Ruby is our betta fish, new to us this Christmas. The over/under on how long she will be with us? Odds on longevity are not great, but for now she’s safe in a pretty bowl, and the girls and I have diligently followed directions about feeding and betta-fying the water. I didn’t ask the pet store worker about gender: I’ve read that male bettas can’t share a tank with other males—they’ll fight them until death—and I’ve also read that you can put a mirror up to the tank in order to give the fish exercise. Ruby took one look at herself in one of my mom’s old pocket mirrors, and BAM—her gills flared and she was swimming around like a loony-fish. I worried about post-trauma issues, so I swept the mirror away after only a few seconds. I put my face up close to the bowl and talked her down a bit, feeling a little self-conscious while talking to a fish, but I couldn’t help staying, watching her, gracefully swaying.
Ruby may be a Rudy, I don’t know, but it struck me as an appropriate exercise during this time of year—the looking into the mirror one. We all do it, don’t we, when we take some time reflecting on the year before and musing about the year ahead. Some solidify resolutions; some putter around, putting away Christmas decorations, wondering what they’ll be doing the following year. That’s what I did today. I did my share of worrying, too, as I wrapped ornaments in newspaper, tucking them back into their boxes: I’m already behind in resolving! What will I do to improve myself this year? Get the right job? Drink more water? Worry less?
While I was clearing and cleaning, the snow was doing something radical outside: turning trees white. I stopped into the kitchen, sliced a pear, gazed out at the leafless dogwood, communed with the lump of a dove sitting on the lowest branch and then, BAM—an enormous red cardinal checked in, nibbled some seed, and sat and stared right at me through the window.
Stark white background. Bright red cardinal. How’s that for a New Year’s jolt? How’s that for commandeering a blank slate?
We were walking down Christian Street in Philadelphia on New Year’s Day: the girls, Dave, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, and the adorable one, Ivy (2-year-old niece), all heading towards the ultimate destination of Broad Street and the Mummer’s Parade. Caroline had some choice words about the parade itself (Why are all these people eating beer?), but she also took a moment to reflect about the calendar (Mommy, why is January January?). These kinds of questions may be better answered after eating beer, but I soberly stumbled into the Roman calendar conversation, ill-prepared. Latin word roots led me to “October,” which really should be the eighth month, and then Anne (sister-in-law) chimed in about earth rotations. It was unimpressive, especially when attempting to sum-up the existence of Time and the definition of “arbitrary.”
Thinking on it now, though, without the pesky little 8-year-old nipping at my heels asking me challenging questions, I attempt to appreciate today in all of its arbitrariness. It is the 7th of January. But, let me pretend for a moment that I am that red cardinal surrounded by white: it could be the 39th of Slarch, the negative 17th of Regulary. I don’t care what day it is; I’m still going to red-feather-flash in my cardinal I-am-what-I-am stare-down sort of way.
Perhaps less drum roll and more day-to-day whistling a happy tune. Rather than making a big New Year’s stink about what we resolve to do, maybe throughout any given day, we take advantage of those flashes of red, those moments of BAM. We witness something graceful then right then and there, we set an intention as we would scratch an item on a daily to-do list, a mental post-it note: be kind, eat something green, call a friend, get outside.
There’s no deadline on simplifying, on engaging our minds, on exercising our bodies, on becoming more generous souls.
And we look in the mirror every day, right? We can take that time to reflect. It may freak us out a little, like aforementioned betta fish, but a little conversation with ourselves each day may be just what we need, the trick to longevity, no calendar required.