Two years ago, I visited New Zealand for the first and (so far) only time, and in a corner of the Wellington Museum, I found a room dedicated to the Matariki. Which, as I then learned, is the name of the Māori New Year, named so from the constellation (also called the Pleiades) that rises in the Southern Hemisphere sky in late winter and signals the end of one year and the beginning of another. Visitors to this room in the museum were provided with paper and pencils to write on the occasion of the Matariki and asked to add their contributions to the others already clipped to wooden frames or taped up on the walls. When I was there, it was the end of July, and there were hundreds of papers.
There were two templates to follow—you could choose a paper that prompted you with, “This Matariki I am remembering …” or, “This New Year I hope to ….” I read through some of the papers other visitors had left. There is something about these type of exercises, where you are invited to tear a piece of yourself out and place it in a collective reach for transcendence, that secures heartbreaking honesty. People had written things down on these papers that I wondered if they would ever dare to say out loud to another person. Hopes, regrets, jokes, memories, mistakes. Even the seemingly superficial platitudes found there likely would have given someone pause when thinking to say them. We tend to censure sincerity, for one reason or another. But, within this context, you have license and safety to be foolish. Write down whatever you feel. Whatever you are remembering or whatever you hope. Maybe even both at once. Write it down, add it to the rest and leave it behind. Take something else with you.
At the close of every year on the calendar I follow, I make a list. I make two lists, to be precise: one looking back, one looking forward. The latter I keep to myself, but the former I’ve made it a habit to share. The sharing has become part of the ritual. The tradition of tallying up numbers, deriving significance and making clean lines. I acknowledge, as I always do, that the end of the year is an entirely arbitrary distinction, made in different places at different times, throughout the world and throughout history. The significance of the distinction and its surrounding traditions, however, is always astonishingly similar, across all boundaries of culture and era. It obviously does humans good to have a regular, recurring time set aside for reflection and ambition. It does good to acknowledge time passing, and what you’re doing in it. If we learned anything over the past year, it’s that what you do can have far-reaching influence, for good or bad, and how much time you get to do it can be largely out of your hands.
In that spirit, here is my list of what I did in 2016:
As for those events and accomplishments not so easily put into numbers … this past year, I completed an important shift. From exactly what to exactly what remains to be defined, but I’m aware it occurred. Less happened on the outside and more grew on the inside. I’m calmer, healthier and more stable. For a period of time, that realization worried me, because it seemed to stand in the way of further progress. It’s such an unfamiliar way for me to live. But I finally figured out that having a foundation to build upon, rather than running from camp to temporary camp, is not an impediment but a catalyst.
I have hopes of going again to New Zealand at the end of this year. I will miss Matariki, but I may spend another, different new year beginning there. The movements and meaning is still the same. I will write down what I wish to remember, and what I hope to see come. Then I will leave it behind and take something else with me.