New Year's Day--Two Heads Are Better Than One
January is named after the Roman god, Janus. He was the god of beginnings, and he was represented as having two heads looking in opposite directions, one facing back to the past, the other facing ahead for what was to come. He represented the present, with the past receding, the future approaching. January is as fitting a time to mark the division between years, as its first day begins the month that bears the name of this god of transitions.
Once in my residency I was unlucky enough to lose the draw that had me covering labor and delivery on New Year's Eve. I delivered twins on either side of midnight. I didn't mean to; it just happened that way. I delivered one boy, and then ten minutes later I delivered the next one. It was a vaginal delivery as was anticipated, and all went well. These two boys, though, have two different birthdays even two different birth years. As different as that may seem to a
strologers and City Hall, I'm sure they still look very much alike.
Whenever a new year comes around I think of them, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because it's the only memory that stands out in my mind as different, everything else on either side of midnight looking pretty much the same with the new year except the number on the date. Even the twins look the same. But this is actually the wrong way to think about this.
The twins really are different, regardless of whether they look like only brothers or even if they're identical. And so it is with the passing year and the next year. So it is with the past and the future, separated by that thinnest of lines called the present. This is the trouble with New Year's resolutions. We keep them in the future instead of in the present. "I'll quit smoking next week." "I'll start eating right on the first." "I'll begin my exercise program next weekend." Time is procrastination's best ally, because there always seems so much of it in which to store future intentions. The present is what we're experiencing, so it makes sense to start the resolutions now; otherwise the plans for the future lapse unfulfilled into the past, and everything looks the same--our past and future become twins.
This is disappointing, because we live the present, not the past and future. The present is where the action is, where it's all happening. I'm certain those twins lead different lives now, notwithstanding their resemblance. This makes for a ready comparison to our own lives and time. We will live the most fulfilling present if we strive to make our past and future different. Striving for better, not the same, is living life to its fullest. One must make a list of resolutions to make our twins, past and future, different. Otherwise, those twins might just as well have been the same baby.
Those births on different sides of midnight have always presented a sort of lesson to me. And now with each new year that comes, I try to make different lives on either side. And so must everyone, or the present becomes the past, and the future is already a memory. As a doctor I advise everyone to take hold of the improvements in their lives and implement them now, as soon as possible. And if there is failure, it is only in the past. Try that New Year's resolution again, again, and again. Each time, make it now. And keep on doing it. Whether it's quitting smoking, laying off the fats or sugars, resisting that plaque-building temper, or practicing some senseless act of kindness to someone, don't see the same thing on the other side of midnight.
"Same stuff, different day" is the motto of someone who's past and future are the same stuff. Romans hung Janus's image over their doorways, making my twins seem all the more appropriate each New Year. The present is a threshold, and we must walk through. We can knock at this door all we want, but only we can answer on the other side and greet with the handshake that is our present, our transition. A new life awaits.