Etre en Vie

It’s New Year’s Day. Barely.

A heavy fog has settled on the Rappahannock and even out into the Chesapeake. It is calm and I can hear morning doves, some house wrens, and a few gulls calling from the docks. I like to think the fog is a cleanser, slowly sweeping through like mist to cleanse the world overnight so we can rise this morning and start fresh.

I promised someone I would get up and do something, so I went for a long walk, despite the fog. Even enhanced by this fog. I need a new start. My life could stand a decent cleansing.

I did a superb job of racking up a list of shortcomings to undo this coming year. The easy stuff includes losing the weight my doctor told me to lose and which I absolutely know how to lose but keep yo-yoing through the months. Also, to eat better. Again, I have the capability and the information to get it done, but it must be challenging enough that I still have these resolutions to make. I think you know what I mean.

That brings me to the difficult stuff: willpower, motivation, and simply getting through those tough three weeks or so where I still crave old ways while adjusting to a new way of doing things. I know after that time habits will form to achieve my goals, and old habits will be pushed out and cast aside. But I knew that fifty-two weeks ago—that’s seventeen chances of three-week periods to start again and stick with it that I simply didn’t bother. So why would now be different? What is it about this New Year that will find me a month from now well on my way to my goals, and a few months down the line having obtained them enough to enter that stage of maintenance only?

I’m getting to that. First though, I believe 2022 was a wake-up call for many people I know. Some dear friends of mine are not doing well, and the problems are beyond their control, so the rest of us must recognize that when the problem that slows us down and even compromises our lives is in our control, we should not hesitate to act. Another part of it is the peace of mind I used to love when everything was going right—physically and mentally, and while I must still pay close attention to many aspects of my life, I would like to knock this physical monster out of the way—the one I actually can take care of and was at one time an expert in doing so. It is inexcusable, to be sure.

The fog is starting to lift, and the river is like glass, like a mirror, and in the distance I can hear a flock of geese; out at the mouth of the river I can hear the diesel engine of a workboat. More geese. At the marsh two deer gently walk through the reeds. There was a time some years ago I made a resolution to spend more time in nature. I remember how hard it was adjusting my routine to make that possible, but I also remember it becoming such a part of my day that at some point I couldn’t recall not being out in nature all the time.

We choose the life we wish to live. Even if we don’t choose at all, which in itself is a choice.

To be blunt, 2022 was one of the crappiest years of my life. I’ve been fortunate to have very few of them, and when I do run into one of them, friends have always been there to help me keep perspective. But this last one, well, thank God for my friends and thank God it is gone.

But New Year’s is just another day. So sometimes it takes something more than some annual resolution to achieve the same annual goals we didn’t bother to attempt the previous annum. It takes more than some passing motivation.


Not long ago I had a conversation with someone about what I would do with my life if I knew I was dying. I sipped my coffee and thought about it and said I’d tie up loose ends and then drive to see everyone I’ve cared about—family from Long Island to Seattle, friends from Florida to Ohio, from Prague to Africa. I’d go for a long hike in the Rockies and I’d sail along the gulf coast. I told her more. She told me what she will do. It made me deeply sad, yet it also made me deeply aware of my aliveness, of my choices not everyone has.

Finally, after working the phrasing in my mind for a few minutes, I said, “I am dying. Maybe not in six to eight months, but maybe—I don’t know. Maybe thirty years.”

“Better get off your ass then,” she said. Then a very long pause. Then, “Just in case. Really, Bob,” she said from somewhere deep, like she reached as far as she could into her soul before speaking so I’d not just hear her but absorb every syllable. I’d never seen anyone push words out so hard before. “Be alive as long as you are.” We were both quiet a long time.

Sometimes you just know to be quiet.

After a while I said something to make us laugh, and we laughed for a very long time. I joked about the coffee and the overpriced croissants. Joking is my default position, and she appreciated it. Then I was quiet and added, “I’ll pick a day and get right on it. I Promise.”

Today is good. January 1st, 2023. Happy New Year my friends.

Be alive as long as you are.

It’s time to make mistakes again, it’s time to change the show.

It’s time and time and time again to find another way.

It’s time to gather forces and get out of yesterday.

–John Denver

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