean piece of paper. It’s the month when we get to begin again, get our do-over. It is the first month, the beginning of another year. Having noted that, however, we must understand of course, that there’s not anything wrong with having a messy paper or a messy life. Messiness is, after all, a sign of humanity and honesty; it’s what life is really all about. But I just think when we get a clean piece of paper, have a new beginning, especially when we have an answer, it’s nice to feel that feeling of being able to start over, try once more, leave behind our mistakes and wrongdoings from the past and begin again.
I am rarely able to keep my resolutions, which is probably why I have the same ones every year. I resolve to drink more water and not talk as much but I always seem to manage the same results. By March I’m back to the diet sodas and unceasing chatter. I also resolve every year to be more patient and a better friend. Unfortunately, just like the lack of water and silence, I fail miserably every time I make the effort. But I love the knowledge that I get another chance to try again, try and do better, try to be better. And even though my growth may appear minimal, I do think I manage at least one more right answer a year. And somehow, the starting over helps. Even if I begin the new year knowing that I’ll mess up this page too, that my mistakes will likely outnumber the right answers, I still like the sense of being able to have a fresh start.
The school boy in Ware’s story took a long time, making a lot of mistakes, filling up an entire page with his errors before he finally got to the answer; but he got there. And when he had his right answer, he got to begin again. My life is filled with stumbles and falls and long periods of heading in the wrong direction; but once a year I get a new piece of paper. I get to begin again. And even as the year ends and my paper is filled with mistakes and holes, I look to January, an answer in hand and a fresh start, and I think, maybe this year I’ll get it just right.